Assessing the Gap

Sooooooooo…. it turns out I’m not terribly information literate. I have trouble, for instance, reading charts and calendars. This lack of information literacy has led to a rather terrible error on my part. I did next week’s readings and posted about them yesterday. Luckily (or unluckily for my schedule) I have caught my mistake, and below you will find a response to this week’s readings. If you read my previous blog post and wondered what the heck was going on, sorry about that. I have taken down the post and will re-post it next week, at the appropriate time.

I’ve talked a bit about formative assessment here before. I really liked the Sadler article this week. I felt that the analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of formative assessment was solid, and I liked that the author attempted analogies that would spread across many different subject areas. Having said that, I feel the article skewed towards the creative arts. I would have liked to see more analogies that would apply to math or science. Still, this article really spoke to my experience with formative assessment and so I will tell a little story about music schools and formative assessment.

Typically, music students attend a studio masterclass once a week. A studio is the collection of students who study with a particular teacher. A masterclass is a kind of unique performance experience where a “master” (a performer or teacher, visiting or in residence) holds mini-lessons in front of other students so that the whole studio may benefit from the master’s teaching techniques. Basically, you stand up in front of all the people in your school who do what you do while your teacher or other famous person stands right next to you, watches every little thing you do, and then lists your shortcomings for your peers in an effort to make you better and help your peers out too. It’s pretty terrifying, especially if the master in question is famous.

Anyway, I have attended many, many masterclasses, some more successful than others. The most helpful masterclasses I have ever attended were some of my first, at my undergraduate school. In addition to being an awesome educator, my teacher would require us to write on quarter-sheets of paper during our peers’ performances which were returned to the performer at the end of class. This was great for a number of reasons.

  1. It meant that all students had to be paying attention.
  2. Because you were expected to have an opinion on a performance, when you got called on for your opinion you couldn’t be blindsided.
  3. The students had to develop a language of praise and criticism. They had to create judgement criteria for themselves.
  4. Often the students were able to provide a kind of feedback that wasn’t possible from the performer or teacher. Since they did not listen to the performer on a daily or weekly basis, they could judge how far a student had come and what still needed work from a longer perspective.
  5. Students felt comfortable saying things like, “I had that problem and here’s what helped me out a lot,” when the teacher would never see or hear those comments.
  6. It allowed for fun comments such as “I like your sweater” and “Why does your left forefinger keep pointing at the ceiling? Is there something interesting up there?”
  7. The performer could also judge, based on a consensus of the comments, what the next steps might be to improve future performances.

I love this approach because it gives the listeners’ opinions as much credibility as the teacher’s opinions. How else can we create professionals with professional opinions if we never give them a space to exercise their judgement?

5 thoughts on “Assessing the Gap

  1. linguomancer says:

    I love your use of a personal story here. I really think it gets the point across well, and I think it demonstrates how useful it can be to have students participate in the assessment process themselves. I especially like the idea that the students had to, as you said, develop a language of praise and criticism in order to provide feedback to each other. I think assessing yourself can often be a difficult task, but having the opportunity to stand on the outside and think critically about what others are doing can be immensely useful. It makes me think, also, of the peer critiques that were often done in my creative writing classes, and how I would usually get very different feedback from peers than from the professor. Very interesting!

    • Meggan says:

      This kind of process is nearly the same as peer review in writing classes. I also find peer review to be terrifying (actually, more so than masterclasses) but immensely helpful.

  2. katzalot says:

    Having watched a Master’s class I have to agree that I felt totally scared for the student artist. I yeah the teacher ripped into him the moment he was done in a way that seemed so nit picky and mean. I think the peer review aspect makes review process more useful. I know what you mean when you say that peer review can be scary but so helpful. I often feel that peers have empathy and know they want useful critique when they go up as well.

    I think in the sciences I could see formative assessment working really well when students are creating labs and teachers can divide the work so that students do not find out at the very end that their lab procedure was flawed but now its too late.

  3. Kristin says:

    The effectiveness of any kind of peer review depends on the existing norms and sense of community developed among your peers, too. That makes a huge difference.

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