Personalized Assessment

Cross posted at Tech Learning

One of the current buzz words in the world of educational technology is “personalized learning” I’ve used it often and while it’s been used prior to the influx of technology in schools, the internet is making it more of a reality and possibility than ever before. If indeed we believe in the value of a personalized learning experience then I think we also need to consider what personalized assessment and evaluation might look like as well.

Trying to define or actualize the concept of personalized learning in schools is still a little fuzzy. Here are a few examples that I think exemplify personalized learning

Will Richardson shares the story of a high school Spanish teacher who decided his students would learn Spanish in the context of their passions or interests. For one student that meant finding a Spanish fashion designer and blogger to connect with and simply begin by reading her blog and leaving comments. Not only was this highly motivating for the student but as a bonus, the designer ended up  asking the student to help her learn English.

Chris Harbeck,  a middle school Math teacher uses something he calls “unprojects” where students demonstrate understanding in Mathematics. Chris talks about students in charge of their learning.

I’ve tried to do similar things working with pre-service teachers at the college level. Students are asked to design their own project that tie into the big themes of the course. Once they get over they get over the initial shock that I won’t be telling them what to do precisely, we begin to negotiate their projects with the intent of making it useful and meaningful. It’s not surprising that for these students, who have been part of a system that rarely acknowledged their interests, they have a difficult time accepting this freedom and choice.

One area that seems a bit behind this trend is in the area of assessment and evaluation. Too often we run into huge snags as we try and implement any type of newer pedagogy and then use traditional evaluation strategies. Quite often they are incompatible. In keeping with the spirit of personalized learning should we not consider personalized assessment? Just like personal learning, this is not easy or straightforward. Simple solutions are not apparent. However a couple of things are worth considering.

Given you may have certain outcomes and expectations, those need to be part of the learning. To attain that, students and teachers need to negotiate the content, the process and the product of the learning. The key is built in feedback loops. Whether it comes from you, their peers or outsiders, the learning needs to be done in such a way that there is lots of opportunity to revise, edit and refine. Putting this work online seems like a no-brainer in facilitating that.

A second, more interesting idea is to allow students to determine some of the weighting in regards to grades. The course I’m teaching at the moment has 3 assessments. One student was brave enough to ask me if she could have some say in these assessments. I’ve done this in the past but for some reason did not include that this term. We decided together that instead of the arbitrary grading allotments to each assessment, they would be able to, within a given range, place more emphasis on one assessment that they felt reflected their energy and time. I’m so glad the student suggested that.  Another classmate responded to the idea this way,

I have grown up in a system, that NEVER worked that way [allowing for choice], … I am so brainwashed into thinking that this is the way it is, and it can’t be changed. Just like I feel as though having a voice in assessment makes me feel empowered, which in turn will have a big influence on the way I do assessment as a future teacher.

Giving students choice in both their learning and assessment seems to be the right thing to do. I can hear some folks already saying, “yeah but what about the tests?” I don’t know the answer totally but I do know we can’t ask students to move to personal learning and then have us as their teachers own the assessment.

Do you have some ideas or examples around personalizing assessment? I would love to hear them.