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Assessment FOR Learning + Enthusiasm = Powerful Instruction

This was originally posted on Assessment FOR Learning.

What a privilege it is to be able to observe great educators practicing their craft!

Recently I had a chance to be in the classroom of Michelle Kovac, Salem High School's Marketing teacher. She was teaching Advanced Marketing. Two things stood out to me.

1. Mrs. Kovac did an excellent job of weaving AFL strategies and techniques into her classroom.

2. The strategies employed by Mrs. Kovac were highly successful IN PART due to the strategies themselves but MAINLY (in my opinion) due to the enthusiastic manner with which she employed them.

Let's start with the second thing I noticed - enthusiasm. In my interactions with teachers at various schools over the years I have often heard teachers bemoan the fact that while they have tried to use creative or new strategies they have been unsuccessful due to the weak level of their students. I would be overly "Pollyanna-ish" if I said that students had no bearing on the ability of a teacher to be effective. However, what I have noticed more often is that strong students mask poor teaching much more frequeently than weak students destroy great teaching.

Mrs. Kovac's Advanced Marketing class was an example of this situation. Advanced Marketing students are a diverse group. Some of them have been excellent students over the years. Some have struggled greatly. Some have had no disciplinary issues while others have had quite a few. Here's what they have in common, though. They are seniors in the spring - a time when seniors can be difficult to motivate.

I was amazed at what I saw in class that day. Mrs. Kovac's enthusiasm for the content was absolutely infectious. She acted as though Marketing was the coolest thing in the world, and as I sat in her class I began to to agree! She was a cheerleader, an entertainer, and a motivator - and the kids appreciated it. It was obvious that this was who she was in class on a daily basis because the kids thought it totally normal. Try faking enthusiasm on an occasional basis and students will see right through you.

The atmosphere is Mrs. Kovac's class was almost the way I envision an elementary classroom. What I mean is that these kids - these seniors - were excited to be there. They laughed. They joined in. When it was time to start working on projects they actually got up and RAN to get their supplies. One kid begged Mrs. Kovac to let her correct her quiz from the day before - not for points, not for a higher grade, just to be able to be correct. Mrs. Kovac finally "relented" and gave the student "permission" to correct her quiz!

When one student asked a particular question Mrs. Kovac said, "I feel a song coming on!" The entire class broke into a song about marketing. Seniors in high school willingly singing a song about Marketing in class - wow! That's what enthusiasm can do. It's what Parker Palmer describes in his book, The Courage to Teach. A teacher can lift up a class with his or her enthusiasm if the teacher has the courage to step out from behind the wall of safety that educators often erect. The courage that Mrs. Kovac showed to be herself, to be enthusiastic, and to share her love of her content is what made the assessment strategies she used work so well.

Here are the strong assessment strategies used that day by Mrs. Kovac:

Do Now Assignment - Predict Your Score
On the smart board were the numbers 3, 7, and 5. There were also 3 statements: "Guessed Correctly", "Guessed Wrong - Scored Higher", and "Guessed Wrong - Scored Lower". Students had to match a number with a statement. The day before students had taken a quiz and had predicted what their grade would be based on how well they had prepared for the quiz. For this day's Do Now assignment students had to match the numbers with the correct phrase. In other words they were trying to figure out that 3 students had correctly predicted their grades, 7 students had guessed wrong but scored higher, and 5 students had guessed wrong and scored lower.

So what are the assessment strengths here? Mrs. Kovac was training her students to analyze their preparation which in turn should help her students understand the role that preparation has in a student's success. This sort of feedback will hopefully encourage students to prepare more effectively in the future. Going back and analyzing how accurate their predictions were should help this knowledge sink in even more. It also gave Mrs. Kovac an opportunity to build them up by (enthusiastically) pointing out that they tended to underestimate themselves.

Why Did You Miss What You Missed?
When Mrs. Kovac handed back the students' quizzes she asked them to go over them and write down next to each question they missed why they missed it and what messed them up. She was not going to go over the quizzes with them that day. Instead, she told them that she first wanted to collect their feedback on why they missed what they missed. She told them that this feedback could alter how she goes over the quiz with them. She wanted it to be a learning experience rather simply listing out correct answers. When she went over the quiz with them the next day she wanted to be able to reteach/explain to them what they NEEDED to hear so they wouldn't miss the question next time around. This was a great example of a teacher collecting assessment data to guide instruction. She also told the students that she wanted them to get feedback for themselves so that they could ask appropriate questions. (By the way, this was when the one student begged to be able to correct her quiz.)

Analyzing the Competency List
Marketing classes teach based on a Marketing competency list the same way other courses might teach specific state or national standards. Mrs. Kovac had her students pull out their competency lists. The fact that they all had them and quickly pulled them out spoke volumes! Then they went through the competencies that they had recently covered and each student rated each of those competencies on a scale of 1-5 based on how well the student understood the specific competency. These students were fully involved in analyzing their own progress. Their competency list was becoming a study guide for the end of the year and a way for them to take ownership of their studies. Mrs. Kovac's students obviously did this sort of activity regularly because they were very familiar with the competency list. One of them even pointed out that she had forgotten to mention 2 of the competencies they had covered. Another kid excitedly pointed out that they were almost done with the list. When Mrs. Kovac (enthusiastically) asked, "Doesn't it feel good?" A chorus of students answered, "Yes!"

Mrs. Kovac's classroom is a good example of small ways to use AFL strategies to give students ownership of their own progress. Would those strategies work in any classroom? Yes - but they will work BEST when coupled with genuine enthusiasm.

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