May 13th, 2011

Assessing Student Learning

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Curriculum, instruction, and assessment: the three fundamental components of education, whether online or face to face. Author Milton Chen calls these the “three legs of the classroom stool” and reminds us that each leg must be equally strong in order for the “stool” to function properly, balanced and supportive. Habitually, the questions What am I going to teach and How am I going to teach it? weigh heavier on an instructor’s mind than How will I assess? As a result, the assessment “leg” of the classroom stool is often the weakest of the three, the least understood and least effectively implemented.

What is assessment?
Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins, in Understanding by Design, offer this description: “By assessment we mean the act of determining the extent to which the desired results are on the way to being achieved and to what extent they have been achieved.” (p. 6)

In an education environment, the question becomes: Are students learning (or have they learned) what we want them to learn? Or, put another way, What would students be saying and doing if they truly understood what they were learning?

As educators, we need to have a clear answer to these questions in order to clarify goals and identify appropriate assessment tools. In the broadest sense, understanding is revealed through one’s ability to transfer knowledge and skills. But because understanding is complex and multifaceted, McTighe and Wiggins go further to identify six ways in which knowledge transfer can manifest itself: The Six Facets of Understanding.

Think about a time when you felt you really understood something. Perhaps it involved playing an instrument, participating in a sport, walking in another’s shoes. Now consider how your experience fits into the Six Facets Model. When you truly understood, you most likely were able to do at least one of the following:

  1. Explain
  2. Interpret
  3. Apply
  4. Have perspective
  5. Empathize
  6. Have self-knowledge

It should be noted that all six facets do not have to be present in order to determine whether a student has achieved understanding. It is more important that the six facets require us to shift from a teacher-centered model of teaching and assessing to a learner-centered one. By considering the actions or processes students must do to demonstrate they truly “get it” (understanding as doing), you, the instructor, will be better equipped to provide focused instruction and valid assessment.

Excerpted from How to Effectively Assess Online Learning. Learn more about this white paper »