Thoughts on Assessment

My presentation at EduCon 2.1 helped me conceptualize some of my thoughts and research efforts on assessment in the 21st-century classroom. My interest in assessment emerged out of my research on blogging communities and adolescent literacy. The student participants in my study engaged in writing and reading through a variety of complex and rich interactions. They posted their own work on their blogs, commented on the work of their peers, linked to each other’s work, and initiated numerous conversations in the class blogosphere. My biggest challenge as a teacher-researcher was to figure out what kind of role I should play in the community. The traditional role of the teacher seemed inadequate. I knew that, as active bloggers and communicators, the students would not respond well to a teacher who enters the class blogosphere only to assign work or to evaluate their writing.

Then another issue arose quite quickly – assessment. Once I started responding to student work in a readerly fashion and participating as a contributor, reader, and not just an evaluator, I realized that it would be unfair to the students to reduce all their rich interactions and complex online presence to a B+ or a 13/15. I realized that I needed to develop an assessment strategy that would take into account the complexity of student interactions online and recognize the process as much as the final product.

The students themselves helped me arrive at this realization. Only two days after I asked the students to compose a written response to the work we had covered, they began to use their blogs not only to brainstorm but also to request feedback from their peers and engage them in discussions about the work they were doing for this assignment. The assignment itself gave my students a lot of freedom – they could compose a personal reflection, an essay, a narrative account of their engagement with the material, or even a creative response in the form of a short story or a collection of poems. Two days after we discussed this task in class, I noticed that they turned to the class community for help. What follows is a list of individual blog entry titles that I found in the class community two days after the task was assigned:

Here’s my plan – could you comment?

Work in progress. Please comment everyone.

Rough draft. Comments would be greatly appreciated.

My essay unfolds … any thoughts?

Thesis improved (again). Tell me what you think.

Essay … it’s coming along. Pls post ideas and suggestions.

Improved introduction (after some comments and suggestions)

New and much improved planning post – expecting comments. Thanks.

I was very impressed – the students had turned to the community of their peers to request feedback. Then, I realized that none of the children asked me for feedback. It didn’t take long to realize that, a) they didn’t see me as a contributor in the community, and b) they associated me with corrections and grades. At this stage, they were not ready for corrections yet – they were simply interested in having conversations about their ideas. They needed somebody to talk to and, as their teacher, I was not at the top of their list.

Hardly surprising, I know. But this experience helped me realize that we don’t spend enough time providing feedback for our students and that most of what teachers consider teaching and assessment consists of marking and correcting student work. This kind of practice does not engage our students in those rich interactive processes of talking about their work and their ideas.

Initially, my role as a teacher was limited to first presenting the material (and engaging the students by initiating conversations) and then marking their work. I was absent from that rich part that happened in the middle where the students continued our classroom conversations online by brainstorming on their blogs, requesting and providing feedback, and engaging in conversations about some of the key ideas in the course. Instead of engaging with them, I just waited for them to submit their work.

Teacher and a class blogosphere

As my research continued, however, I realized that I needed to spend more time with them in the community that we had created together. I needed to not only give them the freedom to interact online but also support them as they engaged in virtual conversations about their work and posted planning/brainstorming entries. That complex and interactive process of knowledge building (represented by the middle square in the diagram above) required more of my involvement. It offered a great opportunity to support student learning and to learn more about the students as learners and individuals.

Unfortunately, teachers often don’t know how to participate in that process and tend to focus on assessing the finished product. They tend to concentrate on the two areas in the diagram above where their roles are clearly defined. They focus on presenting content and then evaluating the quality of student responses to assigned tasks. These roles represent familiar territory, but they fail to take into account that teaching, learning, and assessment are interrelated. The problem with limiting ourselves to teaching and evaluating is that these roles alone ignore the potential to initiate and sustain rich interactions with knowledge. They ignore the opportunity to support our students as learners.

These traditional roles of provider and evaluator also reinforce the hierarchical relationship between teacher and student. However, a teacher who enters a community of independent learners/writers/researchers to support and encourage student learning removes that hierarchical structure and encourages students to become more involved in the assessment process. Assessment in this situation can become more collaborative because the teacher and the student have opportunities to discuss/co-construct the task itself, the criteria, the process of learning.

