Assessment for Learning
A blog for busy K-16 educators where we share ideas, strategies, and best assessment practices
that move the learning forward.
Cathy Box, PhD
that move the learning forward.
Cathy Box, PhD
Pursue, persist, grow: Learning through challenge
This article appeared in the Winter 2018 Reflections Journal, Volume 59, Issue 1 found at https://lcu.edu/alumni/publications/reflections/
Good things are happening at LCU. Just ask any student, staff member, or faculty about the University’s new Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP). The QEP is a university-wide endeavor that has been designed with students at the heart of this initiative, and it is guided by the desire to equip our students for 21st century living. Students walk through our doors from a vast array of life experiences and backgrounds, and some are more prepared than others to face the challenges associated with college life. In fact, our University recognizes that students, especially in their early college years, often face significant challenges that have the potential to derail them and keep them from fulfilling their dreams of completing a college education. Some challenges that students face are beyond our control—challenges such as balancing family and/or work obligations or navigating limited financial resources. Nevertheless, many are the result of social or academic interactions that occur on a routine basis and cause students to question whether they will be able to succeed in college or even belong there in the first place.
Challenges that hinder students’ success were identified during the 2016–2017 QEP topic selection process conducted by a committee of LCU faculty and staff. Consequently, a determined focus toward addressing these challenges was made a priority by the university in an effort to serve the needs of our students and strengthen the mission of the university, preparing students for lives of purpose and service. To do so we recognized that we must purposefully attend to factors that affect students’ potential for success and their ability to persevere through adversity. Based on this ideal, we determined that the purpose of our QEP would be to instill and foster academic tenacity among beginning undergraduate students in order to both establish and bolster persistence.
Academic tenacity refers to mindsets and metacognitive skills that allow students to look beyond short-term concerns to longer-term or higher-order goals and then withstand challenges and setbacks to persevere toward those goals (C. Dweck, Walton, & Cohen, 2014). According to psychologist Carol Dweck and her colleagues, students who are academically tenacious feel apparent academic and social belonging, see school as relevant to their future, work hard with the ability to postpone immediate pleasures, abate intellectual or social difficulties, seek out challenges, and remain engaged over the long haul.
Important to note within this discussion is that the mindset that students have about their own intelligence or other personal attributes affects their learning, learning behaviors, and tendency to stay the course when things get difficult. According to Dweck in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (2006), these mindsets refer to assumptions that students make about the malleability of personal attributes such as intelligence or morality. Some students have a fixed mindset—the belief that these traits are fixed, unchangeable entities—while others have a growth mindset—the belief that attributes such as intelligence or morality are indeed malleable and able to be changed or developed. Findings in cognitive and neurosciences fully support the second supposition. The brain is much more adaptable than we ever knew, and intelligence is certainly not fixed; it can be cultivated. In fact, contrary to popular belief, the brain does in fact change in structure and function in response to experiences throughout one’s life, even into old age.
As one might expect, most students demonstrate a fixed mindset about some traits and a growth mindset about others. However, problems arise from a fixed mindset when it is linked to a student’s academic development. Students with a fixed mindset are inclined to pursue performance goals rather than learning goals. In other words, they tend to worry about proving their intelligence and getting good grades, thereby preferring tasks that will verify how smart and capable they are. These students live under the assumption that they were not gifted with specific intellectual capabilities and will often say things like “I’m just not a math person,” or “I can’t write; it’s not my thing,”— or other various comments about their perceived inabilities. When tasks become challenging or difficult, fixed mindset students often disengage or exhibit other avoidance behaviors, because they are ill-equipped to cope with failure. In contrast, students with a growth mindset both see and believe the possibilities that exist through effort. They value hard work and tend to pursue learning goals. They focus on learning new concepts as well as improving their competence. When tasks become challenging, students with a growth mindset appear to experience less anxiety, put forth greater effort, and increase their engagement in the work at hand, accepting and even enjoying the challenge. With this in mind, a goal of the QEP, therefore, is to instill a growth mindset in our students and eliminate the inaccurate beliefs and misconceptions about intelligence that hinder success.
