Recently one of my colleagues saw me sitting at a table writing end-of-the-semester assessment reports for the elementary Visual Arts students. “Listen to this,” I said, and proceeded to read to him a couple of the reports for the students.
“I think you’re the only teacher I know who enjoys writing assessment reports,” he commented with a laugh. “How do you collect this information?”
Like most teachers, I used to dread writing assessment reports. I used to ask myself how I could write so many reports and make them all sound different. And like some teachers, I sometimes copied and pasted a report from one student to another, rearranging a couple of sentences and being careful to change the name. Honestly, it wasn’t always easy to distinguish one student from another.
Now I enjoy writing reports. Oh, it still takes a lot of time and patience to produce so many reports. That part continues to be a challenge. But the writing part – trying to compose something different for each student – is easier. The secret, I discovered, is to focus on developing assessment-capable learners in the classroom.
I know that I still have a long way to go to better support my students to be assessment capable learners, but, by targeting two key things, I’ve made report writing easier and, well, more exciting!
In order for students to be capable of assessing their own learning, it’s important for them to have regular times to reflect on their learning. They need time to talk about their learning with peers, to reflect on their process, and to explain their thinking for their projects. In our Visual Arts class, that is usually a brief partner share time to discuss the projects at the end of class. Since these students are often designing their own projects (alone or working collaboratively), they naturally discuss them with each other during the class, as well. Additionally, while they are working, I am circulating through the room and talking with them to ask about where they got their ideas, how they figured out how to do something, etc.
Each semester, I take time to have a brief one-on-one interview with each student. While it’s challenging to work this out during class time, the benefits are invaluable. (In our school we’re fortunate to have homeroom teaching assistants who accompany the students to specialist classes.) I ask the students how the class is going for them. I ask them to tell me about their favorite project. I ask them about what they are getting better at. I ask them what they notice that shows them they are getting better. I ask them about what’s challenging. I ask them about how they deal with those challenges. And I ask them what’s next. While they talk, I take dictation. I probe their answers and get them to go deeper with their thinking by asking follow-up questions.
Their answers from those interviews are a treasure of information about how the learners perceive their progress in the class, how they feel about things, what they enjoy the most and what they’d like to do next. Their answers are humbling and inspiring.
I’ll give a few examples from some of these elementary students this semester so that you can see what I mean:
“It’s a place where I can be myself,” one student recently mentioned about the Visual Art class. “I can create stories about my feelings and show them to others. I can talk with them about their ideas and feelings, too. I like all the things I make. They show me being me. When I am happy I make things that look happy. This semester, I learned that artwork can show how you feel.” – Grade 4 Student
“We make things we have never seen before by thinking how we make it. I imagine how to make different things. When it is done, we can see it and we will know something new in our brain.” – Kindergarten Student
“I like designing my own projects. I can create new things that can turn into something big. If I make something today with cardboard, then one day I can make things with other materials like wood and metal. No one is telling me what idea I’m supposed to do. Something will come up in my own mind, maybe something I’ve never done before.” – Grade 2 Student
“When I have an idea, I am excited about it. There are a lot of materials to make my own things. If I do my own thinking it helps me, not only in Art, but in other subjects. I know how to focus on what I have to do. In art, if I make a mistake I can always find a solution. In Physical Education we had to design a game and it was easy to focus and design it because I do that in art!” – Grade 5 Student
When I make a mistake, maybe I learn something…I got the idea to solve a problem. My creative thinking got better because I made my own project.” – Grade 1 Student
“I feel like I am in the kitchen mixing different things together to make brand new things. I am using my creativity. I am using my imagination. When you are creative, it helps you discover new ideas. I have been trying to express myself more because I think it brings more joy to the picture instead of copying something.” – Grade 3 Student
“I feel very free to do anything I want. I can decide what to do. I feel more confident. I like to go back and look at the things I made before and that gives me ideas.” – Grade 2 Student
“I like the freedom. We think harder. Sometimes we do not even know what we will make when we start. I want to be an explorer. I planned an explorer’s suit. I don’t give up easily.” – Grade 4 Student
“[Designing my own projects] helps me because I am able to think back and talk about how I made something. I am working harder and making stuff with better thinking and faster imagination.” – Grade 2 Student
“Art helps me figure things out. I can draw it and then I get it.” – Grade 3 Student
“I like making artwork about things I like and sharing it with my friends. That way we learn more about each other. Now I am working better with friends.” – Grade 5 Student
“I like that we can use our own creativity. We can make things that are important to us. I am building skills so that I can design things like houses in the future. I’m using a lot of imagination. I imagine something, design it, and then make it.” – Grade 3 Student
“I like that I can [design my own projects]. I can do things on my own. I feel more confident. When I first came here I was shy. Now my confidence is growing and I can express a lot of ideas,” – Grade 5 Student
Another benefit I have noticed with these one-on-one interviews is the confidence with which some of the quieter students approach me afterwards to talk about their work more often. I want each of the learners in my class to know that I am interested in their ideas and in their development as creative thinkers. But most importantly, I want to empower them to take ownership in their learning. Reflection and one-on-one interviews are two steps that we are taking to become more assessment-capable learners. I encourage all educators to involve learners more in the whole assessment process.
You’ll be thankful when it’s time to write your reports, too.