By Ish Stabosz
Center for Creative Instruction & Technology
Delaware Technical Community College
Today, we continue my series on Seven Strategies of Assessment for Learning by Jan Chappuis. Last Friday, I broke down the first strategy of assessment for learning, which asks instructors to “provide a clear and understandable vision of the learning target”. In essence, this strategy is about taking your learning objectives out from hiding in the syllabus and helping students internalize them. You can do this by sharing the learning targets as they are, converting them to student-friendly language, or designing effective rubrics. Check out last week’s post if you need to brush up on any of these topics.
This week I’ll look at the second strategy that Chappuis offers: Use examples and models of strong and weak work. Together with strategy 1, this strategy helps students answer the question Where am I going?
If you’ve successfully implemented the first strategy, your students understand to some extent what it is that they should be able to do by the end of the lesson, unit, or course. However, what they might not understand yet is what hitting that target looks like. They might not know the difference between a bulls-eye, a near miss, and way out in left field (forgive the mixed metaphors). Strategy 2 is all about getting students to understand what quality work (and poor work) looks like. As with the first strategy, this one aims to get students to hold the same standards of quality as instructors, in this case by offering them good and bad examples and teaching them how to evaluate those examples.
Chappuis starts by explaining that model work can be used to prepare students for a variety of assessments, including selected-response, written response, and rubric-based assessments. For example, you can provide students with one of last year’s multiple choice quizzes that already has answers filled in (some correct and some incorrect). Students can form an understanding of what the learning target looks like by identifying the incorrect answers and hypothesizing why someone might choose them. For short written responses, you can provide students with examples that illustrate common pitfalls so that they know what to avoid. For work that is evaluated using rubrics, the value of using strong and weak models is that you can get students to understand that for most performance assessments, there is an entire range of quality rather than a simple right or wrong.
Chappuis then offers an in-depth process for teaching students how to use rubrics to evaluate samples. This gets students to start thinking like assessors, which will prepare them for both self- and peer-evaluation while also solidifying a firm understanding of what hitting the learning target looks like and what it doesn’t look like. In a nutshell, the process is as follows:
- Give students the rubric and have them spend time reading it to get a basic understanding of how strong and weak work is described.
- Present students with a model, and let them independently decide whether it is strong or weak based on the rubric.
- Have students give the model a score based on the rubric:
- If they think the model is strong, they should start reading the rubric descriptors at the highest level and work their way downward until they determine a suitable score.
- If they think the model is weak, they should start reading the rubric descriptors at the lowest level and work their way upward until they determine a suitable score.
- In small groups, have students discuss and justify their decisions. Students should (with the instructor’s assistance) use the language of the rubric in their discussions.
- Take a class-wide tally of scores and ask for a few students to explain their decisions using the language of the rubric.
- Finally, explain to the class what score you would give the model and justify your reasoning.
Chappuis recommends starting this process with a strong sample, repeating it with a weak one, and then continuing from their with mid-range samples as students become more familiar with the rubric. It’s also worthwhile to point out that you don’t need to work with all of the rubric criteria at once. For example, say your students are working on an essay using a rubric with four criteria: content, organization, grammar, and style. On the first day of the unit, you may give them models and ask them only to assess the content. The next class, you have them assess the organization. So on and so forth. This way, students get to digest one learning target at a time.
At this point in reading the book, I feel like I’ve struck gold. Chappuis’s process is perhaps one of the most straight-forward and effective teaching strategies I’ve ever read, and implementing it into my own instruction shouldn’t be too difficult. I already provide my students with samples of work at multiple levels, but I have always told them from the start which models are A-level, B-level, and so forth. All I need to do is keep this secret from the students (at least at the beginning of the unit).
While at first it seems like actually implementing Chappuis’s process would eat up a lot of class time, I would really just need to replace some of my less effective strategies. For example, instead of my usual lecture on using showing details in writing, I could give students models at several levels of quality and have them use the rubric to evaluate which samples use showing details well and which ones don’t. They are learning the same objectives that my lecture provided, but they are doing it in a more student-centered manner that also helps them understand the same rubric that they will be evaluated on.
The more I think about it, the more I feel like this process could form the core of all learning activities in my course. In fact, Chappuis even ends the chapter by asserting that if the reader only takes one thing away from the book, she hopes it will be implementing these first two strategies of learning for assessment. I would have to agree that these two strategies seem integral. Just by getting students to understand what the learning target looks like, we would probably be doing enough for more than 50% of the class to reach their goal. A lot of students can push themselves to the finish line, but they have to know where it is before they can take the first steps.
Thanks for joining me again! Come back next week when I’ll start delving into Chapter 3: Where Am I Now? Effective Feedback. In this chapter, Chappuis details the third strategy of assessment for learning: Offer regular descriptive feedback. Chapter 3 promises to demonstrate not only why feedback helps students learn, but more importantly how to maximize the effectiveness of the feedback you provide.
Until then, let me know what you’ve thought about the series so far. Have you implemented anything new based on the strategies that Chappuis offers?