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18 Responses to Thoughts on Assessment

  1. Kathy Breeding February 20, 2009 at 4:56 pm #

    I couldn’t agree with you more on the role of discussion and providing feedback during the process of learning.We have had “quiet classrooms” for long enough and it is time for the students, digitally and otherwise, to be able to confer with peers, ask for input and get feedback during the process rather than at the assessment stage.

  2. Nancy February 20, 2009 at 8:30 pm #

    Sue Waters sent me your way after I whined on blog about my student bloggers. We’ve had a student blog for almost three years averaging about 50 bloggers a year. I teach gifted kids, many of them brilliant thinkers and writers albeit reluctant.

    I decided that I wanted to see if I could get my kids into the blogging habit so before Winter Break I made blogging mandatory. I only see the kids once a week so they were to blog at home. There was a ‘reward/punishment’ system built in to the requirement. 95% of the kids blogged/commented every week. The quality varied from “State Assessments ( and why they are completely and utterly ridiculous)” to “My Last Basketball Game” to “Why Am I Addicted to Gummy Bears”. Comments too ranged from profound and insightful to stupid. BUT we were blogging.

    Several weeks ago I decided to drop the requirement and the posts and comments dropped off considerably. Now I’m rethinking my purpose and what the next step is–I just realized after reading your post that the lack of give and take commenting was more disappointing than ‘silly’ initial posts.

    There was so much focus on getting the task done (required post) that there was not the level of reflecting and thinking I was trying to engage the kids in. Thanks for letting me think more about this here–I know I can contribute in a different way. I’ll be thinking about that.

    Our student blog is here at

  3. Charlie A. Roy February 20, 2009 at 11:43 pm #

    Thanks for sharing this great post. Many of our teachers are now experimenting with blogs in their classrooms. I’ll be forwarding this along. I think it helps to hit on a fundamental change in the role of teacher caused by the presence of ubiquitous information and web 2.0 technology.

  4. Jon March 4, 2009 at 8:46 pm #

    I’m just learning about blogs and how I’m going to engage my students in them. I too am wandering around trying to find my role as teacher. I’ve already seen it shift through my years as teacher by engaging in more dialogue with students during the writing and reading process. I anticipate this will be even more evident as we move into the world of blogging together. I was glad to find these reflections before I move forward.

  5. Dean groom March 12, 2009 at 4:52 pm #

    Konrad, yet another great post. I shot some student video a few weeks ago where students were talking about university to non-educator background academics. The talk endlessly about the end a d the beginning, and articulate little about out the middle. Assessment, ESP in exams, seems to me to indicate a lack on teacher confidnece in their formative assessment acuracy. You should blog more!

  6. Gerard W. Poole March 15, 2009 at 7:02 am #

    Whether students are using blogging or not in the middle square of your paradigm, I believe your claim that it is an area where teachers are unsure of themselves holds true. I believe this has to do to with several factors. One may be be that teachers are too product orientated rather than process orientated. They know what they want the students to make. They can show it to them and can tell them how their finished work compares to the model. They may see success in their students only if the product matches what they want. Some of the growth students make in your middle square may not be immediately visible. However, that is where student growth is occurring. Working in the middle square requires teachers to continually assess students individually in order to guide/prompt them where they are in the process, more difficult than assessing a final product.

  7. Sarah March 21, 2009 at 3:37 pm #

    I’m fascinated by how quickly your students turned to each other for in-process feedback. In some ways this is great, yes? I’ve always encouraged peer review.

    However, I think you’re right about identifying a problem when you talk about the fact that students see the teacher as the correcter and not as part of the process. In the teacher as master learner model, the teacher will be right in there with the students. It’s a model I like tremendously, but one that will need to be developed and learned by all of us, teachers and students together and over time.

  8. Steu July 10, 2009 at 10:08 am #

    I enjoy reading your blog. It has given me some insight about teaching and I think other teachers will benefit from what you are writing.

    I have added it to my education portal at and I also added a link to the virtual class project in SL under “technology in Teaching”.

    Let me know if you have any questions and thanks for your ideas and thoughts.

    Steu Mann, M. Ed.

  9. Shanna Lipp October 5, 2009 at 6:51 pm #

    I absolutely love this post and have been inspired to start a blog with my students. The question I am still left wondering is – How do we assess their work? The more I teach, the more I wish grades were not a requirement. How does one prevent a grade on a blog from being too subjective? Do we use a rubric? But then as stated above that “reduces all their rich interactions and complex online presence” to a number.