Equally important is the realization that the development of tenacity requires more than possessing a growth mindset, students must also be equipped with a repertoire of metacognitive skills if they are going to be able to put their growth mindset to work. Broadly defined, metacognition is knowledge about learning as well as having control over one’s own learning. Students who exercise metacognition are able to assess and monitor their current level of understanding, predict their own performance on various tasks, and manage learning processes that lead to understanding. Evidence from the research (Conley & French, 2014; Cury, Da Fonseca, Zahn, & Elliot, 2008; Jones, Slate, & Blake, 1995) indicates that students who hold a growth mindset tend to utilize more effective study practices and monitor their own learning. They are more likely to set learning goals, discover gaps in understanding, decide when and where to engage in learning tasks, and demonstrate efficacy in both self-assessment and study habits. Thus, it appears that growth mindset and metacognition are interdependent. Students need metacognitive skills to support a growth mindset and conversely need a growth mindset to fully employ their metacognitive skills. Accordingly, it stands to reason that metacognition has been strongly linked with improved college GPAs, college readiness, and retention (Conley & French, 2014; Lamar & Lodge, 2014; Mytkowicz, Goss, & Steinberg, 2014) making it all the more salient as we find ways to support students. Unfortunately, metacognitive acuity is often lacking in college students and must be purposefully developed if these skills are to be fully realized and leveraged to work in conjunction with a growth mindset. Developing these skills is another goal of the QEP.
And finally, in addition to developing a growth mindset in students and honing their metacognitive skills, faculty at LCU are learning how to adapt their coursework and curricula accordingly. In order to do so, faculty are studying principles of growth mindset and metacognition, utilizing practices that develop and support adaptive mindsets, and finding ways to implement assessment measures that allow for a greater capacity of learning through practice.
As you can see, this QEP is working diligently to create a campus culture that fully embraces the power of a growth mindset and fosters academic tenacity in students. The ideas that emanate from this initiative transcend academia and have far-reaching implications in all aspects of students’ lives. While, it has the potential to affect personal relationships, marriages, jobs, parenting, and achievements in athletic or other extracurricular endeavors, most importantly, it has the potential to affect students’ spiritual lives. As Christian educators, we are dedicated to caring for the whole student by preparing them for lives of purpose and service. For this reason, it is vitally important that we acknowledge each student as a beautiful gift from God and affirm the potential that lies within each and every one. We firmly believe that the QEP will go a long way toward contributing to that goal.
Conley, D. T., & French, E. M. (2014). Student ownership of learning as a key component of college readiness. American Behavioral Scientist, 58(8), 1018–1034.
Cury, F., Da Fonseca, D., Zahn, I., & Elliot, A. (2008). Implicit theories and IQ test performance: A sequential mediational analysis. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 44(3), 783–791.
Dweck, C., Walton, G., & Cohen, G. (2014). Academic tenacity: Mindsets and skills that promote long-term learning. Retrieved from https://ed.stanford.edu/sites/default/files/manual/dweck-walton-cohen-2014.pdf
Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York: Ballantine Books.
Jones, C. H., Slate, J. R., & Blake, P. C. (1995). Relationship of study skills, conceptions of intelligence, and grade level in secondary school students. Study habits inventory and Thoughts about achievement questionnaire, 79, 25-32.
Lamar, S., & Lodge, J. (2014). Making sense of how I learn: Metacognitive capital and the first year university student. International Journal of the First Year in Higher Education, 5(1), 93–105.
Mytkowicz, P., Goss, D., & Steinberg, B. (2014). Assessing metacognition as a learning outcome in a postsecondary strategic learning course. Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability, 27(1), 51–62.
In my next blog, we will investigate the intersection of a growth mindset with Assessment for Learning and how the two are interdependent. In the meantime, here are links to relevant growth mindset literature. (Credit to Lyndsey Slaughter, LCU Education Major)
Growth Mindset Literature Bibliography
Aronson, J., Fried, C. B., & Good, C. (2002). Reducing the effects of stereotype threat on African American college students by shaping theories of intelligence. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 38, 113-125.
