Friday, January 27, 2012

Higher Order Authentic Assessment

    At the beginning of the school year, our superintendent showed us this video on "Changing the educational Paradigm" during our staff welcome ...  Check it out. It is powerful.

While I know that these are simply ideas and theories about where this man feels education should be headed and not things that we can change drastically today ... I DO think that many these thoughts and ideals are vitally important for us as teachers to be be thinking about as we plan and teach within our own classrooms.  For example,  we should be ... taking to heart the idea that students learn better in collaboration, our world is more technologically stimulated than it was even when we were kids, our students need an education to be successful more today than ever before ...
     The part that struck me was the section where he talked about divergent thinking and how it is not the same thing as creativity. This idea that we need to be helping our children find LOTS of POSSIBLE answers to questions they will face in the world around them, not just one original idea, not just facts, not simply the answer to a problem.
     This led me to try and apply this to my own assessments. I even took it a step further and discussed divergent thinking with my students ... sharing with them what it was, it's importance, and how it can help them in their lives - and yes, I drew whiteboard pictures ;)

       I took this to heart by revamping of my Native American Authentic Assessment packet. Originally, my social studies assessments came directly from my social studies textbook/workbooks. The focus was on multiple choice, short answer, and fill in the blank - Lower Level Thinking - facts that were to be memorized and regurgitated for no apparent purpose. I firmly believe that THIS is why so many people LOATHE social studies and history. Instead of focusing on the higher level, intellectually stimulating, reason, story telling, reflectional qualities, and APPLICATION of history, people expect students to enjoy learning often disconnected, random, and FACTS about a time they don't understand and about people who are dead and boring.
- I decided to focus on what I believed were the important parts that I want my students to know about Native Americans ("First People" as we call them). The standard is quite BROAD so it had more play room, making it good for my experimental assessment. 

Standard: Locates and describes major regions, cultures, and communities in Native American life. 
  1. I want them to be able to break the stereotypes that tend to warp people's ideas of who these people really were and who they are today.
  2. I want them to be able to identify other Indian regions and cultures - not simply the Great Plains with their tepee's and buffalo.
  3. I want them to recognize the resources that influenced how they had to adapt and how their environments, religions, social structures, and economies created each culture and their unique characteristics and that we are still influenced by our environments and natural resources today.
  4. I want them to THINK about WHY the Hopi wore clothes made out of cotton, not simply memorize that they did. I wanted them to THINK about WHY plains Indians had Tepees and were nomadic in nature while the Northwest Indians built more permanent settlements. Basically to INFER about what the correct answer was, not memorize it and spit it back. THIS is what creates THINKERS - not robots!
I did not have them do this packet all in one sitting. We did a page or two a day and discussed it directly after we completed them. The students put their pencils away and took out markers/pens - if they missed a question they filled it in with the correct answer with their marker or pen (so in my grading I could tell what was authentically theirs). They were not "grading" per say, it was simply practice in case they hadn't understood - reinforcement of the information :)
 I gave them the regions (1) spelling purposes and (2) because I didn't want the focus to be on the memorization process but the application process
I wanted them to be able to "infer" by thinking of the regions and what we had learned about each one to figure out what region wore what. Some students may have memorized which went with which since we had been studying these cultures in depth, but the questions were worded in such a way that should a student have forgotten, by thinking of the different environments, they should have been able to match the clothing to the region.
 The same rationale went into why I wanted them to identify the regional houses.
 The tree was sort of a fun "divergent thinking" activity I threw in. Native Americans found MILLIONS of ways to utilize their natural resources to survive. I asked the students to label all the different things they could do, use, or make with a birch tree. I encouraged them to "think outside of the box!" Here were some "out of the box" answers we came up afterward in our class collaboration. 
Make: (this was the easiest of the three)
Tree house
tire swing 
as camouflage
as an escape route 
Do (with it): 
Burn it
climb it 
chop it down 
Do (more abstract!):  - I had to really prompt some of the kids to finally get this out of them (the truly divergent thinking - but then they did SO WELL!
take a picture of it
draw it
re-plant it
search for it
find it
Using the reading skill "inference" I had the students identify which region they thought this girl/picture was simply by inferring her surroundings, clothing, etc. 
For this page, I wanted them to recognize what natural resources are - they had to list as many things as they could think of the natural resources that could be found in this environment. Based both of the picture, previous discussion, and their own schema.
Obviously, vocabulary is important and it requires memorization techniques. Some things are and that is fine! It just shouldn't be the only focus or assessment for an entire subject.
I feel that the best way to assess social studies is through short essay format - it's importance is not as much about who did what, where or when they did it as much as it is about WHY! By looking at information and sharing your summary of your findings and how it changed your perception - THAT is what social studies is all about! Now I cannot truly use essay format in it's truest sense in 5th grade - a whole assessment like that would overwhelm them. But I did incorporate some small "essay" questions in my stereotype section. I wanted the to identify common, erroneous Native American stereotypes and use their knowledge to break them. 
After one looks into the past and sees the good or bad ways things have developed, it is important then for us to have our students make a connection between it and the here and now. THIS is where the relevance comes into play. We look into the past so we see why we/or others do what we do and also how to prevent certain negative things from happening in the future.
The final assessment was a writing activity. This really summed up their knowledge about what they had learned and liked about this unit/standard. By asking them which Native American region they would have liked to have lived in, it forced them to give reasons based on their knowledge of the Native American regions and cultures.  
To me, these types of assessments give an authentic take on how the child perceives the topic and the depth to which they understood the information presented.

Note: Please be aware that that as a social studies educator, my purpose is to get students excited about learning other cultures as well as their own. I am not perfect in my education of this, though I do try and do a lot of research before teachings cultures and history. Concerning the information presented in my room, I try it make it as authentic as possible from my findings and research but do not claim to be an expert. If there is something that bothers you or have questions on my instruction concerning your culture or any other topic I may teach in my room, please feel free to email me personally to help me gain more understanding. I love learning about others and am always striving to educate my students better. 
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