Ways of making assessment in a classroom environment

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In this essay, I will identify various ways of making assessment for learning work in a classroom setting. I will furthermore be discussing whether or not knowing your student's preferred learning style will make a difference in their learning and their social needs. The negative points in assessment for learning will also be highlighted, as well as the positive impact it has in a classroom environment. Furthermore, this essay will be discussing theories from Piaget and Vygotsky and the outlook they had on the education system, what they suggested and what we as educators have learnt from them. This essay will also be looking at ways of putting assessment for learning into everyday classroom environments with the use of various strategies. This will include the four P's which are practical, personal, pupils and perservere. I would like to establish that assessment for learning has the same meaning as formative assessment.

'Schools exist to promote learning. Teachers are catalysts for learning. (Cohen et al. 2004). Wray and Lewis (1997) identified four aspect of learning what they considered to be extremely important. They think that learning should consist of a process of interaction between what is known and what needs to be learnt. Wray and Lewis (1997) also feel strongly about the fact that learning is a social process, that learning should be situated in a certain way and lastly, that learning is a metacognitive process or in other words, that learning is knowledge about when and how to use particular strategies for learning. Pritchard (2009) believes that learning depends on an individual student's preferred learning style. I strongly agree with him as I have conducted various research activities for previous essays to determine if this will benefit the student at all and my conclusions were that it would benefit the students tremendously.

The first focus of this essay will be on the various learning styles. I will take these learning styles into consideration and demonstrate that it will have a positive effect on the students' learning in the classroom. Many people believe that teaching towards the different learning styles and social needs of the students in the classroom is important. They feel that this will keep the students engaged if the teachers are aware of each individual students learning style and this will also help the teachers to identify their strengths and weaknesses. Sprenger (2008) had applied different research methods or strategies when she looked at the influences that might have positive and negative effects on an individual student's needs (social, emotional and academic) in the classroom and that they are being met.

To achieve this, it is vital for teachers to take their students' learning styles into consideration as this is a further way of trying to help students learn in the classroom. 'Learning profiles represents the sum total of strengths and weaknesses that children possess' (Eide & Eide, 2006). To compile a learning profile, the teacher needs to know how students process information; how they process patterns; how their attention span works and most importantly, their preferred learning style. The three different learning styles are visual, auditory and kinesthetic learning. Visual learners can best be described as students who prefer to see the work they are doing. There are at least two types of visual learners. Some visual learners are easily able to see and understand graphs and charts, while other visual learners are simply print-orientated (Kline, 1997). Auditory learning, on the other hand, involves listening and speaking. These students normally have strong personalities and good language skills. According to Markova (1992) some of the auditory learners pick up foreign languages and dialects easily. Kinesthetic learning also includes different types of learners (Sprenger, 2008). The hands-on kinesthetic learners are at their happiest when they can figure out things for themselves. These students prefer hands-on experiences to assist in their learning; it can include anything from assembling a bookcase or even building a wall. The whole body kinesthetic learners need to become one with the subject for them to be able to understand what they are learning. The doodling kinesthetic learners learn through drawing. Teachers are prone to think that the student is not paying any attention, but a matter of fact is that they are taking in all of the information and processing it while they are drawing. I believe that if a teacher is aware of all of the information mentioned above, that he or she will be able to differentiate the students' work accordingly and challenge their learning. The students will show more progress and willingness during lessons, because they are learning in the way that favors them.

The next focus will be on Piaget and his theories. Piaget believed that the main goal of education should be to help children learn how to learn, so that they will be able to construct their own meanings (Piaget, 1969). Piaget (1969) also believed that education should shape the minds of learners. Piaget also recommended that students need to have control over their learning (Pound, 2005). He believed that the students should be able to conduct the research themselves. This is where open-ended activities in the classroom will help. Piaget's theory also suggested that children longed for continuous periods of play and discovery.

