Thinking like an assessor

I spent most of this rainy Saturday in an Understanding by Design workshop facilitated by US curriculum design guru, Jay McTighe at Melbourne Grammar.

The focus of the day was primarily on stage 2 of the Understanding by Design process: determining acceptable evidence, and I worked in a small team with another Year 12 English teacher from my school on developing a unit design based on these principles.

McTighe’s work argues strongly that we need to design assessments before you design the activities and tasks that students will actually do and that assessment helps distinguish between teaching and learning.

He argues that good assessment is more like a photo album than a snapshot; you gather evidence from a range of assessments. He talked about ‘alignment’ between stage 1 and 2; you should be able to work out the desired results just by looking at the evidence you’re gathering.

In the Understanding by Design process, evidence of understanding requires students to explain and apply their learning to a new situation, an authentic context and the most robust test of understanding comes from authentic performance tasks that will demonstrate the desired understandings.

I liked his description of good tasks as having ‘zen-like’ elements, both creative and open ended but within a framework; “A river needs banks to flow”.

McTighe used a what he calls a GRASPS format for construction a performance task:

1. Goal
2. Role
3. Audience
4. Situation
5. Product/Performance/Purpose
6. Standards and Criteria for Success

We spent a lot of time in our groups working on developing units we wanted to teach. We were working on how to teach The Crucible in the ‘Encountering Conflict’ context. In the afternoon McTighe moved to a discussion of rubrics and how they are best constructed and utilised. It was a good day!


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