Barnes, N., & Fives, H. (2016). Creating a context for a growth-focused assessment. Middle School Journal, 47(5), 30-37. doi:10.1080/00940771.216.1226638
Boaler, J. (2013). "Ability and Mathematics: The Mindset Revolution that Is Reshaping Education." FORUM: for promoting 3-19 comprehensive education 55(1): 143-152.
Chan, D. W. (2012). Life Satisfaction, Happiness, and the Growth Mindset of Healthy and Unhealthy Perfectionists Among Hong Kong Chinese Gifted Students. Roeper Review, 34, 224-233. doi:10.1080/02783193.2012.715333
Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York, United States of America: Random House.
Dweck, C. S. (2010, January). Mind-Sets and Equitable Education. Principal Leadership, 26-29.
Dweck, C. S. (2012, November). Mindsets and Human Nature: Promoting Change in the Middle East, the Schoolyard, the Racial Divide, and Willpower. American Psychologist, 614-622. doi:10.1037/a0029783
Dweck, C., Walton, G., & Cohen, G. (2014). Academic Tenacity: Mindsets and skills that promote long-term learning. Retrieved from https://ed.stanford.edu/sites/default/files/manual/dweck-walton-cohen-2014.pdf
Dweck, C. S. (2015). Growth. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 85(2), 242-245.
Dweck, C. S., Chiu, C.-y., & Hong, Y.-y. (1995). Implicit Theories and Their Role in Judgments and Reactions: A World From Two Perspectives. 6(4), 267-285.
Fitzgerald, C. J., & Laurian-Fitzgerald, S. (n.d.). Helping Students Enhance Their Grit and Growth Mindsets. Journal Plus Education, 52-67.
Glenn, D. (2010). Carol Dweck's Attitude: It's not about how smart you are. The Chronicle of Higher Education, May 9. Retrieved from http://www.chronicle.com/article/Carol-Dwecks-Attitude/65405/
Hochanadel, A., & Finamore, D. (2015). Fixed And Growth Mindset In Education And How Grit Helps Students Persist In The Face of Adversity. Journal of International Education Research, 11(1), 47-50.
Kuh, G., Kinzie, J., Buckley, B., & Hayek, J. (July, 2006). What matters to student success: A review of the literature. National Symposium on Postsecondary Student Success. Symposium conducted at the meeting of National Postsecondary Education Cooperative, November 2006, Washington, D.C. Retrieved from https://nces.ed.gov/npec/pdf/kuh_team_report.pdf.
Lindsay, K., Kirby, D., Dluzewska, T., & Campbell, S. (2015). "Oh, the Places You'll Go!": Newcastle Law School's Partnership Interventions for Well-Being in First Year Law. Journal Of Learning Design, 8(2), 11-21.
Martin, A. J. (2015). Growth approaches to academic development: Research into academic trajectories and growth assessment, goals, and mindsets. The British Psychological Society, 85, 133-137.
Mindset in the Classroom A National Study of K-12 Teachers. (2016). Education Week Research Center, 3-28.
Rattan, A., Savani, K., Chugh, D., & Dweck, C. S. (2015). Leveraging Mindsets to Promote Academic Achievement: Policy Recommendations. Perspectives On Psychological Science: A Journal Of The Association For Psychological Science, 10(6), 721-726. doi:10.1177/1745691615599383
VandeWalle, D. (2012, September). A Growth and Fixed Mindset Exposition of the Value of Conceptual Clarity. Industrial and Organizational Psychology, 5(3), 301-305. doi:10.1111/j.1754-9434.2012.01450.x
Yeager, D. S., & Dweck, C. S. (2012). Mindsets That Promote Resilience: When Students Believe That Personal Characteristics Can Be Developed. Educational Psychologist, 47(4), 302-314.
Yeager, D.S., Paunesky, D., Walton, G.M., and Dweck, C. (June, 2013). How can we instill productive mindsets at scale? A review of the evidence and an initial R&D agenda. Paper presented at the White House meeting on Excellence in Education: The Importance of Academic Mindsets. (This paper is a draft and cannot be quoted or cited without written permission).
