Emily Columpsi

"The art of teaching is the art of assisting discovery" -Mark Van Doren

Entry #5 -Letter To A Friend

Dear Friend,

Recently, I viewed two short films both of which discussed assessment in high school mathematics classrooms. Both were very informative, to say the least. Therefore, I would like to share with you a short synopsis of each, highlighting what I learnt, its relevance, and why I think you should take some time to view these videos for yourself.

Within the first video, Teacher Insights (9-12), seven high school mathematics teachers discussed their methods for assessing student learning. Although all the approaches varied, the teachers were consistent. Some teachers focused on peer-assessment, group-assessment and self-assessment, while others were more directly involved in student interviews, the creation of portfolios or group tests. Within each assessment practice the students were able to think critically and personally reflect, which enabled higher levels of comprehension and understanding as they were steered away from mimicry and memorization. As a result, I noticed that many of the students exuded confidence in their abilities to answer questions or to present in front of their peers (as was shown in the presentations within the video).

The video pointed out that  “in high schools today we are in a midst of a dramatic change in our approach to teaching mathematics. [Therefore], we are asking our students to go beyond mimicry and memorization, to investigate complex problems, communicate ideas and to become critical thinkers. With these rising expectations there has been a growing awareness that the way we approach evaluation must also evolve.” As a result, instead of summative assessment tasks (tests or unit exams), which most students in high school mathematics are used to, teachers must also incorporate formative assessment or ongoing assessment tasks to better understand and more accurately assess student progession. Do you remember in high school mathematics when all we did was test after test after test? There was no projects, major assignments, or homework checks, and as a result our teacher had no indication of where the students were at with their learning. In contrast, within the video the students were carrying out a variety of tasks such as, presentations, group tests/assignments, and projects, which, after assessment, directed future instruction and learning since the teacher had a grasp of where each student was at with their learning. As a result, the students were able to feel more comfortable with the material that they were learning. If our mathematics teacher focused more on formative assessment tasks I wonder how that would have changed the dynamic, atmosphere and learning in our mathematics classroom.

I strongly suggest that you watch this video because no matter what your profession is you are going to have to assess either someone or something in one way or another. Yes, high schools are in a midst of a dramatic change, but so is our society. Therefore, no longer can we cling to outdated beliefs on assessment practices, school related or not. The ways in which we approach evaluation must also evolve in order to keep up with the ever changing society in which we live. I believe that you would get a lot out of this video. If you get the chance have a look at the video through this link and let me know what you think!

The second video, Case Study: Group Test, discussed the effectiveness of group tests. The premise behind group tests is to assess students mathematical knowledge while they are working together with their classmates. Group tests allow for discussion to deepen and further the learning process. In addition, it is important to note that everyone in the group is collectively responsible for the overall grade they receive. When we were in high school our teachers solely stuck to individual tests and assignments. Could you imagine completing a group test?  I personally believe that a group test would not have benefited me at all because I would be relying on others to give me the answers. Furthermore, due to the fact that the group is handing in one collective response, the teacher will have difficulty in determining which students are struggling with the material. What do you think?  Assessment is a instrument to communicate to the students what they are learning, but if students are asked to verbally share answers, is this type of assessment accurate?

While watching the video I noticed that the teacher was able to circulate the room in a more efficient manner. In addition, he could ask his students harder questions that he couldn’t ask them individually; thus, the students were able to bounce ideas off of one another to come to conclusions. One problem with group tests is that the teacher can explicitly give the answers to the students through the discussion; therefore, it is important that the teacher encourages the students to check their answers or ask them questions which can imply hints (scaffolding). In the end, when group tests are implemented the students have to function well together in order to learn the mathematics; they need to communicate.

If you have the time I suggest you watch this video. It demonstrated the effectiveness of communication and group work: qualities that are useful in all professions.

You can easily access both videos through the links that I provided. I am curious to know your thoughts and if you would ever consider using any of the mentioned assessment items in your profession. Hope all is well.

Emily.

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