Friday, January 1, 2010

Assessment: A Look at Then and Now

By Mark T. Burke



Observe someone playing Wii (or any gaming platform) for an hour and you can quickly learn how assessment is MUCH different today than in the past.  For the last several hours, I watched as my nephew played several Wii games.  The more I watched, the more I realized how he's developing an appreciation for being assessed. As he develops his skills on a new game, he WANTS to be assessed. In fact, he HAS to be assessed.  He wants his performance evaluated so he can be credited for his accomplishments in order to earn the ability to move forward.  When he does not perform as needed, he practices and discovers how to improve.  The assessment process is incredibly rewarding for him.

When I was his age, assessment and evaluation never seemed so positive.  Being assessed meant being criticized, given a score and then told I was good, bad or failed at something.  But that really isn't what is significantly different from assessment today.  What is different is how assessments are administers and  what happens before, during and after an assessment.  During my childhood, being assessed meant I was tested with little or no opportunity to get better or try again.  In fact, I grew up with thinking if I failed, I failed.  Failing meant starting over from ground 0 because I FAILED.  Of course that feeling brought about a negative emotional response to being assessed and certainly led to my own fear of failure.

I've put together my list of how assessment has changed over the years.  Influenced by technology and the world of gaming, students are different critters today than in years past.  I'm using a Then and Now list which for the most part represents an undefined time period.  Just consider Then to be approximately 30 years ago or so. (I am giving away my age here :-)

Then
Assessment was administered only at the end of an educational event.
Now
Assessment is part of the learning process.
Then
Assessments allowed limited or no options for "do overs."
 Now
Assessments prescribe steps for improvement and provide multiple attempts for success.
Then
Fear of failure during an assessment caused anxiety in the learner.
Now
Failure is redefined as an opportunity, made possible through integrated assessments.  Students are encouraged to take risks and discover solutions on their own.
Then
Rewards for successful completion of an assessment were limited.  Students were "expected" to pass an assessment.
Now
Varying rewards exist for the varying levels of assessment success.  Students impose their own value on successful completion.
Then
Students were told what to do before, during and after an assessment.
Now
Student make decisions on how to prepare for an assessment, what specific skills they need to work on most and how to improve those skills as a result of an assessment.
Then
Students hated (at least did not look forward to) assessment. (Maybe this is personal)
Now
Student expect to be assessed.

I see the NOW attitudes exhibited in my own music students.  I certainly feel my students today expect more from me that what I expected of my teachers during my childhood.  I know they expect to be assessed frequently and fairly and guided on how to improve.  I also know they expect to be part of the learning process, choosing how they can best improve and be allowed to chose how to practice and how to reach new goals. My job is to provide guidance throughout the process of learning and assessment.  I know I never felt that way about my teachers.

For instrumental music teachers, the Then and Now of assessment can help us reach students more fully.  If we can understand how motivational quality, integrated, prescriptive assessment can be, we will help our students reach new levels of musical skill like no other generation.

Are you using good assessment technique?  What have you tried?

Do you agree that music instruction can be improved by considering how students think of assessment today? 

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