Podcast: Assessment as a Verb for PLCs - Steve Barkley

Podcast: Assessment as a Verb for PLCs

Assessment as a Verb for PLCs

Explore how teachers working in PLCs can use a verb approach to assessment and error analysis to collaboratively focus on shared accountability for ALL students’ success. This process of assessment as a verb, combined with collegial exploration of the information the assessing produced, aligns with my favorite PLC question: “What do the students need us to learn…..?” Teacher learning is key to increased student learning. That collegial learning builds teacher collective efficacy.

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Podcast Transcript:

[00:00:00.970] – Steve [Intro]

Hello, and welcome to the Teacher Edition of Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud. The complexity of teaching is both challenging and rewarding, and my curiosity has piqued whenever I explore with teachers the multiple pathways for facilitating student engagement in the exciting world of learning. This podcast looks to serve teachers as they motivate and support their learners. Thanks for listening. I’m delighted that you’re here.

[00:00:29.920] – Steve

Assessment as a verb for PLCs. In a recent conversation, I explored with a third grade PLC, a goal that they are forming for the next school year. They are considering collaborating on the design of common writing rubrics for each of the writing genres that are in their standards. Then, studying students work collectively around those rubrics, they would build in as a continual PLC activity across the year. The first draft of their goal is sounding like this: If we implement shared writing rubrics for each genre at the start of units and continually examine our students’ work as a PLC, we can enhance teacher instructional decision making that improves student writing outcomes. This conversation reminded me of Tom Shimmer’s work, where he describes the value of assessment as a verb rather than as a noun. In the book, “Instructional Agility,” Tom and his colleagues write, “Teaching without assessment is not teaching. It’s delivering information or creating random haphazard activities. It’s only through assessment that teachers can discern the discrepancy between a student’s current understanding and the desired performance level. It’s only through assessment that teachers know what comes next for each student. The assessment as a verb lens ensures teachers view assessment and instruction not as separate silos, but as two-halves of the same hole.

[00:02:35.820] – Steve

Teaching through assessment requires precision in planning, which allows maximum agility in responding to the needs of all students.” Listen in on a conversation that I had with Tom around assessment as a verb.

[00:02:56.390] – Steve

As I read your writing, you talk the difference between seeing assessment as a verb and assessment as a noun.

[00:03:08.650] – Tom

That’s a big one. That’s definitely a big one, and that’s part of the fallout of the electronic grade book, which is the overquantification. So whenever I quantify learning, it means I’m going to have to conduct an assessment. So what was happening was so many teachers were of the mindset that whenever you assess, you had to stop teaching and conduct an assessment as opposed to assessment being a natural part of the instructional process. The same way that you would think about a coach. There isn’t a moment during practice where a coach isn’t assessing his or her athletes. We’re not running to the computer to quantify it. We’re giving feedback, it’s instantaneous and it’s happening. So the world of athletics really did have it and you could say the arts, too. Dance is also something where it’s this more organic interaction, and it’s less about the number or less about the quantity, and it’s more about the what’s next? How do I make that maneuver? So the idea of assessment as verb is the idea that assessment leads to action, that it’s actionable, right? And that’s the part that I think gets missed as well is this idea that formative assessment is not formative because you labeled it formative.

[00:04:21.200] – Tom

Labeling something formative doesn’t make it so. It’s only formative when it’s used formatively. And that part about instructional agility is a main driver in the idea that assessment is a verb. It causes action, it causes instructional endeavors, and it helps us take students to the next level on their learning continuums.

[00:04:42.220] – Steve

It’s interesting for me with your connection to the performing arts and to athletics, because I ended up zeroing in on the term in my coaching work, the student learner production behaviors. In other words, it’s what the student does that produces the learning outcome.

[00:05:02.830] – Steve

So like a coach observing an athlete or a performing artist coaching a musician, it’s seeing that the learner is not engaged in the right behavior to cause the learning to happen and moving in at that moment.

[00:05:22.540] – Steve

So that’s the same piece that I was clicking on. I was reading through your work.

[00:05:27.950] – Tom


[00:05:29.390] – Steve

I was picturing as I read through this, of looking at assessment on this continuum, where at one end is almost that instantaneous of the teacher reading student nonverbal cues as to how they’re responding to what’s happening to a more teacher-designed informal assessment, to maybe something that is a district common formative assessment to then something more structured. Does that play out?

