Podcast: Assessment in an Inquiry Focused Classroom - Steve Barkley

Podcast: Assessment in an Inquiry Focused Classroom

Assessment in an Inquiry Focused Classroom

Trevor MacKenzie, the author of “Inquiry Mindset Assessment Edition,” describes the incongruity that can exist in some classrooms between co-designed inquiry learning activities and teacher-controlled assessment activities. How do we move to teacher/student co-designed assessments that build “assessment capable learners?” Trevor provides some thoughts to guide coaching to teachers who are exploring assessment. 

Connect with Trevor and find his resources and books here.

Subscribe to the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast on iTunes or visit BarkleyPD.com to find new episodes!


Steve [Intro]: 00:00 Hello, and welcome to the Steve Barkley, ponders out loud podcast. Instructional coaches and leaders create the environment that supports teachers to continually imagine, grow and achieve. They model an excitement for learning that teachers in turn model for students. This podcast is dedicated to promoting the important aspects of instructional leadership. Thanks for listening. I’m thrilled you’re here.

Steve : 00:33 Assessment in an inquiry focused classroom. Our guest today is Trevor MacKenzie, an experienced teacher, author keynote speaker, and inquiry consultant, who has worked in schools throughout Australia, Asia, North America, South Africa, and Europe supporting educators in implementing inquiry based learning practices. In his book, “Inquiry Mindset Assessment Edition,” Trevor examines the role of assessment in education through the lens of co-designing and co-constructing with students. He supports teachers to scaffold towards an assessment reality that is infused with student voice understanding and autonomy. When I read those words on his site, I knew I had to get him on here to talk to us. So I’m anxious to have him share his insights and possibilities with us. So welcome Trevor.

Trevor: 01:38 Thank you, Steve. And to be honest, that’s the book I’m most proud of. I’ve got three babies, but that’s the one that I hold up near and dear to my practice. It’s the one, actually, Steve, if you can imagine, I finally said things that I’ve always been wanting to say. I finally shed light on areas that I’ve always wanted to shed light on. And so to be able to talk about some of these structures, the book, for sure, but you know what it looks like in practice with schools that I support around the world, it’s it’s exciting. So thanks for hosting me, Steve.

Steve : 02:04 You bet. I’m wondering if you’d share how you became interested in an inquiry approach to teaching and learning.

Trevor: 02:10 Well, that’s a great question. I became more interested because my students demanded it of me, essentially. When I started my career, I realized that I was entering my practice with a lot of bias, a lot of baggage, a lot of understanding what I thought teaching and learning should look like nd I was realizing that I was missing the mark. And noticing how my students were responding and just being kind of curious myself and asking questions of them and listening to them, I started to try different things on for size. I had a number of great mentors early in my career that kind of nudged me with different resources and different ideas, different author, friends that I now call colleagues and friends, really shaped my formative years as a practitioner. So in short, Steve, I learned inquiry and I learned constructivism and student-centered frameworks kind of because of my students most importantly.

Steve : 03:01 It sounds to some extent you learned them by doing them. You learned them by doing a career, you learned them by being constructive.

Trevor: 03:10 Yeah, absolutely.

Steve : 03:12 As I read some of the things you you’ve written, I got the message that as you worked with schools implementing inquiry a across the years, you uncovered what I’m labeling as an incongruity, an incongruity between the inquiry approach to teaching and learning and what was happening in the assessment process. So first of all, have I have I read that correctly? And then if I have, tell us about it.

Trevor: 03:40 Yeah, absolutely. So I would say that the heart of my work beyond teaching students is teaching teachers. I love working with schools and districts and helping them implement inquiry-based learning. And this isn’t a flick of a switch to be quite honest. Inquiry is an aspirational pedagogy. We don’t do it once and we’ve done it for good, it’s something that we revisit often and we’re on a journey. And in that, the work I do with schools transcends. A few years to say the least, many of the schools I partner with, it’s a three to five year partnership. So there’s this expert in residence kind of feel to it if you will. And in that work, we get to some really neat places. We get to a place where eventually, we see curiosity more in classrooms.

Trevor: 04:22 We see curious kids, which I really much appreciate and that’s a goal of ours. We see a change of agency over time, we see kids taking on more ownership over their learning, and we see, generally, we see a different feeling around learning from, from our scholars. They tell us that school is engaging, chool is fun, dare I say. Those are all things that I really love and they’re confident. There’s a sense of calm to the learning because of the mindful planning that teachers are bringing to their practice. But then when we started to ask kids questions about assessment, they started to tell us a whole different story from talking about inquiry being a space of confidence and competence and belonging, to assessment being a realm of anxiety or stress or uncertainty. Inquiry being a place where they felt like they had a role.

