Saturday, April 2, 2016

Set Learning Goals That Matter; Assess Them in Ways That Matter

Feeling the need to bring some new spring life into your classroom?

Spring can be a tough time for any of us—students or teachers—to be trapped in the classroom. So many exciting things—things that haven’t happened for months—are happening outside. Things like warm sunshine, new leaves, riotous blossoms, twittering birds, and the satisfying thwack of baseballs into gloves. While inside the classroom, it’s the same old same old that we’ve been doing since August.

Still, I went into Easter weekend super-charged because I’d just read a set of 10th grade student assessments. Sounds crazy, I know, but they were assessments where students demonstrated creatively and insightfully significant learning goals: not only understanding of the novel, but mastery of character voice, empathy, and application. 

In this particular unit—a literature unit centered on the novel After Dark by Haruki Murakami—I had targeted the theme of empathy and the skill of noticing writing style. I wrote about some of our process here and here. So for the final assessment, I asked 2 questions, for which I suggested a 1-2 paragraph answer. They had the questions ahead of time for consideration. Here is the final assessment:
  • To what extent have you learned to get inside a character’s head, vicariously experiencing his/her life? To what extent have you reflected on what that means for your life? Respond to the following 2 prompts (15 minutes each; 1-2 good, solid paragraphs) to give evidence of the above learning:
    • Imaginative empathy: Write a journal entry or letter in the voice of one of the characters. This should demonstrate understanding of the character, the book, and ability to put yourself inside the character’s head.
    • Practical empathy: What did you learn from the novel about imaginatively “seeing” people so you can love them, and how does that connect to your life?
The responses were amazing. The responses to the first question chose a wide variety of characters and situations, and not only demonstrated understanding of the book and the character, but also sounded exactly like that character’s voice—precise, or dreamy, or blundering. The responses to the second question made personal, appropriate, and specific applications.
Forgetting student motivation for the moment, this is about the time of year I need to motivate myself! And I’m the teacher—I get to set the learning goals and design the assessments that will happen in my classroom. So I can make sure they are meaningful—for the students to do and for me to read! 

So open up the windows and let a breath of fresh spring air invigorate you and your students: What is one meaningful learning goal and assessment you can use in your classroom in the remainder of this year?

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