Assessing and Evaluating Students’ Learning

How do I know what they’ve learned?

Assessing and Evaluating Students’ Learning:

1.  Formulate objectives for learning literature and criteria for evaluating learning.  Define what you value in students’ interpretations of literature—what you want your students to achieve in learning to interpret literature.  Then, formulate some specific objectives associated with what you want students to learn to do in interpreting literature, for example, the student will learn to define specific norms operating in the social world of the text to explain characters’ actions.

Then, for each of these objectives, specify one or more criteria for evaluating the extent to which students have achieved these objectives, for example, the student specifies one or more norms operating in the social world of the text and uses those norms to explain the characters actions by citing reasons for those actions based on those norms.

Low level

– May not follow the entire narratives thread, but naively focus on fragments or episodes as the principal focus/ purpose of the work.
– Makes little distinction between representation and reality.
– Sees (one or a small selection of) characters in two-dimensional terms.
– Is very marginally aware of some aspects of the author’s art. (E.g., Special effects, sound)
– May refer to other works in simple comparison.
– Makes predictions based on simple plot conventions.

Middle Level

– Understands the story, its development & syntax.
– Identifies with character(s), their psychology, motives, actions, as heroic figures.
– Understands (some) separate components of the authoring arts, & may make occasional connections among them
– Can state & support personal preferences informally.
– Can make judgments based on knowledge of genre and/or the body of work of an actor or an individual artist.
– Predicts outcomes based on insights/patterns of plot and character.

High Level

– Sees the story as one component of the author’s, actors’ & other artists’ work.
– Expands comprehension by connecting story to themes, universal mythological patterns & other works.
– Understands the complexity of performance & psychology of characterization.
– Comprehends how performances complement other components of the work.
– Expands comprehension by connecting characters and performances to models in other works.
– Identifies with/points out the concrete & conceptual work of the media author(s). Editing, script, lighting, sound, camera placement/ movement, composition, ideology.
– Expands comprehension by perceiving the interaction of the various artistic components of the work & by connecting to other works by this & other authors.
– Views the work as a united and integrated whole.
– Is aware of & can articulate excellences, gaps, excesses & deficiencies.
– Cites sources to substantiate conclusions.
– Makes predictions based on multiple & integrated insights of the genre.

2.   Giving reader-based feedback to student writing.

In giving “reader-based” feedback, you shift your focus from finding deficiencies in the students’ responses to defining and communicating their own feelings and perceptions about things that bother, excite, confuse, upset, surprise them or that evoke their own similar experiences. By using the “I,” as in “In reading this, I was bothered, excited, confused, upset,” your highlight the emphasis on your own unique reactions, describing the fact that, “as a reader,” “I’m really interested in…,”  “I’m curious about…,” “I’m thinking about my own experience with…,” “I’m having difficulty understanding…,” or “I’m intrigued about the idea that… .”  You are also describing what you perceive the students to be saying or the strategies the students are employing, verifying for the student that they have successfully communicated their ideas to teachers.

After providing some reader-based feedback, note the students’ use or uptake of your feedback in terms of the degree to which the student uses your descriptions to infer issues or problems in their writing and to formulate revisions.

3. Providing dialogue-journal feedback; training peers for dialogue journal interactions.  In responding to students’ journal entries written comments, email reactions, or online chat interactions, rather than simply providing brief comments, engage in a dialogue with a student by providing their own thoughts, insights, reactions, or “reader-based” feedback, just as they would in a conversation.  In doing so, you are modeling ways of providing feedback for students to engage in their own dialogue-journal writing.  You are also modeling question-asking strategies for students to use in asking questions about texts.

4.  Training peers to give reader-based feedback.   One limitation of peer-conferences is that peers often are not able to provide helpful feedback or they only provide vague and/or laudatory comments.  Because you are helping students learn to specify their responses to literature, you can draw on that instruction to also help them provide specific, descriptive, “reader-based” feedback in peer conferences.