Trevor: 05:13 There was a partnership in inquiry because we co-design, and co-plan with our kids don’t we? But assessment was a space where they felt like the teacher had the most amount of control and that the teacher was the expert. And so that was really problematic for me. If we’re doing these amazing things throughout the learning, but then we’re doing something very teacher-controlled and teacher-centered and teacher-dominated, that wasn’t good enough. And so, really going back to your initial question, Steve, I went back to my students – what does assessment look like in my practice? How do I co-design? How do I create assessment capable learners so that they leave our time together, more assessment experts than when they entered our time together? And mirroring that assessment work with my students, with my work with schools that I support and supporting them in adopting different structures to kind of bridge the gap between those two realities, an inquiry experience that is, student partnered and an
assessment experience that was teacher controlled, if you will.

Steve : 06:12 So does the assessment become more a component of the ongoing learning process? When the congruency is greater, is the assessment more, a part of the ongoing learning process?

Trevor: 06:29 Undeniably, undeniably. In simplest terms, Trevor MacKenzie version 1.0, 20 years ago when I started my teaching – assess student learning outside of the class, away from kids, maybe I took my teacher briefcase full of essays home with me over the weekend and I gave all this rich feedback on the essays and then I come back Monday and hand them back and my students forgot what they had for breakfast that morning, let alone the learning that happened the week before, right? So the simplest term is yes, assessment happens in class with kids and we’re so transparent in how we’re teaching these assessment skills, that students are actually flexing these skills like muscles. They are actually working them and becoming more assessment capable in their own right. So in simplest terms, it has to happen in class with kids with a level of transparency and clarity and softness so that they they understand why we’re doing things a little bit differently because of course, what will kids say? “Oh, that’s a you job, not a me job.” And so we need to really reimagine how we are engaging our students in authentic assessment experiences so it’s an us thing. We are co-assessing at times to get to a place where they self-assess more accurately and more authentically and more confidently as well.

Steve : 07:41 So I was just in a conversation with a secondary teacher today international school in Brazil and there’s a piece of that conversation I wanna share with you, but I wanna ask you a question first. So the question that I was headed towards is, can you give us some of the indicators of of what it looks like when assessment is better aligned with student agency and inquiry?

Trevor: 08:10 Well, students have a better understanding of where they’re at and where they need to go to next without me telling them. That would be the big piece. They’re not waiting for my next steps, they’re not waiting for my assessment, they take ownership over their next steps. And of course, when we talk about capable learners, they actually own their journey. And that takes scaffolding that takes time, but that would be an indicator of a strong partnership, is that, my students can predict where they’re at. They can self-assessment with accuracy and they can identify their next steps. Of course, when we break that down, Steve, there are so many assessment components that we can engage in that help that process, or that we engage in that actually stifle that process. We can so easily put a number on something, right?

Trevor: 08:50 Like, a 6/10 – the research tells us this – as soon as a kid sees a 6/10, the learning stops. No matter how rich and clear and helpful the feedback is under that 6/10, the learning stops. But if we merely remove that 6/10 and all we give them is the feedback, guess what they do? They understand the feedback and then they go and implement the feedback. The learning doesn’t stop. So to get to that place where students know where they’re at and where we need to go to next, we really need to deeply reflect on, what are we doing to nurture those conditions and what are we doing to stifle those conditions? And of course the stifling stuff is the stuff we put a pause on right away. And the nurturing stuff is the stuff that we do more often. And we could talk about that for days, Steve, like, what are the assessment structures and frameworks that allow us to get into that nurturing space rather than that stifling space?

Steve : 09:42 So my my conversation today, there were two parts to it. And I’m glad I got to hear you share what you’ve shared so far, and I’d like your feedback on these then. So the first one was a suggestion to her that students ought to be able to have a self-assessment prior to a teacher assessment as a starting point and that the student ought to get feedback on the accuracy of their assessment because her response to me was that when she asked kids to self-assess, they kind of try and inflate because they’re trying to convince her rather than looking at the accuracy. And my response was, if you did a great piece of writing or a great project, and you don’t know that it was great, then we’ve missed a major chunk of the learning as much as if you did an incomplete and you don’t know. So can you give me some feedback?

