Thursday, 4 December 2014

How We Show Our Learning: Personalizing Learning through Assessment

There are many approaches our teachers use to personalize the learning experience for students. One way is by giving students different ways to demonstrate their learning. Edwin Bryson, Greenwood's Vice-Principal of Teacher and Staff Development, shares an example from his Grade 10 Introduction to Business class, in which differentiated assessments were used to personalize for student readiness, interest and learning profile.


Step 1: Identify what students should know, understand and be able to do (skills)

I began by identifying what each student should know, understand and be able to do as a result of a particular chunk of learning. In this case, students needed to "demonstrate financial planning skills and produce a...personal financial plan (e.g. monthly plan, budget)."

Step 2: Identify one or more formats for the product

Next, I brainstormed all of the types of evidence that a student could use to show they have met these learning outcomes. For example, they could
  • Complete a monthly budget worksheet for themselves
  • Analyze a case study that requires a monthly plan
  • Complete a quiz on key terms and processes
  • Role-play between a financial planner and client
  • Create a board game that illustrates income, expenses and savings, etc.
The goal is to determine financial planning skills, but the teacher has the flexibility to create more than one type of assessment for this skill.

Step 3: Determine expectations for quality

The third step was to clearly describe the success criteria; it should be general enough that a student can achieve the top band of achievement, regardless of their choice of activity. I did this in the form of a rubric, using the following criteria to evaluate each assessment:
  • The student understands the relationship between types of income, fixed and flexible expenses.
  • The student demonstrates the use of planning skills (gathering information, organizing a budget/project).
  • The student uses critical/creative thinking processes (evaluation of spending and saving goals, actual versus planned budgeting).
  • The student makes connections between the financial planning process and future career and life goals.


Step 4: Decide on scaffolding needed

The fourth step was to select a few assessments that would meet the different levels of student readiness, interests and learning profile.

Complete a monthly budget using a template: This option would suit students who are still gaining confidence with financial planning, liked working individually and benefited from concrete and sequential tasks rather than abstract and non-sequential tasks.

Work in pairs and create a board game: The game should demonstrate the key concepts of income, personal income tax, expenses, savings and investment. This option would suit students who had attained a conceptual understanding of financial planning, liked working collaboratively and enjoyed abstract and non-sequential thinking.

Create a role-playing game: This option was created by a few students who wanted to modify the board game assessment to create a role-playing game. Since the rubric focused on learning outcomes, rather product specifications, it was very easy to accommodate this request.

Below is a summary of the differentiation found in each assessment.

Assessment  Readiness  Interests  Learning Profile 
Create a monthly budget using a template Basic understanding of terms and concepts  Wants concrete application of learning of this topic  Works best with clear instructions, small steps and linear approach. Prefers working on own assignment 
Create a board game  Strong conceptual understanding  Wants to expand and extend their learning of this topic  Is stimulated by creative challenges and conceptual thinking. Prefers working with peers. 
Create a role-playing game  Strong conceptual understanding  Wants to expand and extend their learning of this topic Is stimulated by open-ended challenges and enjoys abstract thinking. Prefers working with peers. 

Regardless of which assignment was chosen, students were engaged in an authentic learning experience and making meaning by linking the concepts to their own lives. Each assignment allowed students to reach the top level of achievement and provided different approaches to suit their learning styles. The end result was increased engagement and more accurate evaluation of each student's progress toward meeting the course's learning goals.

Note: Many of the concepts discussed here are borrowed from one of the foremost authors on the subject, Carol Ann Tomlinson, in her book How to Differentiate Instruction in Mixed-Ability Classrooms (2nd Edition).


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