An observation by the classroom teacher can have a enormous impact in the classroom; once the teacher identified where the children need help, they will then in return be able to assist the student in their learning. Piaget also said that the focus should be on the process of learning rather than the end result. He also believed that teachers act as guides in student's practical learning experience and that the curriculum should be adapted to meet their individual needs and also their intellectual levels. Piaget's theories had a significant impact in the developmental psychology in the sixties and seventies. His theories were so successful, that it was used in teacher training and it had a major influence on the education of children. If there is one thing that people have learnt from Piaget, it would be that teachers should know how students think, just by paying attention to their ways of problem solving and by listening carefully to them (Pound, 2005). By understanding this, the teacher should be able to differentiate the lessons according to the student's individual abilities and needs.

Vygotsky on the other hand believed that it was completely pointless for the students to rediscover information which was already available for them. This is where assisted learning comes in. Vygotsky described assisted learning as adapting the work to meet the student's particular levels, demonstrating the particular skill or asking questions that would trigger the student's attention or memory (Rosenshine and Meister, 1995). To ensure that all students are engaged in the classroom, Vygotsky came up with the following guidelines to guide the teacher: When the teacher introduces new topics or ideas in the classroom, the teacher must provide prompts or examples of previous work. When the student feels more at ease with the topic area, the teacher can start withdrawing the extra support and start to encourage independent learning (Woolfolk, Hughes and Walkup, 2008). If the teacher does not do this, the student will become too reliant on support and will not be able to learn without someone there to guide him or her. To further ensure that the student is given the opportunity to develop as independent learners, the teacher must ensure that the student has access to all the learning tools available. This can include using dictionaries in class, word-processing programs, spreadsheets and even search engines (Woolfolk, Hughes and Walkup).

Now that we are more aware of the different ways of learning, the various learning styles and the different theories, the focus can move to assessment for learning. The famous 'Black Box' literature has been very influential around the world. This might be a result of the authors identifying key strategies which had been proven to improve students' learning. Assessment for learning serves the purpose of supporting learning in any classroom environment. According to Noonan and Duncan (2005) formative assessment should be recognized as an important part of any teacher's classroom assessment strategies. While they conducted the research, Noonan and Duncan (2005) have found that teachers find peer and self-assessment useful, but they also feel that there is still an urge for guidance in the use of assessment strategies.

Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam said in 2002 that:

Assessment for learning is any assessment for which the first priority in its design and practice is to serve the purpose of prompting pupils' learning. It thus differs from assessment designed primarily to serve the purposes of accountability, or of ranking, or of certifying competence. An assessment activity can help learning if it provides information used as feedback, by teachers, and by their pupils, in assessing themselves and each other, to modify the teaching and learning activities in which they are engaged. Such assessment becomes 'formative assessment' when the evidence is actually used to adapt the teaching work to meet learning needs.

(Black and Wiliam, 2005: PAGE????/ uitgawe)

This is a useful quote in describing the whole meaning of assessment for learning. If teachers take this into consideration, their students would excel in every lesson and the students' learning would also be prompted and challenged.

Gardner (2006) feels that assessment for learning carries a lot of potential for changing teaching and learning processes in various ways that will in return, enhance the various learning outcomes. These learning outcomes include tests and examinations and also the development of motivation for learning (Gardner, 2006) Gardner (2006) also makes reference to the Assessment Reform Group's principles for assessment for learning, which are that:

The students are supposed to understand the learning goals and they must also be able to identify the criteria that will be used for assessing their progress;

The students should be aware of how they are learning and also about what they are learning

The students should be able to reflect on their own learning strengths and weaknesses and they should then also be able to develop various approaches of learning that build on these;

The students should be able to show progress though useful feedback from their peers and teachers on how to improve their work; and

The students must also be able to reflect on their learning and progress in relation to their previous achievements and they should learn not to be in competition with their peers.

