March 28, 2014

News from FETC: Dean Shareski Shares Four Big Ideas about Assessment

Four Big Ideas about Assessment - Dean ShareskiWhat’s the statute of limitations for sharing good thinking from a conference? Two months ago today, the Florida Education Technology Conference began in Orlando, Fla. There was so much thought-provoking discussion that we didn’t have time highlight it all. However, as all of us in the business of ideas know, good thinking does not have an expiration date. So today, we thought we’d share a bit from a session, titled “If You Hate Assessment, You’re Doing It Wrong,” by Dean Shareski, community manager for Discovery Education Canada.

Shareski, a former teacher of first through eighth grades and currently an instructor for pre-service teachers at University of Regina, began his presentation by asking, “How do you define learning?”

“We are in the business of learning, and yet we have a hard time defining exactly what it is,” he said. “And that’s not because we’re not bright people. It’s because it’s a really hard question. If you make the answer really simple, I think you’re missing something. It should be a difficult question. It should be a question that we ask ourselves and each other all the time.”

Shareski went on to make the point that if learning is complex then we should not expect assessment to be simple. He then challenged educators to begin to think differently about assessment. “Assessment is not a spreadsheet,” he said. “It’s a conversation.” And for Shareski, the assessment conversation starts with doing a better job of documenting learning.

To do that, Shareski emphasized “four big ideas that really turn the tables and change assessment from something we don’t like to something we actually enjoy.”

Self/Peer Assessment. “If we believe that assessment is embedded in the learning, then we can’t say [the students] own all the learning and [the teacher] owns all the assessment,” he said. “We need to figure out a way to make our students more part of that process.” Shareski offered a couple of suggestions for drawing students into the process:

  • Make the notion of social learning integral to the learning process. “I argue that every teacher, from kindergarten on, should ask their students these two questions: What did you learn from others? What did you contribute to the learning of others?” he said. By establishing the expectation that students should contribute to the class’s understanding, students will begin to pay attention to others around them and start thinking about who they can learn from.
  • Students Choose Weighting. After setting some guidelines, Shareski typically gives students a 5- to 10-percent leeway for the weighting of assessments of their learning. “Having that choice makes a very big difference for them,” he says.
  • Have Students Grade Themselves. Calling it a “really interesting process,” Shareski suggested having students document their learning and grade themselves. By doing that, educators can help students develop an essential tool for life-long learning.

Put Technology to Work. Shareski encouraged educators to put technology to work to “capture the learning so that we can look back and reflect on it.” Photo and videos are just two ways for students to document their learning. He also shared that he uses the “secret” email address in Evernote to allow students to send their mid-term assessments to him. In these assessments, he asks his students to share what they’ve learned, what they’re struggling with, what they’re feeling good about, and how he can better support them. Shareski then responds vocally to their observations through a feature in Evernote. He says the recording makes it easy to share feedback and that the recording more accurately conveys both the message and emotion of his feedback.

Make It Matter. Shareski emphasized that “simply taking their work and saying we’re going to share this work with other people changes the game.” He encouraged educators to think of the world as our refrigerator. Document classwork on YouTube. Share pictures on Flickr. Create a blog. “We need to put value on the work,” he said. “[By doing this, you respond] to the question, ‘Why do I have to learn this?’”

Model. Educators should model metacognition for their students. “We do have to model what this looks like,” he says. “This can’t be something we just ask kids to do.” Talk about your learning. Make it part of the everyday classroom experience. By doing that, it will become part of the student’s everyday experience–both inside and outside the classroom.

Visit Shareski’s blog, Ideas and Thoughts: Learning Stuff Since 1964 at for more insights about teaching and learning.

Interested in reading more about formative assessment? READ OUR POST about the recent eSchool News panel discussion, which was sponsored by SunGard K-12 Education.

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