Flipping Assessment: Making Assessment a Learning Experience

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’re already aware that flipped instruction has become the latest trend in higher education classrooms. And for good reason. As it was first articulated by Bergmann and Sams, flipped instruction personalizes education by “redirecting attention away from the teacher and putting attention on the learner and learning.” As it has evolved, the idea of flipped instruction has moved beyond alternative information delivery to strategies for engaging students in higher-level learning outcomes. Instead of one-way communication, instructors use collaborative learning strategies and push passive students to become problem solvers by synthesizing information instead of merely receiving it. More recently on this blog, Honeycutt and Garrett referred to the FLIP as “Focusing on your Learners by Involving them in the Process” of learning during class, and Honeycutt has even developed assessments appropriate for flipped instruction. What’s been left out of the conversation about flipped classrooms, however, is why and how we might also need to flip assessment practices themselves.

The bottom line in flipped instruction is actively engaging students in higher-level learning during class. Although many instructors see assessment as a separate part of the learning cycle—a part that doesn’t typically involve students—there are ways to shift the focus of assessment from the instructor to the student as well as involve students in the process, thereby flipping assessment by making it a learning strategy. Here are a few suggestions for flipping assessments:

  • Create assignment/course rubrics with students. This strategy allows students to provide input on the standards by which they will be graded as well as promotes a deeper understanding of what the standards mean. Instructors and students involved in the discussion during the co-creation of rubrics standardize their concept of quality work, giving students a clearer understanding of what they are being asked to do and the level at which they should be performing. Inclusion in the creation of rubrics also motivates students to participate more fully in the learning process.
  • Have students fill in evidence of learning on their assignment/course rubric. Give students a modified rubric with the articulation for the highest achievement level and leave a blank space for them to write in. This flipped assessment strategy enables students to reflect on their learning and take an active role in the grading process by directing the instructor’s attention to their achievements. Instead of passively “receiving” a grade, students actively guide the instructor in assessing their work in a particular context, one that the students articulate for the instructor. This method, coupled with the last, allows students to participate in authentic assessment situations that they might face in job performance assessments as current or future employees.
  • Grade with students in grading conferences. This unconventional strategy, much like flipped classrooms, actively engages students in learning during assessment. Having students sit with instructors while they grade takes the mystery out of how assignments are assessed, and it enables students to actively question, clarify, and understand why they are assigned their grades. Their involvement in the grading process also allows instructors to see where students misunderstand points on the rubrics or in classroom instruction. Grading becomes a collaborative activity where learning by both instructor and student also takes place, unlike the one-way communication situation inherent in conventional grading situations.

When I have used flipped assessments in my writing courses, students have responded positively. After participating in grading conferences, students reported that this grading experience was more personal, important, and valued, and that they felt more confident in revising their work. Students also felt that the grading standards were clear and fair as a result of co-creating and discussing the course rubric.

Students engaged in these flipped assessment strategies are reflective learners who generate evidence for their own assessments. They can take charge of how and why they learn, a major tenet of flipped instruction itself, or at least have a voice in that process. In this way, the energy of assessing their work shifts away from the instructor and toward the students, enhancing their learning in the process. Flipped assessment features a collaborative process where information flows between students and instructors instead of only one way. Finally, students are involved in the full process of learning, including the integral element of assessment, by their synthesis of standards and analysis of their own work. This is a powerful moment where pedagogy and personal/professional practices come together. When we flip our classrooms to be more focused on student learning and student goals, and when we consequently flip our assessment practices to foster agency in our students and help them develop the skills they need for providing evidence of their learning, then we’re mentoring them; we’re walking them through the processes that we, as teachers, need to enact daily.

Bergmann, Jonathan, and Aaron Sams. Flip Your Classroom Reach Every Student in Every Class Every Day. Eugene, Or.: International Society for Technology in Education, 2012.

Barbi, Honeycutt, and Jennifer Garrett. “Expanding the Definition of a Flipped Learning Environment.” Faculty Focus. January 31, 2014. Accessed April 8, 2015. https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/instructional-design/expanding-definition-flipped-learning-environment/

Susan Spangler is an associate professor of English at the State University of New York at Fredonia.