To train students to give feedback, select one student’s draft and model your own use of reader-based feedback in front of the entire class—you can also ask students how they might respond to the draft if they were the teacher.

5.  Reflect on your writing conference feedback.  Conduct a conference with the student about his or her writing. Tape-record the conference, if possible.

Then, reflect on your feedback in the conference in terms of the following:
1. What attributes of the writing context (e.g., task, audience, purpose, instruction) support or hinder the quality of the writing? Explain.
2. How engaged was the student in the conference. What percent of the time did you talk? What percent did the student talk?
3. Describe the quality of the student’s self-assessment and predicted revision.
4. Did you make your points clearly? How can you tell?
5. Did the student understand the feedback? How do you know?
6. How comfortable were you and the student during the conference? Explain?
7. What do you believe were the most successful features of the conference? Explain.
8. If you could do the conference over, what would you do differently? Why?

6.  Reflect on your written reactions to students’ writing in terms of the degree to which you employ the following feedback or evaluation strategies:

– praising specific uses of interpretive strategies versus vague statements such as “good job.”
– describing: providing “reader-based” feedback about one’s own reactions and perceptions of the students’ responses that imply judgments of those responses.
– judging: evaluating the sufficiency, level, depth, completeness, validity, and insightfulness of a student’s responses
– predicting and reviewing growth: predicting potential directions for improving students’ responses according to specific criteria and reviewing progress from previous responses
– noting changes in students responses: describing ways in which students have changed or improved in their responses over time.

7.  Formulating reasons for student difficulties in their response.  Read some students’ journal entries or essays or reflect on students’ discussion responses and formulate some possible reasons for difficulties in their responses or their reluctance to express their response, talk in discussions, or express personal perceptions.  Then, for each difficulty, define a teaching technique that you might use to address that difficulty.

8.  Formulating reasons for your judgments of student interpretation and predicting future improvement.

Using some students’ writing, specify your judgments of their writing and then give reasons for your judgments.  Then rather than telling students what changes to make, pose questions or model ways in which they could improve their interpretations and how those improvements will enhance their interpretations.

9.  Record changes in students’ interpretations over time and students’ free-reading/voluntary reading.  Using some students’ writing over the period of several weeks or months or recollection of their discussion participation, note changes in their writing based on the following criteria:

– Amount of oral and written response: as represented by the degree of participation in group discussions or the length of journal entries (none, little, some, extensive).
– Attitude towards expressing response: as represented by the degree of students’ perceived enthusiasm about or interest in expressing responses (little, some, high).
– Ability to use different tools: as represented in students’ use of talk, write, art-work, or drama tools: mapping, listing, free-writing, role-playing, and so on, to express their responses (ineffective, effective, highly effective),
– Use of a range of different interpretive strategies: as represented by students’ ability to employ the different strategies (ineffective, effective, highly effective).
– Level or depth of response: as represented by the degree to which students explore or elaborate on their responses (little, some, extensive)
– application of critical lenses: as reflected in students ability to apply critical lenses to their analysis of texts.

10. Develop a literature test or exam.  Develop a literature test or exam that you might use in your student teaching as part of one of your literature units.  Define the purpose for your test or exam by identifying the interpretive strategies of application of critical lenses you want students to be able to demonstrate.

12. Develop a portfolio assignment for use in your unit or student teaching.  Develop a portfolio assignment for use in your unit or student teaching in which students select certain writing from their work in a unit or during your entire student teaching.

13. Analyze a standardized literature achievement test. 

14. Conduct a mock literature assessment. 

16. Conduct a survey of students’ reading interests. Such survey results could be used to consider changes in required texts or to justify the establishment of individualized reading programs.  For example, if students express little or no interest in the required books, teachers may then have some reason for revising required book lists.  Or, if teachers discover that students, as a whole, are doing little or no outside reading, then teachers may want to develop an individualized reading program.  The results of the McCloskey survey suggest the need for providing students with more enjoyable material, particularly in the school library.


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