Assessment: The link between teaching and learning

  • 23 Mar 2017 Dr. Ritu Dhangwal and Amit Bahl  (Product Development, MindChampion Learning Systems Limited, NIIT Nguru)

Our students do not learn what we teach. It is this simple and profound reality which means that assessment is perhaps the central process in effective instruction. If our students learned what we taught, we would never need to assess. We could simply catalogue all the learning experiences we had organized for them, certain in the knowledge that this is what they had learned. But of course, a person who has spent ample time in a classroom can ascertain this hardly ever happens. No matter how carefully we design and implement the instruction, what our students learn not predictable with any certainty. Assessment can make it likely that we can discern whether the instructional activities in which we engaged our students resulted in the intended learning. Assessment really is the bridge between teaching and learning. Of course, the idea that assessment can help learning is not new, but what is new is a growing body of evidence that commends attention to what is sometimes called assessment for learning, is one of the most powerful ways of improving student achievement. Different people have diverse views about what correctly counts as assessment of learning. Many of us think it should be applied only to the minute-to-minute and day-to-day interactions between students and teachers, while others also see short-term, or standard, tests conducted every six to ten weeks as assessment for learning. For teachers part, they can create any assessment potentially, be formative. It’s suggested that to describe an assessment as formative is what Gilbert Ryle in 1949 described as a “category mistake” i.e. ascribing to something a property it cannot have.  If we accept that any assessment can be used as assessment for learning, we need some way of defining assessment for learning in a way that is useful for classroom practice. The way that I have found most useful is to think of three key processes in learning: 1.    Where the learner is right now 2.    Where the learner needs to be 3.    How to get there It’s also vital to consider the respective roles of teachers, students and peers. Considering the methods and the roles as self-regulating. All stakeholders i.e. teachers, students and peers have a role in each. The term assessment for learning should apply not to the assessment but to the purpose that the evidence generated by the assessment actually serves. For instance, a seventh-grade teacher had given her students an English language arts test, under test conditions, and collected the student responses. Customarily teachers would like to grade the students’ responses, add helpful feedback, and return the graded papers to the students the following day. But this time, however, the teacher choose not to grade the papers. She swiftly read through them and decided that the following day each student would receive back her or his own paper; next step is to form groups of four students and each group would be given one  response sheet, so that they could, as a group, produce the best composite paper.  When the student groups had done this, the teacher would take a plenary discussion in which groups discoursed on their agreed responses. What is interesting about the example is that the assessment being used had been intended completely for summative purposes, but the teacher had set up a way of using it as assessment for learning. People often want to know “what works” in education, but the simple truth is that everything works someplace, and nothing works in all places. That’s why one can never tell teachers exactly what to do—classrooms are far too complex for any prescription to be possible, and dissimilarities in context makes a course of action useful in one situation disastrous in another. Nevertheless, research can highlight for teachers what kinds of avenues are worth discerning and which are likely to be dead ends, and this is why assessment for learning in classroom appears to be so promising. Across a range of contexts, not focussing on what the teacher is offering in the instruction but to what the students are learning from it has increased both student engagement and achievement.  Different teachers will find different aspects of assessment for learning in classroom more effective for their individual styles, their students, and contexts in which they work—so each teacher must decide how to adapt the ideas outlined above for in practice usage. As one writes conclusion in research papers- “more research is needed,” but the span of the available research suggests that if teachers develop their practice focused on the principles charted above, they are implausible to fail because of the neglect of refined or delicate features. There will never be an optimal model, but as long as teachers continue to investigate that extremely complex relationship between “What I can do as a teacher?” and “How my students learn?” good things are likely to happen.

@2016 MindChampion Learning Systems Limited (Fully owned subsidiary of NIIT Ltd)