September 30, 2021
During a recent news program, I was listening to two television hosts discussing the top story of the day. In sharing her views, one of the hosts challenged the other and then punctuated her statement by stating, “That is really two sides of the same coin, isn’t it?”
What an interesting turn of phrase, ‘two sides of the same coin’ – two things that are closely related, but that may seem very different. And it strikes me that assessment and instruction are just that – two sides of the same coin. However, in our conversations with teachers and leaders it can seem as if they are viewed distinctly and separately, for example, when someone says, “It’s time to stop teaching and move onto assessment.”
Yet, viewing assessment and instruction as two sides to the same coin is simply good teaching. When taken together, they increase student progress, growth, and achievement. This notion is something that we have spent a lot of time talking about with one another and with teachers and leaders in schools and classrooms across the globe and it is one that we want to explore just a bit further in this blog.
For those of you who have been in learning sessions with us at connect2learning over the last number of years, the following slide will look very familiar:
The heading ‘Seven Actions of Assessment for Learning’ is meant to indicate that what follows will provide pathways to invite and involve students in their own assessment. What it does not communicate as strongly, is that these very actions are ones that invite and involve students in instruction. In other words, they are simultaneously assessment and instructional strategies.
Assessment and instruction are, as we know, inextricably woven together – one cannot engage in one without engaging in the other. When seen in that light, the phrase ‘authentic engagement’ comes alive! If we relegate these actions only to assessment, their impact through the design of instructional processes is diminished.
For example, when we share demonstrations, samples, or exemplars with students, we teach them how to tune their eye to quality and proficiency; we help students identify the characteristics or attributes that can inform their understanding of what is expected. This requires students to analyze, to evaluate, and to articulate – words that permeate curricular outcomes.
For example, when a student gives feedback to a peer, it is often viewed as an act of assessment. However, when seen through the lens of instruction, that act is amplified. Teaching a student to give feedback to a classmate requires that we teach that student to think critically, to compare, to contrast, to synthesize, and to communicate – just to name a few verbs that are present in our curriculum and standards documents.
For example, when we use the gradual release of responsibility model to teach students to collect and present the best evidence that they might have in relation to expected outcomes and expectations, we demonstrate how and then expect them to select, to represent, to describe, to explore, and to apply – again a few verbs that pervade those very documents.
So, what about this new title ‘Seven Actions of Instruction and Assessment in the Service of Learning’? It may be long, but it may also remind us that students of any age are engaged because these actions serve as the foundation for both instruction and assessment; good instruction includes the strategies usually gathered under a title such as Assessment in the Service of Learning.
These seven steps provide clear pathways for both our instructional and assessment practices – practices that lead to increased progress, growth, and achievement. They really are two sides of the same coin!