Saturday, July 9, 2011

What? Why? How?

There are many techniques teachers can employ in order to create effective assessment pieces. When writing summative assessment tasks, or culminating performances, a trap that sometimes occurs is that the piece is superficial and there is no opportunity for students to demonstrate deep understanding. One way of ensuring that this doesn’t happen is to use a simple formula called ‘What, Why How’ (Erikson, L., 2002).

Each subtitle is used to formulate the assessment task. First, you ask what it is you want the students to do. Erikson suggests using a higher-level cognitive verb, such as analyse, evaluate or investigate when writing this part. For example, ‘analyse the development of technology in sports performance in the 21st Century’. Next is the why part, and this can be prefaced by the words ‘in order to’. We are asking, ‘why we are performing this task?’ What are the transferrable lessons to be gained from this? For example, ‘in order to understand how technology advances performance’. Finally we state how we want our students to demonstrate their understanding. Erikson states that this is the most important step, as we need to ensure that we are asking our students to demonstrate the ‘why’ as well as the ‘what’ of the task. If we only ask them to show their understanding of the ‘what’ then the assessment piece will be shallow and not provide opportunity for deeper understanding.

Following the theme in the above example, students could be asked to explain (through a choice of mediums) how technological advances have shaped the development of a product they have created. They could design the product themselves or pretend they have invented one that already exists. The important part, however, is that they can explain the relationship of technology to the impact of their product. This way, they wouldn’t only have to be limited to sport and they could call upon other areas to compliment their understanding. Transport, leisure and communication are just three examples that could be used. This way we are not just asking them to list facts about technological advances in sports performance, but to explain their understanding at a conceptual level.

Using this format allows teachers to ensure that the assessment pieces provoke deep understanding. One of my goals for this year is to revise, along with my team, the assessment pieces in my grade level to ensure that they are facilitating deeper levels of conceptual understanding and not just focusing on facts. This will lead to more meaningful assessment tasks and aid in raising standards.

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