Don’t Forget the Most Important People in a PLC
The teacher sitting in front of me at a recent workshop looked crestfallen! I empathized with her right away because I had felt her pain when I was teaching elementary students. I knew exactly what she would say when I asked her what was wrong. “I feel so guilty,” she said. “I have not been including my students in the assessment process and have lost a great opportunity to motivate them to work hard and succeed.” Who says that reflective practice doesn’t sting sometimes?
As I’ve been working with schools across the country to refine their professional practice, there is a piece of the puzzle that is consistently missing. We learn how to focus on learning instead of teaching; we learn how to work collaboratively instead of in isolation; and we learn how to measure our success based on tangible evidence. What we aren’t incorporating into our work as much as we need to is how to bring students into the assessment process. When you stop to think about it, who is the main client in assessment? It’s the student. Our success as a school depends upon the success of each and every student under our care. Our mission statements always reflect a desire to help students achieve and become productive citizens. However, most of the time, we neglect three important pieces of data that each student needs to know:
- What is it that I am expected to learn or master?
- Where am I now on the road to mastery?
- What do I need to do to close that gap?
I maintain that these questions are critical to success in any endeavor. If I could wave a magic education wand, I would ensure that every school involved students directly in the assessment of their progress. I visited a third-grade classroom in one school and a little boy who had never seen me before came running up to me with a manila folder in his hand. He opened it and there on the left was a bar graph he was using to keep track of his progress in mastering addition and subtraction. He said, “Look at this. See where I was last week and look at where I am this week?” His enthusiasm was contagious!
We set SMART goals as a school and as a team. Why not have our students set SMART goals for their own individual growth? The alignment of SMART goals from the individual student, the team, the school, and the district sends a clear message that this is an organization focused on results and everyone has a responsibility to do his or her part to achieve those goals. Talk about a result-oriented approach!
Here are some specific ways to involve students in assessing, monitoring, and recording their progress:
- Starting with the preassessment, be open with students about the prerequisite skills they need to succeed.
- With each formative assessment, ask students to record the targets they have mastered.
- With each formative assessment, ask students to monitor their progress toward mastering the targets/standards they haven’t met yet.
- Make sure your intervention isn’t done to the student; make sure intervention strategies are for the student—specific to the student and to the skill or concept that needs work.
- Be clear with students about small increments of progress.
- Help students see their progress toward meeting benchmarks.
- Give clear, focused strategies to help students close the gap between the expected mastery level and their current level.
- Provide encouraging feedback to students so they see that effort yields improvements, no matter how small.
- Celebrate the increments of growth to keep students motivated to continue their efforts.
Dr. Robert J. Marzano’s research, as well as that of others, indicates that assessment can be a positive motivator for students or a defeating exercise that saps them of energy and any desire to put forth effort. Don’t forget the most important people in a PLC and involve your students in your assessment process.