Trevor: 10:47 Yeah. I love that conversation that you had. I wish I could have heard it, that would’ve been so fun and I couldn’t agree more. I think the language we use when we talk to students around assessment matters significantly, and you referenced, are they trying to conflate their mark? Like, is it an assessment defense, or is it a conversation around assessment accuracy? And the two create totally different responses from our students. Of course, if it’s an assessment defense, which many teachers do, what are kids gonna do? It’s like a courtroom. I’m going interrogate you and I’m gonna give you all the things to prove my point.

Steve : 11:22 If I’m a teacher, I’ll do it with my administrative evaluation, right?

Trevor: 11:26 Yeah. If it’s about assessment accuracy, then we have a different conversation and a different outcome, a different
experiential outcome. Fascinatingly, and I’m sure you’re familiar with this, Steve, when it comes to assessment accuracy, there’s a subjectivity window of like 10%. It’s almost 10%. So you can be marking an essay and I can mark the exact same essay using the exact same rubric, and we can have a window of 10%. So when we talk about student self-assessment accuracy, let’s do better than 10%. That should be our goal. And when teachers hear that research and they think of that being the goal, wow, that’s easier than, I created an 80 and I want them to get an 82 in their self assessment. That’s not what we’re talking about. That’s way too accurate. The analogy I use is we wanna help our students sharpen their assessment compass, right?

Trevor: 12:16 We want them to lead with more accuracy and clarity and confidence in having a voice and assessment. And this is language that matters. This is language I use with my students, Steve, like, we’re talking about it. That doesn’t mean I close the curtain and that’s a teacher only conversation. I open up the curtain. That’s a conversation I have with my students around assessment accuracy. So that conversation you had with your colleague there, yeah, I’m nodding my head significantly, but then also lift up the language that allows the conversations with our students to get to the experiences we are aiming to nurture.

Steve : 12:46 And the second piece – she was using rubrics, and I touched on laying it out with students so that the highest level of the rubric was a blank that what wasn’t coming with with language as to what would take you to the highest level. So if this is the standard and the standards of three, we can clearly spell out what it takes to meet the standard. And I’ve always led towards students being engaged in that, and you’ve pushed me there stronger now, but then if you’re gonna have a spot higher than that, that’s where the student agency really comes in to figure out what would take it beyond meeting the standard.

Trevor: 13:32 Yeah. I love that. Absolutely. You know, the rubric game is one we play with kids. It’s not one we do in isolation. It’s one that we bring into the classroom. So, you know, if you were to watch me teach periodically throughout the weeks, you would see me, co-design rubrics with kids. We’d start with a single column rubric, a single point rubric, what is proficient, Steve? Like what is the mark for all of us to hit? And they tell me the indicators, I just assure that they are on track with what the indicators should be. This is the co-design, right? I’ve got the rubric at the ready. A lot of these rubrics we use, we’re told we have to use, but that doesn’t mean I just merely give them and slap them onto student’s desks, it means I co-design and I use that mandated rubric as a blueprint to the conversation and the holes that they don’t fill themselves, I fill with them.

Trevor: 14:18 I share things – well, maybe we should consider this, or has anybody thought of this? And we add to that single point rubric. The time invested there has great rewarded in the long run, because students are more understanding of what they’re being assessed on. i.e., how to be successful. Number two, they actually can identify their next steps. Like you’re saying, well, what is extending? What is going above that? They’re more able to get to that point and articulate that if we co-design first, whereas if I come in, there’s gonna be a big gap there. And that gap creates some problems with regards to students knowing where they’re at and where they need to go to next. So, absolutely. I love cosigning, rubrics. You won’t see it every day in my classroom, but when it comes to those pieces where that kind of feedback is really helpful, absolutely.

Trevor: 15:04 And then another piece, Steve, is when I ask students to self-assess, I’m not always asking the self-assess on all the indicators, like maybe it’s a nitty gritty. I want you to take two minutes now and look at your body of work or look at the thing you’re building right now and show me evidence of one success criteria. One indicator. Come up and show me, or show a friend. And you know what I’m doing there? I’m doing a check for assessment accuracy. I’m doing a check to make sure that they are actually strong self assessors. And slowly we build on that expertise. And in the meantime, we’re reflective learners aren’t we? We are part of the assessment process. It’s not a teacher dominated space, it’s a shared space that I’m actually coaching and modeling often. I think that’s a bit of a misconception in the realm of partnering with our students is that it’s too much work for them, it’s too hard, it requires too much time. Just think of how easy that would be. Choose one success criteria and look at your body of work and show evidence. That takes three minutes in all of our practices. We can do that daily, right? Not cumulatively at the end of a unit
of study. It’s something that we could sharpen each and every day in our practice.

Steve : 16:10 And the student learning and understanding of the content is going deeper as they’re practicing assessment accuracy.

