Saturday, February 19, 2011


Is C always the best answer? Consider dynamic assessment!

Does test taking seem like this?

Perhaps this isn't the best way to assess if our students understand a concept.

First off a recording of the webinar can be found in the LARC archives or directly here.

I apologize for the length of the post. While most of it is merely summarizing what occurred in the webinar I also put in my own opinions, thoughts and examples. Basically it is divided into Large Scale Testing needs, Classroom Alternatives, Dynamic Assessment Specifically, the Q+A summarized and My thoughts.

So, Matthew Poehner primarily explained assessment as a way to figure out what students know and if they understand, compared to teaching where we guide students to understand.

He pointed out that teaching and summative assessments are cut off from another and while students are being assessed teachers usually do not teach during a test.

Large Scale TestingThis part of the presentation talked about the limitations of large scale testing. Before we get into the basics I learned a new word! Washback. What the heck is washback? I found this from the Japan Association for Language Teaching's Testing and Evaluation's newsletter Shiken. James Dean Brown (from the University of Hawai'i) which does a GREAT job at defining this term using different sources.
"Shohamy, Donitsa-Schmidt, and Ferman (1996), washback is "the connections between testing and learning" (p. 298); to Gates (1995), it is "the influence of testing on teaching and learning" (p. 101); and for Messick (1996) washback is "the extent to which the introduction and use of a test influences language teachers and learners to do things they would not otherwise do that promote or inhibit language learning" (p. 241). Clearly then, the washback is roughly speaking the effect of testing on the teaching and learning processes."
I know "teaching to the test" is definitely a rising concern in California as standardized testing seems to be more and more prominent in education.

So we took a look at Pamela Moss' work with assessment. She goes to explain that testing is traditionally only a one day activity (as it has to be with most large scale standardized tests), but since in the classroom we can experience students abilities daily we have the ability to use more of a formative method of assessment. There is also an argument that collaboration is a "fundamental part" of language learning so giving tests individually does not always make the most sense. While large scale testing has to be formative and individual etc. classroom teachers have the liberty to assess differently.

This may be best seen with Delanshare's, who specializes in assessments as well, pointing out that when students are given a standardized test to assess their learning for that year it seems to assume that the learning as well has been standardized. That each students has learned the same thing, the same way at the same time. As teachers we all know that there is no educational theory that states this (that I am aware of at least) and as such standardized tests clearly have a disadvantage.

So, while it seems to be understood that large scale tests (like the STAR in California) have these limitation teachers should not try to model after these as we have different environments.

Classroom Alternatives
In a classroom one normally teaching using activities that the teacher can observe. If it is possible to standardize these activities more and examine them to use this as an assessment while teaching (compared to the current model where assessment and teaching is completely separate).

Let's not just ask, "What do you know?" rather, "How are you accomplishing what you are doing?" and "What support do you need to be successful?"

Anyone who knows my teaching methodology knows that I am a HUGE fan of task based learning (learning through a task rather than listen, repeat, fill out this worksheet). Part of this (or something that is often with it) is embedded assessment. This is where students do a project of some sort which is also used an assessment. There is also task-based pedagogy where students have tasks throughout the course and then when there is a "formative assessment" it will parallel the tasks they have already been doing.

Dynamic assessment seems to suggest these are great starts, but if there's a way to INCLUDE the teacher in the process for support to the student then they could go to the next step.

Part of the hopes for formative assessment (with formative feedback) is that by guiding students they will eventually students will be capable of self assessment (which would, quite frankly, be AWESOME).

This is how I see it in my mind:

When I take a test (let's say in Spanish) I know the verb needs to be conjugated. I know it is past tense, and I am pretty sure that it should be the imperfect but because the sentence is weird to be I am not 100% sure. If I just guess and conjugate the imperfect later (when evaluating) the teacher only really changes my answer to the right one and maybe makes a brief note as to why. In a dynamic assessment the teacher could note my issue and re-phrase the sentence, or emphasize a word which should help me figure it out. This would help me observe things on my own and eventually be able to self assess more than simply being marked wrong or right.
Dynamic Assessment
Dynamic Assessment is a "Interesting and new" way of assessing students. It is basically based in the thoughts of Vygotsky.

Basically there are two levels of development, the Actual Level of Development which we can see through most forms of assessment, but it leaves of emerging skills.

There's then the Zone of Proximal Development which allows us to see emerging capabilities so we don't overshoot their capabilities or teach them what they already know. To do this we make tasks which are very difficult for students that they can then try to accomplish with teacher mediation. Teachers gauge their responses to discover where to go in the future with lessons.

Many teachers are familiar with different correction techniques. In this case a Spanish teacher trying out Dynamic Assessment for 10 year olds created mediation prompts she would use in the classroom. These were in order of least invasive to very invasive.

Let's use it with an example.

Teacher: "What do you and your sister like to do?"
Student: "My sister and me like to swim"

So according to this teacher's scale we would start at number one and see how much support the student needs.
  1. First I just pause and see if the student self corrects.
  2. If this doesn't prompt the student I can rephrase their statement as a question. (My sister and me like to swim?)
  3. Repeat just the part with the error. (My sister and me?)
  4. Ask: "What's wrong with that sentence"
  5. Point out the incorrect word. (Can we change me?)
  6. Ask an either or question (I or me?)
  7. Give the correct answer (Use I)
  8. Explain why
The teacher logged the mediation prompt that students needed at each interaction which gave her a view of the overall classes progression as well as individual progression.

This isn't by any means the only way to do Dynamic Teacher and could be brainstormed so teachers can have other options, but it is a nice primary example.

Q + A
What kind of weight is given to each successive question? [I would say interaction rather than question]

Clearly there's the discretion of the teacher. Some may choose to ignore the amount of the support needed and merely give students a pass or fail based on whether or not the task.

Other teachers may create a rubric where if a student needs more support then their grade can reflect this compared to students who need less support.

We also need to remember that as time passes this should be reflected on student. This goes with Stephen Krashen's theory of second language acquisition (input + 1) that we want to be teaching students things which are just out of their grasp.

Should this kind of approach be used only for formative assessments or can it be used for summative assessments as well?The basis for this type of assessment is at this level most assessment should be formative, however dynamic assessment can be used for summative assessments as well.

How can this approach be applied more to meaning than grammar?

This system can function regardless of the type of teaching. The prompts for support would need to be changed, but could easily be applied to students trying to have more comprehension rather than just grammar.

Is self assessment something that just happens "naturally"?
We want learners to self assess so they have more agency and it involves them in the process. Despite the assumption that this will happen naturally it seems to be developmental. Using dynamic assessment he would be able to figure out exactly what the issues are and why so they can eventually self assess.

Is this possible in computer mediated settings?

Though dynamic assessment is quite new for second language teachers it has been around in the areas of IQ tests and special education. So we can see where it is pre-prepared and not just through dialogue.

What about the validity of dynamic assessment?

Validity is usually easily argued using large amounts of data to prove your test is legit.

Instead of data from many people we can look at lots of data from the same students. In looking at this we can see the quality of feedback they were given, what the students are able to do on their own and their responses to feedback.

Using this we can "prove" the activity is an appropriate choice to to show what learners know, and how it changes based on the feedback they receive.

My Thoughts
While this seems efficient and makes sense to me based on the process of learning I do see some problems.

For example, I know in many cases student expect a test or examination of some sort at the end, and if they don't receive this (especially when they are paying for a course compared to public education) they don't feel they have learned.

Also, if this is done as a class the students who are assessed later in the classroom students who go later have more examples and are able to base their responses off of their friends examples.

More information can be found: (the site is down now so I am not so sure what is exactly there)

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