Powerpoint for the Consortium of State Organizations for Teacher Preparation Programs (CSOTTE) 2016.
Flipped Learning Provides Fertile Ground for Formative Assessment
Practical Formative Assessment Strategies for the Flipped Classroom
As you read in my earlier post one of the most important components of Assessment for Learning includes strategies teachers and students should use to move the learning forward. Once we have made the learning targets clear and students are aware of what quality work looks like and what their goal is, we must provide activities that afford students an opportunity to learn in a manner that can produce visible evidence of mastery. This is new territory for some, and this particular blog post is not dedicated to classroom instructional strategies (coming soon) but rather what to do once the learning has begun. I cannot overstate the importance of three things: effective feedback, self- and peer-assessment, and goal setting by the students.
Let's start with feedback. There is a big difference between feedback and making observations or critiques. Consider the difference that two friends recently shared with me. Both had a problem with using a confident voice in front of colleagues and/or students. One of my friends received this "feedback" from her boss…"I don't know why your voice was so shaky and high pitched in that meeting. You sounded scared (shaking his head with bewilderment)." Contrast that with the feedback another friend received, "Ms. Jones, the instructions you gave were important and you said all the right things. However, the students couldn't really hear what you were saying. Try lowering your voice and projecting with confidence. If you want to hear someone who does a good job at this, go next door and listen to Ms. Rameriz - she's got it down." There's a big difference here - one is helpful and has the potential to promote growth and one is simply an insult with no suggestions for improvement.
The same can be said for written feedback. Feedback that only points out problems without providing something positive, and suggestions for improvement is simply criticism. It has no potential to help students grow. In fact, it is likely to discourage them from trying.
Many, many research studies have produced clear and convincing evidence that feedback is vitally important and, if done right, has the potential to significantly improve achievement. And conversely, if done wrong or neglected all together has the potential to actually harm or be detrimental to the learning. In his book, Embedded Formative Assessment, Dylan Wiliam provides a succinct summary of the research and practical strategies for providing quality feedback. I highly recommend that you invest in this book and take it to heart.
Here's the part that's really hard to swallow. According to the research, just assigning a grade to a student's work does nothing to improve learning. Students are either happy or sad (or have no feeling at all) with their grade, then they set it aside and move on. When teachers put feedback or comments on a paper along with the grade, the effect is virtually the same - there is no positive effect. However, if students receive comments only, or success/intervention feedback that has three components 1) positive praise, 2) area that needs work, and 3) how to accomplish or improve, the learning improves significantly and expeditiously.
Oh my. How do we accomplish that in a way that is practical and manageable? To do this, feedback must be provided early on, where there is time to make corrections and should be within the range of what students can act on. Ideally, it should also give students a chance to self-assess as they partner with the teacher in the learning process. Here are three practical ways to provide effective feedback:
There are many other ways to provide effective feedback but this is a start. Give it a try and see for yourself if the learning improves. As you try this in your classroom, share with us strategies that you use to make it manageable! In my next blog, I'll address the power of self- and peer-assessment and goal setting and provide concrete ways of making it happen in your classroom. A post you won't want to miss…
Practical formative assessment strategies for the flipped classroom. Let's do this!
Educators around the world are beginning to see the benefits of the flipped classroom and we've seen more and more teachers leveraging the power of technology to improve instruction. In a nutshell, flipped learning is a pedagogical model where the typical lecture and homework elements of instruction are reversed. Students watch a video before coming to class that serves as the lecture, then they have the opportunity to work collaboratively during class time on their homework or related projects. If you are not familiar with the flipped classroom I recommend that you check out the Flipped Learning Network to learn more. The bottom line is this: in the flipped classroom we have a golden opportunity to take learning to a new level. Rather than spend our time talking, we can spend our time listening…and mentoring…and guiding the learning experience.