[00:06:07.240] – Tom

Absolutely, yeah. No, the whole continuum of assessment. And I think one of the things that we mistakenly think about assessment is we equate – my friend Leanne Young is really great in phrasing this. She often talks about formality is not akin to validity, meaning the more formal an assessment is, it doesn’t make it more valid. So we often underestimate the value of observation, nonverbal cues, paralanguage. The paralinguistic patterns that students show can tell us a lot. A student can even utter the words and actually communicate the opposite. The example I often use with teachers is the example of our lives with significant others. I say, how many of you have ever had a significant other utter the words to you, “I’m fine,” and you knew they weren’t fine, right? We have all been there. And And that’s because you heard the tone or it was the parallel. You heard the word said, I’m fine, but everything else said, I’m not fine. And so not to make light of that, but we’ve all been in that situation. But the point is that a student could say, yeah, I got it, or I understand it. But everything else surrounding that student is telling you that they’re confused or they’re stressed or anything like that.

[00:07:24.250] – Tom

So that helps us. Once we start noticing those things, that helps us make instructional decisions. So not every maneuver is necessarily going to be epic. It’s just an opportunity to maximize the efficiency of our instructional minutes. So everything from observation to very informal exit tickets or thumbs up, thumbs down or four quarters activities or hinge questions, all the way to more formal – formative. The format itself, every assessment can be used formatively and summatively. It’s really how you use the information that determines or distinguishes the formative from the summative. So assessment is just gathering evidence of learning, and then how you use it will determine whether or not it was used formatively or whether it was used to verify in that summative paradigm.

[00:08:14.220] – Steve

The other element that the third grade PLC can do with their common assessments is to explore what might be called, error analysis. John Saffer, writing in Disrupting the teacher opportunity gas in a section titled, “Error Analysis and Teams that Do So,” describes error analysis as one of the highest leverage activities to raise student achievement. John writes, “One of the highest leverage activities found in schools that raise student achievement is the following: Layout student work, either the results of yesterday’s classwork or the item analysis of a recent assessment. Then identify where students are struggling and which students did the struggling. Then try to figure out what the students might have been thinking to make the errors. Then use those insights to design reteaching lessons for those who need it. He describes this as the sequence: One, what might students have been thinking to make this error? What are our hypotheses? Two, how can we find out which of these hypotheses is true? Three, what different teaching strategies could we use to fix or undo whatever led to this error and help students solidify their skills and concepts? Four, how are each of us going to plan and manage time and task in class so that we’ll get the time needed to reteach the skills and concepts?

[00:10:04.880] – Steve

And five, how can the team help determine whether there’s a way to share knowledge, skills, or students to benefit both students and colleagues?” So a piece of a conversation among a third-grade PLC looking at student work and their team’s rubrics might sound something like this among Ms. Garcia, Mr. Thompson, and Ms. Patel. Ms. Garcia begins: “Looking at organization, this writing is somewhat chronological, but it lacks transitions and coherence.” Mr. Thompson adds, “Yeah, the sentences are choppy. There’s no clear introduction or conclusion. The ideas don’t flow well together. I think the students could benefit from using linking words like first, then, and finally.” Ms. Patel adds, “Absolutely. It feels more like a list than a narrative. They need to work on connecting their thoughts to create a smoother narrative flow, and they could use more varied sentence structures. Right now, all the sentences are simple and quite repetitive.” Ms. Garcia – “What might be some targeted strategies? Maybe we could have the students practice expanding on ideas by answering who, what, where, when, and why questions about their activities.” Mr. Thompson – “That’s a good start. Also, for organization, we could introduce graphic organizers to help them plan their writing and ensure they have a clear beginning, middle, and end.”

[00:11:58.260] – Steve

Ms. Garcia – “That’s a good start. What other students would benefit from practice with those W question words and a graphic organizer?” At this point, each teacher takes a few minutes to look through their classes writing and identify a few more students. Mrs. Patel asked, “Should we tackle this in our own classrooms, or should we pull the group for a few short sessions of instruction and practice, and then we can each follow up with our students back in our own classroom?” Ms. Garcia comments, “I think we can be more focused by pulling the group.” Mr. Thompson agreed. The team goes on to set a time and decide responsibilities for the extra support group and for the rest of the students. This process of assessment as a verb, combined with collegial exploration of the information the assessing produces, all aligns with my favorite PLC question, and that is, “what do the students need us to learn?” Teacher learning is key to increase student learning. That collegial learning is key to building teacher collective efficacy. How often are student work assessments or completed tasks in front of your colleagues for the purpose of generating teacher learning? It requires questioning each other and non-defensive problem problem solving focus on all students success.

[00:13:51.910] – Steve

Let me know your thoughts around PLC’s shared accountability conversations. You can always reach me at barkeypd.com. Thanks for listening.

[00:14:04.150] – Steve [Outro]

Thanks for listening, folks. I’d love to hear what you’re pondering. You can find me on Twitter or LinkedIn at Steve Barkley, or send me your questions and find my videos and blogs at barkleypd.com

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