Just in time assessment

I recently started thinking about the term “Just in time assessment“. The reason why is that the teachers at my school still struggle with students who do not meet up for tests. I’m not sure if there are subjects where this occurs more often than others, it is certainly something worth looking into. At the same time, I am tutoring online courses in English where the students are very eager to be assessed. As they well should be, since teaching and assessing are the two important parts of our job as a teacher. Why then wouldn’t students welcome feedback from their teachers?

If you google “just in time assessment” you find results for just in time teaching. Just in time teaching refers to blended learning where the students can choose when and where to learn, and at their own pace. Pretty much what my students are doing in the online course.

The reason why students would choose not to be assessed by their teacher is the fear of low grades. Instead of thinking about the school year as a process towards a common goal, the mastery of the subject at the end, they think about assessment as a number towards a final grade. In other words, a line of summative assessments added up to a final grade. When my students ask me I say all the grades towards the final goal, the completion of the course, are just pointers to where you are right now, And then I think that I probably should not give grades at all, just pointers, and advice on how to move forward. Many teachers have started this and I think it is a great idea. The grades are in the way of learning. Just in time assessment should be summative assessments, when the student feels ready, not when the teacher has planned it on an excel sheet several months ago. Difficult to do, probably, impossible, no?

In an article from Colombia university I found this: Silvia Martins, an associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology in Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, faced a challenge in her introductory epidemiology course, Principles of Epidemiology. She found that students needed more time to process the weekly lecture material before attending the follow-up seminar sessions with teaching assistants (TAs).

That made me think that we are going about this problem in the wrong way. What we should do when students don’t meet up for assessment is think about areas where we can improve our instructions. And by that help our students by using videos, tests they can do at home and so on. In my thinking, I am not taking into account that some students just are not interested in learning at all. I’m assuming they are eager to learn and that the teacher connects the content of the courses to the students making it interesting and relevant to them.

I end this by some points from Grant Wiggins, an educational expert I greatly admire and had hoped to invite to Norway. He actually said he wanted to come, but he died tragically some years ago.  My goal – more discussions around what we can do as teachers, less about punishing the students.

Lesson #1—Always Keep the End in Mind

Grant always reminded teachers of the value of designing curriculum, assessment, and learning experiences “backwards,” with the end in mind. While the idea of using “backward design” to plan curriculum units and courses is certainly not new, the Understanding by Design® framework underscores the value of this process for yielding more clearly defined goals, more appropriate assessments, more tightly aligned lessons, and more purposeful teaching.

Lesson #2—Feedback is Key to Successful Learning and Performance

For years, Grant reminded teachers that providing learners with feedback was a key to effective learning and improvement. His insights have been confirmed by research (from educators like Dylan Wiliam, John Hattie, and Robert Marzano) that demonstrates conclusively that classroom feedback is one of the highest-yielding strategies to enhance achievement.

  • However, Grant cautioned against thinking that grades (B+) and exhortations (“try harder”) are feedback. To be effective, Grant pointed out that feedback must meet several criteria:
    Feedback must be timely. Making students wait two weeks or more to find out how they did on a test will not help their learning.
    • Feedback must be specific and descriptive. Effective feedback highlights explicit strengths and weaknesses (e.g., “Your speech was well-organized and interesting to the audience. However, you were speaking too fast in the beginning and did not make eye contact with the audience.”).
  • Feedback must be understandable to the receiver. Sometimes a teacher’s comment or the language in a rubric is lost on a student. Using student-friendly language can make feedback clearer and more comprehensible. For instance, instead of saying, “Document your reasoning process,” a teacher could say, “Show your work in a step-by-step manner so others can follow your thinking.”
  • Feedback must allow for self-adjustment on the student’s part. Merely providing timely and specific feedback is insufficient; teachers must also give students the opportunity to use it to revise their thinking or performance.

Lesson #3—Have Empathy for the Learner

In our writings on Understanding by Design, Grant and I described six facets of understanding: a person shows evidence of understanding when they can explain, interpret, apply, shift perspective, empathize, and self-assess. These facets serve as indicators of understanding and guide the development of assessments and learning experiences.

Grant reminded us of the value of being sensitive to learners who do not have our expertise (and sometimes not even an interest) in the subject matter that we know so well. He pointed out that “what is obvious to us is rarely obvious to a novice—and was once not obvious to us either, but we have forgotten our former views and struggles.” He cautioned us against confusing teaching for understanding with simply telling. He encouraged teachers to remember that understandings are constructed in the mind of the learner, that understanding must be “earned” by the learner, and that the teacher’s job is to facilitate “meaning making,” not simply present information.


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