This novel approach to instruction and a shift in how we spend face to face time with our students necessitates a change in our assessment practices. If you want to get the most bang for your buck out of the flipped classroom, it critical that you purposefully plan and implement effective formative assessment strategies. My blog post on the Flipped Learning Global Initiative site provides some insight that you might find informative.
Here are several strategies that you can easily implement into the learning environment that are formative in nature and dovetail nicely with the flipped (or any learner-centered) classroom. However, don't forget that formative assessment aka Assessment for Learning is a process, not a strategy (more details here). Schedule time into your curriculum to implement these strategies. Don't just use them as fillers or extensions to implement if you have time. Using these strategies with fidelity will result in higher quality work and will certainly pay off in the long run.
Some practical strategies:
TSAR - Think, Share, Advise, Revise - click here for description. This powerful peer assessment strategy improves the quality of work by leaps and bounds. I use it for assignments that are subjective and time-consuming to grade. After students have finished their project or work to be graded, use class time to have them TSAR the assignment. Then allow them the opportunity to make revisions before submitting their final work for a grade. This encourages students to become active partners with each other and with the teacher in the teaching/learning process.
Strong and Weak Work - click here for description. This strategy (adapted from Seven Strategies of Assessment for Learning) strengthens students’ evaluative thinking by letting them assess examples of quality and less than quality work. The goal here is to help students attain an understanding about accuracy and quality that is similar to yours. You can use it in several different ways, depending on the kind of learning target you are teaching and assessment method you will use. I use this strategy before giving the students their assignment.
Feedback Form for group projects - click here for the editable handout. Require students to complete the "Our Opinion" section of this form and turn it in with the rough draft of their assignment. Then after a quick assessment of their work, provide success/intervention feedback that describes their strengths and what you think they need to do to improve. Students then work together to formulate an improvement plan and submit to you for approval before completion and a final grade.
Tracking My Progress - click here for the editable handout. Make the learning targets clear and allow students to track their own progress by providing them with a checklist of their I Can statements then have them traffic light where they are in relation to mastery. Use map colors to label their work green, yellow or red according to whether they think they have good, partial, or little understanding of the objective after each checkpoint or opportunity to demonstrate an understanding of the objective. Before the unit is over, they should be able to provide concrete evidence of mastery. If they cannot, then find an opportunity to reteach and close the learning gap until they get it.
Give it a try and let me know how it goes! You can do this....
Check out my blog post about flipped learning at the Flipped Learning Global Initiative website! Then stay tuned to hear about practical ways you can implement formative assessment in your flipped classroom. Coming soon!
To those who attended my session at the HEFLC - welcome to my blog! Start at the beginning to journey through the world of formative assessment. Contact me if you need help! Here are the handouts I promised, along with the powerpoint.
(c) Cathy Box PhD, Lubbock Christian University, 2016
What's in a Grade?
In 1897 Mount Holyoke University established the following grading scale: A Excellent (95-100), B Good (85-94), C Fair (76-84), D Passed (75), E Failed (Below 75). Look familiar? It should. Many K-12 schools still cling to a system very similar to this one that was established over 100 years ago for colleges and universities. Standardization in U.S. schools began during the rise of the industrial revolution and has continued to this day.
In my last post I broached the subject of grades. Ouch. For some reason this topic gets teachers and the general public riled up more than many issues in education. But teachers, I must ask you - has this ever happened to you? A student is passing your class with flying colors but the district assessment or state standardized test rolls around and your student fails? Or how about the opposite? They fail your class but pass district or state tests, demonstrating knowledge and mastery of the content. What's going on? Is there a disconnect between their grade in your class and what they really know and can do? It is surely something worthy of our consideration as we try to figure out what's going on here.
For those of you who are not familiar with a typical grading system in many U.S. classrooms, often grades are used as a behavioral blunt force instrument…points are deducted for various and sundry reasons, ie, not putting their name on the paper, messiness, wrong heading, misbehavior or inattention during the activity, or turning in late work (typically if it's one day late -10, two days late -20, three days late -30, more than three days they receive a zero). Conversely we give extra credit or bonus points for bringing supplies, returning permission slips, participation, or one of my favorites - a principal required me to give a daily grade of 100 in my science class for all students who were "dressed for success" that day. Seriously? Over time we have inextricably mixed learning outcomes with behavior outcomes. A messy proposition especially in this era of high-takes testing and accountability.