Trevor: 16:18 Absolutely. You know, time and time again, as students become more assessment capable, there’s a correlation with grades and achievement, right? Like you can look at the classes of which engagement in this work and grades are going to improve over time because students understand the success criteria in an authentic way, student friendly language, and then again, going back to the initial point or onset of the conversation, they know where they’re at and they know where they need to go to next, which speaks to growth over time.

Steve : 16:48 And Trevor, a lot of the listeners to this podcast are working as an instructional coach or their administrators who are stepping into coaching roles with their teachers and I’m wondering what thoughts you have as to the kind of support that administrators and instructional coaches could be providing teachers who wanted to be taking a look at the next step with assessment aligning with with inquiry teaching.

Trevor: 17:16 Yeah. You know, in my publication, there’s a bit of a conceptual framework, if you will, of where we can start these conversations
with our teachers and with ourselves for that matter and where we can go to next. And within that conceptual framework, I don’t wanna say it’s low hanging fruit, Steve, but like the first step is to make sure that our learning goals are transparent with our students. You know, I should be able to walk into a teacher’s room as a coach or a coordinator, and I should be able to not just see the target, I should be able to ask a scholar. I should be able to ask a student, what are you learning, why are you learning it and how are you gonna be assessed? And if our scholars can’t speak to that, that means that there hasn’t been enough transparency.

Trevor: 17:54 And that that’s like the first step to a whole bunch of other stuff that comes after that. We cannot accurately and confidently self-assess if the kids don’t know the learning target. We cannot co-design success criteria with kids and indicators of success if the learning target isn’t clear. And so that to me is a non-negotiable. I wanna see the learning target, and then I want to be able to talk to kids about their learning to that depth, if you will, and that clarity and that confidence. Students should be confident about the learning that they are experiencing so that they can speak to it so openly and clearly.

Steve : 18:29 I wanna push a little bit to what am I listening for when you use the term,” know the learning target,” I’m making an assumption that it’s not because it’s written and hanging up on a chart and I can read that back to the principal who asked me that knowing means something more than that. And what do you mean when you say know the learning target?

Trevor: 18:55 Well, a hallmark of inquiry is that the learning is relevant and meaningful and highly contextual. We want students to see the real world application to the learning. And so when we talk about the learning target, yeah, it needs to be visible so we can be accountable to our organizations for sure, but it’s also to find contextual relevance and purpose and meaning and that’s deeply important to me. So when I talk to kids, I just don’t want them parroting the teacher’s words, that’s the depth of meaning and belonging and fulfillment I’m listening for. So what does inquiry look like and sound like and feel like? What does learning target look like and sound like and feel like? So what does it look like? It’s up there. What does it sound like? It sounds like that really clear rich conversation with teachers and scholars.

Trevor: 19:38 And what does it feel like? It feels like a sense of belonging. It feels like a sense of confidence and purpose and contextual kind of relevance. And that shows some depth to which we wanna take these conversations too, doesn’t it? We can all go in tomorrow to our classrooms and slap a learning target on the wall. It doesn’t mean authentic learning is occurring. The next step is to create the clarity and confidence in our scholars so they see the purpose in the learning. That would be a huge question. And coaches listening, how do you design units of study that are obviously tied to people in place and relevance? That would be some work we need to do with the teachers we support. And then finally, yeah, that feeling of confidence and confidence and belonging, that’s deeply important to this work as well.

Steve : 20:20 Well Trevor, I kind of feel like I made this personal for me podcast. So thank you so much. How about telling the listeners – give them the name of your book again that’s looking at assessment. I love the fact that it’s top on your list of what you’ve written. So tell them a little bit more about it and where they can find it.

Trevor: 20:44 Yeah. So it’s, it’s titled, “Inquiry Mindset Assessment Edition.” As far as I know, it’s the only publication on the market right now that talks about inquiry and assessment. And you can find that on my website, trevormackenzie.com, Amazon, of course, your local bookstore will be able to get it for you as well and you can reach out to me and find me at trevormackenzie.com. That’s the easiest platform to engage in all my social media spaces. So thank you so much, Steve, for hosting me. It’s it’s always an invigorating conversation and this one for both of us was deeply meaningful and relevant.

Steve : 21:14 Well, thank you. Have a good day.

Trevor: 21:17 You too.

Steve : 21:20 Thank you for listening. You can subscribe to Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud on iTunes and Podbean and please remember to rate and
review us on iTunes. I also want to hear what you’re pondering. You can find me on Twitter @stevebarkley or send me your questions and find my videos and blogs at barkleypd.com.

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