ASSESSMENT IS CURRICULUM IS ASSESSMENT – PT 3

This is part 3 of a focus on precision in curriculum design. The first part is here. The second part, focusing on pragmatic examples for next day teaching is here.

As previously discussed in the last post, the best way to avoid gaps emerging in student knowledge is to build curriculum incrementally and then assess those incremental stages. This strategy provides you with precise feedback where an issue lies, as there should really be only one thing that could have gone wrong, which can then be addressed before the next part of the curriculum is introduced.

In this post, I’ll discuss a possible approach to designing the sequence for a unit of work, which of course inextricably must involve assessment design too.

DESIGNING UNITS OF WORK

Imagine you want to teach a poetry unit. Leading on from having already developed students’ confidence in structuring a response here, now we want to add content to the writing mix. Crucially, the thing I want to assess should be the main focus of the assessment, and in order to achieve that, I MUST eliminate as much extraneous load as possible so students can build and strengthen their knowledge in the area of focus. This essentially involves adding one new piece of knowledge to master at a time.

To begin, I would assess on a single poem, but have it open book with a known question, which will allow me to check for the way students are structuring their thoughts. I don’t make it closed book because if I do that, errors can stem from two sources: not just lack of structure knowledge, but also content knowledge too. I also don’t want to place time limits as performance could be a factor in poor responses. I would continue this piece of writing until I have a strong success rate, as moving on from here without security would be inhibitive to future success if many students still couldn’t master this stage.

CONTENTWHAT DO YOU WANT TO ASSESSWHAT IS THE DESIGN
Single poemStructure of thoughts (inc. context)Open book, Known question, ample time

Once I am confident that the articulation of responses is fortified, next, I add more content, but still keep the assessment open book. The difference this time though is that I won’t reveal the question beforehand. Now I want to check for performance under added pressure. Performance entails the ability to structure thoughts under pressure. I’ve written about this type of performance, essentially exam preparation, here.

CONTENTWHAT DO YOU WANT TO ASSESSWHAT IS THE DESIGN
Single poemStructure of thoughts (inc. context)Open book, Known question, ample time
3 poemsStructure of thoughts (inc. context), performanceOpen book, Unknown question, ample time

Now I want to test revision, so the assessment is closed book, but with set time, to again test performance, but this time, a different aspect of it. The question will be known however, so students can revise. This allows me to see if performance is the result of specific revision or lack thereof.

CONTENTWHAT DO YOU WANT TO ASSESSWHAT IS THE DESIGN
Single poemStructure of thoughts (inc. context)Open book, Known question, ample time
3 poemsStructure of thoughts (inc. context), performanceOpen book, Unknown question, ample time
5 poemsRevision,performanceClosed book, known question, set time

Finally, I want to assess the domain, and so all possible error sources are exposed.

CONTENTWHAT DO YOU WANT TO ASSESSWHAT IS THE DESIGN
Single poemStructure of thoughts (inc. context)Open book, Known question, ample time
3 poemsStructure of thoughts (inc. context), performanceOpen book, Unknown question, ample time
5 poemsRevision,performanceClosed book, known question, set time
5 poemsDomainClosed book, unknown question, set time

This process would be repeated until all the required poems in the anthology are studied. The incremental design of this unit ensures that students can master the individual components that are intrinsically necessary to be able to move on to a more complex stage of the unit. It is this that helps avoid gaps in student knowledge, and allows teachers to be more precise with understanding what an issue may be for a student who presents with errors.

In the next post, I’ll suggest strategies to plan and design curriculum that allows knowledge to be built fundamentally, from the ground up.

I’m Paul Moss. Follow me on Twitter @edmerger, and follow this blog for more English teaching resources.

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