    I do not want to only have a provider and evaluator teacher role. I want to be actively engaged in the learning process along the way. But the other question that always arises for me is – How do we as educators find the time to meet with each student on a regular basis?

  10. Susan Davis October 22, 2009 at 5:48 pm #

    This is most helpful. I am just starting the blogging process with students and feel that is is much overlooked as a means of expression for students to explore. Trying two blogs on my own (one with a colleague and friend, which helped) aided my own understanding of the blogging process. This, I hope, will give me some credibility with the students.

    I agree that it’s that interaction in the middle that is most critical and, as you say, rich for learning and for teaching. Perhaps teachers are most comfortable with this in face-to-face conferences, helping students grow an essay into being. I plan to try to transfer my supportive, questioning conference persona into the blogging environment. There is an art to listening and saying just enough.

    I also think the way a blogging assignment is crafted matters. Sometimes students sink — as they do with any assignment — when the assignment is too open. Too many options are too overwhelming. On the other hand, if the assignment is too structured and of little interest, then students are turned off. My instinct here is to give them some guided assignments at first, then let them go.

    I’m interested in hearing more about how you managed the middle realm. Please tell us more.

  11. Colin Campbell November 5, 2009 at 4:46 am #


    While we have had some success with our student blogs in our middle school I think I fell into some of the pitfalls that you describe in your post especially with regard to the my role as reviewer of the content. The success has come in the peer review, or when I have played a guiding role, bringing students to each others’ posts and writing.

    Thanks for this post, useful advice for us as we try develop our use of blogs in our school,

    Colin Campbell

  12. Lindsay H. March 15, 2010 at 11:07 pm #

    I agree with your point. I am constantly thinking about how I can adapt my assessments to accommodate the needs of my students, while giving myself an opportunity to evaluate their understanding. I like how your students were extremely open about their thoughts and ideas. This does not tend to happen as much in the “live” classroom. Also, I think you make a great point about our roles in the classroom and virtual classroom. I believe that it would be helpful if we could be seen as contributor, as we are facilitators of learning. It is important goal for teachers to strive to encourage learning, and mistakes, to help our students be better thinkers and better citizens.

  13. Nick Marsden March 31, 2010 at 3:08 pm #

    Interesting stuff. We (UNITEC Auckland, New Zealand) have just switched to an e-learning approach for our Automotive level three course, and all our students have a laptop. This has boosted motivation and engagement threefold. We are setting up assessments through blogs. Students write a blog a week and this is shared with three others in the class, as well as with the tutor.
    We have given them some guidelines on what to cover in their blogs, and a word count of 200 words a week. We are supporting the process with action research – mainly we want to discern whether this process improves students’ literacy skills – in particular, writing to communicate.
    I think we are working on the kind of process you have described. Happy to update you on what transpires.

  14. john west July 8, 2010 at 2:51 am #

    “Hardly surprising, I know. But this experience helped me realize that we don’t spend enough time providing feedback for our students and that most of what teachers consider teaching and assessment consists of marking and correcting student work. This kind of practice does not engage our students in those rich interactive processes of talking about their work and their ideas.”

    Chilling on a thursday evening after a couple of glasses of a very satisfactory red so not into deep and mewaningful discussion at the moment.

    I think what you are writng about goes to the heart of a massive wrong turn that education started to take a while ago and now has a momentum that is hard to resist. A preoccupation with assessment and validation of learning at the expense of providing rich learning experiences that engage learning.

    I teach science (chemistry) in the senior end of secondary school in New Zealand. Years 11 to 13 are a mad rush to prepare students for examinations that validate learning either for employment when they leave school or allow them to take the next step into tertiary education.

    It doesn’t matter how rigorous the assessment tool if it is measuring crap learning the outcome is still crap.

    We leap far to readily into a summative feedback mode instead of allowing students to develop a deeper learning through discussion and experimentation with a lot of input from the sage on the stage ( if you listen to me I’ll get you through the exams but you need to complete these exercises on time)

    Over the laast couple of years I have developed a teaching strategy that allows students to discuss and express learning through multimedia ( blog the results for class discussion)projects

    This is time consuming and often cuts accross various school wide literacy/numeracy initiatives that simplify student needs to easily defined methods that can be addrfessed by mind numbingly crass professional development.

    Time for another glass of red as I’m beginning to ramble.

    forget about assessment until we do meaningful learning


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