One of my favorite stories about the frustration with our grading system came from a friend whose first grade daughter was failing math. He wanted to help her with the concepts that she was having trouble with so he spoke to her teacher. The teacher encouraged him not to fret - his daughter was really good at math - the best in her class in fact. But there were two homework papers she hadn't turned in, hence the failing grade. First grade. It's an epidemic.
So I confess, when I began my career as a high school science teacher, I used grades to control behavior, strictly enforcing a grade reduction/zero policy. Here were the excuses I used. You may have heard these (or used them) as well. 1) It is my job to teach them responsibility 2) I'm getting them ready for the real world or for college or 3) How can I assess them and assign a grade if they won't turn anything in?
Here are some things to ponder. Is there any research that supports the claim that reducing their grade for behavioral infractions teaches them responsibility? Is there another way to teach students responsibility without it being part of their math or science or English grade? Shouldn't a math grade tell students, parents, and teachers what they can do in math and so on? Yes, we need to teach them responsibility - I completely agree. I just think we can find better ways to do so. For many students, deducting points from their assignment doesn't matter to them at all. Giving them a zero for a missing assignment lets them off the hook. How is that teaching them to be responsible? A responsible student is held accountable to finish what they start and to meet the requirements of the course to the best of their ability. I contend that the point deduction system may have been more of a matter of convenience for me rather than a way to teach students responsibility. It is very inconvenient when students come to class unprepared or homework is not turned in on time. We have to keep up with late papers, who did and did not turn in their work, how many days it was late, etc. Very inconvenient.
Here was another one I used frequently: "I'm getting them ready for the real world or for college." I wonder who came up with that one? It seems to have stuck and become urban legend. Why didn't I think about getting them ready for the real world or for college by making sure they know the content, teaching them to think critically and reason, problem solve, know how to learn, study, find information, make sense of information, and finish what they start, not letting them off the hook -that's real world for you. These skills are so very important but much harder to teach than "responsibility." Again, I agree that we need to promote responsibility - an important attribute that productive workers or college students need to be successful. I just don't think reducing their grade is the way to get it done.
And lastly, "How can I assess their learning if they won't turn anything in? That's why they are failing - because of all those zeroes. It's not my fault - it's on them". If the assignment is important to the learning, why would we ever allow them to get by without turning it in? Picture this: As a high school English teacher you are teaching your students to write a persuasive essay. You teach for several days then assign an essay for homework. The next day, several students didn't do their homework and have nothing to turn in. You waggle your finger at them and remind them that you are taking 10 points off each day they're late, up to three days and a zero after that. Some students never turn in their essay so you give them a zero and now their grade average in your class drops significantly. So do they (even the irresponsible students) not need to know how to write in the real world? How responsible is it to simply not do something you've been assigned? And how is it fair to the students who did their work to allow others not to? You might ask how it's fair that the responsible student and the irresponsible student end of up with same grade. Aren't we creative enough to find ways to reward those students who took care of business in a timely manner in other ways rather than on their grade? Let's start being creative and find ways to make sure that their grades really reflect what they know and can do so that we are truly preparing them for what's next.
Next blog - changing our language from a grade mindset to a learning mindset. Stay tuned!
It's about the learning, right?
Congratulations! You survived another semester and I hope are enjoying some well-deserved R&R. Take this time to enjoy family and friends and a brain break from school and all things academic (: at least for a short time. When you are ready to gear up for 2016 take some time to reflect on the past semester and things that went well and things that need improvement. Since I'm an assessment nerd, I want to pose a few questions for you to ponder before beginning the new semester:
Is it really about learning or about playing the grade game?
Want some answers? Watch for my next blog...
Follow me at:
I am a former science teacher and currently work at Lubbock Christian University as the QEP Director and in the School of Education preparing future teachers. I am passionate about helping teachers find practical ways to improve learning!