According to Gardner (2006) it is essential for teachers to educate themselves to a very high standard if they want to promote change successfully in the classroom assessment roles. Gardner (2006) again refers to one of the Assessment Reform Group's key principle which is:

Assessment for learning should be regarded as a key professional skill for teachers. Teachers require the professional knowledge and skills to: plan for assessment; observe learning; analyse and interpret evidence of learning; give feedback to learners and support learners in self-assessment. Teachers should be supported in developing these skills through initial and continuing professional development.

(Gardner, 2006:29)

The focus is mainly on staff or teacher development. This might imply that if the teacher is not confident in assessment for learning, that they might pass the lack of confidence on to their students.

According to Smith (2007) assessment for learning proves to be constructive because the main focus is on improvement and it should furthermore be used to support progress. Smith (2007) also states that assessment for learning is useful as it helps the students to realise how well they have done and if there is room for improvement, It also gives them a guidance on how to improve. Smith (2007) also states that assessment for learning is a good way for the students to encourage one another and this will help build a better self-esteem.

Smith (2007) believed that feedback is the trigger point of assessment for learning. Many people may think that the role of a teacher is to close a gap in their students' learning, but Smith (2007) has found that teachers should support their students in their learning. This may well fall into student-centered teaching where the teacher guides the student in reaching their goals.

The positive impact that assessment for learning has on students may be that students learn more effectively and that the students feel more involved in the educational system. The students also feel more valued as teaching is focused on each individual student, positive effects may also be more likely in the less able students and the focus is moved away from subject-centered learning.

Some students do not always see assessment in a positive way. King's College published a study which they conducted in 1998 and they have found that if a student lack in confidence that the student is more likely to focus on the result and not the positive feedback he or she received. On the other hand, if the assessment is conducted to improve learning and the student is not confident, the student is more likely to focus on the teacher's feedback. When giving feedback, the teacher should try his or her best to give the student's self-esteem a boost. According to Smith (2007) experienced teachers should know how to give positive feedback, but they must also be able to criticise without damaging the student's self-esteem. I believe that when a teacher is able to do this, that he or she will have a positive impact on any student's learning. Furthermore, a lot of research has been conducted that proves that positive feedback leads to improvement in learning. Black and Wiliam (1998) have conducted numerous studies to see what effect feedback had on learning. The studies focused on real classroom experiences and they revealed that feedback produced huge benefits in learning and attainment across the subject areas and it also broadened knowledge and skill types (Nicol and Macfarlane-Dick, 2006).

When a teacher is assessing students in a classroom environment, they might find it helpful to speak on a level that the student understands instead of using academic terms. Examples might be the teacher saying something like: "We are learning to work out the perimeter of a shape." According to Nicol and Macfarlane-Dick (2006) regular and unexpected assessment task, especially diagnostic test which can be done on computers can help teachers obtain vital information about students' levels of understanding and ability so that they can adapt their lessons to meet the various needs. If the teachers give the students an opportunity to identify where they have struggled in an assessment task, this will give the students the confidence to try more challenging work because they know that they will get the support they need

The last focus of the essay will be on the four P's what I believe have a major impact on assessment. They are: practical, personal, pupils and persevere. For practical to work in a classroom environment, the teacher must believe that the assessment for learning will work. To make the assessment for learning practical, the teacher must have a positive relationship with his or her class and the students must have a personal relationship with one another. According to Smith (2007) teachers should also take the size of the class into consideration and they should take the length of lessons into account as well. Many people might agree that the pupil is the most important P. Teachers should have a positive relationship with their class as this will help when they want to try new ideas out. It has been proven that students perform better if the classroom environment is positive and this will mean happier learners. The last P is persevering; teachers should remember that not all their ideas will work the first time round. Teachers should never give up, they should carry on with the strategies and in time, the students will get use to them and respond in a positive way.

To conclude, this essay has shown that there are various ways of making assessment for learning work in a classroom environment. It has given various definitions, including what learning is and also what is assessment for learning is. This essay has highlighted the importance for teachers in knowing and understanding their students' preferred learning styles. Furthermore, it has looked into various theories, ranging from Piaget to Vygotsky and the research they have conducted. In addition to that, this essay has revealed