Tuesday, June 9, 2020

What's new and different: Assessment in the PYP

This is almost my final post about what is truly new and different in the Enhanced PYP.  I still want to do a post about the Exhibition, and beyond that will start to explore the areas of the Enhancements that are more of a deeper focus or where there is more guidance.  This post is going to deal with assessment and there are quite a few important differences in the Enhanced PYP - so this could be quite a long post.

For me I think one of the most important differences is the shift away from the summative assessment, which used to be required at the end of each unit of inquiry.  So important was this summative, that it was generally discussed by teachers in very the first collaborative planning meeting, as it was in the first box of the planner.  Traditionally the teacher was the assessor.  Now assessment is built in throughout the planner, it involves evidencing the learning by the students themselves as well as peers and teachers, and it is ongoing, made up for formative and summative.  There is no longer any requirement to have a summative assessment at the end of every unit, as the process of gathering, analysing, reflecting and acting on evidence of learning is what is used to inform next steps in teaching, a process now known as feed forward.  Because of this, both students and teachers need to develop their assessment capability, to consider the learning goals and success criteria and to focus on assessing both the learning process as well as the learning outcomes.

The fundamental purpose of all assessment is to gather and analyse information to inform teaching and learning through an understanding of where the student is at any given point in time.  Throughout the learning process, it identifies what students know, understand and can do.  This backward and forward-looking approach uses feedback to help students to know what they need to learn next.

The whole learning community should be involved in assessment:  students become more effective learners when they are actively engaged in assessment and when they can reflect on their progress, set their own goals, and act on constructive feedback.  Teachers become more effective when they reflect on their practice and adjust their teaching based on the evidence of learning and when they support students to become assessment capable.  Parents also become more supporting partners when they understand the learning goals.  Schools as a whole develop as learning communities when they use the assessment data to evaluate both the depth of the curriculum and the effectiveness of teaching.

In PYP: From Principles into Practice there are a list of the characteristics of effective assessment:
  • Authentic - connected to the real world
  • Clear and specific learning goals and success criteria
  • Varied - using a wide range of tools and strategies
  • Developmental - focused on an individual student's progress and not on their performance in relation to others
  • Collaborative - involving both teachers and students
  • Interactive - with ongoing dialogues about learning
  • Feedback to feedforward - where feedback is used to inform future learning.
Assessment in the Enhanced PYP has much more emphasis on student self-assessment, where students review and evaluate their knowledge, understanding and skills.  When students are able to do this, they become more responsible for their learning as they are able to incorporate feedback, plan, make corrections, and implement improvements in their learning.  Ultimately students are able to reset their own learning goals as they know where they are going in their learning and can consider what they need to do to get there.

To help students become more assessment capable, success criteria should be co-constructed.  Students need an understanding of what quality work looks like, they need to know how to incorporate feedforward into their learning, they need time to reflect and they need practice with both self-assessment and peer-assessment.

As mentioned earlier, traditionally assessment was a backwards by design process where teachers designed the summative assessment right at the start of the units by identifying what they wanted students to know, understand and do.  They often stared with designing the summative assessment and then worked backwards to plan the learning engagements to ensure that students would have the understanding, knowledge and skills to be successful in the summative.  In the Enhanced PYP there is also the term "forward by design" which supports the development of the learner profile and approaches to learning and "soft" skills that cannot easily be measured - and as a result the learning process is valued as much as the learning outcomes.

One huge change in the Enhancements is the Four Dimensions of Assessment:  teachers monitor, document, measure and report on learning using an integrated, ongoing process.   These four dimensions are not equal - in fact the PYP chooses to put the emphasis on monitoring and documenting the learning as these are critical in providing actionable feedback for the learner.
  • Monitoring learning - happens daily in every lesson.  It involves observation, questioning and reflection with a view to checking the progress of learning against students' personal learning goals and success criteria.
  • Documenting learning - this is the evidence of learning and can be physical or digital, including checklists, rubrics, learning journals, learning stories and portfolios.  This documentation is hared with others to make learning visible and apparent.
  • Measuring learning - captures what a student has learned at a particular point in time.  It's important to note that not all learning can be or needs to be measured.
  • Reporting on learning - gives clear information about learning to students and parents.
Finally a little word about feedback.  We know from the work of John Hattie that feedback is one of the most effective teaching practices, and should therefore form the core of assessment.  Feedback provides an opportunity for reflection and action and it promotes continuous improvement and celebrates success.  We also know from the work of Dylan Wiliam that "formative peer assessment, where students are helping each other improve their work, has benefits for the person that receives feedback but also has benefits for the person who gives the feedback."  Peer feedback is important because it is done in the context of relationships and is given in language that students naturally use.  It has also been observed that students are more ready to accept feedback from one another, and in giving and receiving feedback as part of the inquiry process, students increase their assessment capability.

Photo Credit: Ken Whytock Flickr via Compfight cc

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