Teaching Opinion

So How Do You Know They Got It? Showing Evidence of Learning

By John T. McCrann — January 07, 2016 4 min read
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I wanted to publish one more guest post on the topic of “how we know what students know” (look back at the introduction to this post for the full text of my guest post request). My favorite idea in Loryn’s piece is that formative assessment is a necessary piece of a good lesson. I encourage you to check out the resources she references and think about ways to uncover students ideas during your work with them. If you have other resources or ideas about formative assessment please share them in the comments.

We are in an age of education where proof is required to show true success. Teachers often hear the question: “how do you know your students understand?” As a middle school science teacher of ten years, it would be easy for me to say, “Well, I just do. I’m a good teacher, and I know my kids.” This is not enough. We have to show evidence.

I was taken aback initially by the fact that others might not trust that I was certainly capable of ensuring my students understood and mastered material. It was difficult for me to think of tangible ways I could provide evidence of said learning to outsiders. After some time in professional development and discussion with my colleagues, it became clearer and clearer that while teachers might think that they “just know” when their students get it, it is actually impossible to assess their learning without deliberate effort on our part to look for it. Furthermore, it isn’t the outsiders for which we should do this; it’s our students.

So, then, how do we look for understanding? Of course, there are traditional summative quizzes and tests that provide an opportunity for students to show their learning through essays, multiple choice responses, or fill-in-the-blanks. But while summative assessments are largely important, this is merely one way to assess our students. A problem with summative assessments is, by the time students take this assessment, and by the time it is graded with feedback, it might be too late to intervene. In addition to assessing our students summatively, we must also implement deliberate formative assessment.

Whether it be hand signals and eyes closed in which students show you how well they understand a concept on a rating of 1-5, sentence stems

to help them complete a summary of what they learned that day, or five things that they learned illustrated in their instructional notebook, a product from the student needs to be created to give the teacher an idea of what they learned or didn’t learn in each lesson. Page Keeley, an author for the National Science Teacher’s Association, has a plethora of examples that can be used for formative assessment with little to no prep for the teacher, as does a simple Google or Pinterest search. However, searching can be daunting, so in order to streamline this part of my instruction and showcase the evidence of my students’ learning, I made a simple bulletin board in which students display their evidence.

Some days it is a post-it note of a follow-up question they have over the material discussed, other days it is a concept map filled in by them and their partner. When, and only when, they show mastery, I tell them, “Staple it to the board.” They proudly display this work, not showing a creative ability to neatly display their work, but a true understanding of that particular concept. I’ve been amazed at how much more eager students are to use their notes or discuss with their partner to formulate a correct response to be able to showcase even one word on the board. This not only incorporates the essential piece of instilling ownership in students’ learning, but also holds students accountable for mastering material. Additionally, it provides an easy way for instructional coaches, colleagues, or administrators to see what students are learning when visiting classrooms.

I have found that it is not the ideas of formative assessment that teachers are lacking, rather it is the intentional effort to draw attention to the understanding that we forget to do in our very busy lives. I firmly believe that leaving this piece of teaching out bears the greatest consequences for all involved. Good teaching must show evidence of learning, or it is not good teaching.

Loryn Windwehen is an 8th grade science teacher and department coordinator at Jefferson Middle School in San Antonio, Texas. She has been teaching for nine years. Windwehen was named the 2012 Overall Teacher of the Year for North East ISD in San Antonio, TX, 2012 Region 20 Secondary Teacher of the Year in Texas, received the 2012 Kens5 ExCel Award for Excellence in Education, and was selected for the America Achieves Fellowship of Teachers and Principals. She is known for co-founding the Harris Middle School Community Garden and the famous “Green Team” which became a nationally recognized community garden program.

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The opinions expressed in Prove It: Math and Education Policy are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.