Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Reflection AS Fomative Assessment

In my realm of the Twitterverse, reflective practice has been a big topic of conversation in the last few days. I think we all take time to reflect on our day, our actions, our experiences in our own ways, but I wonder how many of us do this formally in writing? I know that before I began to reflect formally when I was teaching, I really only had reflected in the car to and from work or in the tub as I tried to relax and unwind. In fact, I believe that I reflected mostly when things didn’t go as I had planned or as well as I wanted them to. Very few of us, I believe, reflect on what went well and how good it felt for both us and for our students. This is sad to me because more of us should take the time to celebrate the good things and figure out ways to build on those things in our classroom practices. In the words of Collins, this is how we can move from “good to great.”

The other conversation that has been on-going in my corner of cyberspace is formative assessment. It is a hot topic in education lately and seems to be talked about a lot these days. However, a good friend did something very brave and unique in regards to formative assessment this weekend. Angela Stockman described in her blog a lesson she had designed and facilitated where she discussed the ways in which she formally assessed student understanding. The brave and unique thing about this was that she posted it and requested feedback from fellow educators that she emailed personally and in the general blogosphere. She specifically requested warm and cool feedback and her intention was twofold: to improve her classroom practice and to show other teachers whom she coaches and collaborates with that she is a partner in their classrooms, not a critic or an expert.

Let’s face it; we all get a little nervous about being formally observed in our classrooms no matter how great we are or how long we’ve been teaching, but to put a lesson out there for a gazillion eyes to see and critique is more than a bit daunting. However, the practice of eliciting responses from multiple educators on a lesson or classroom practice is the heart of a true professional learning community, whether on-line or otherwise. In doing this, my friend got a number of great ideas for improving her lesson and received a great deal of kudos for the good things she did already. This is great, but what’s better is that the feedback was nearly instantaneous; she did not have to wait a few days to schedule a post-observation conference nor was she subjected to the same canned questions that evaluators tend to ask each person they observe. She got immediate, open, and honest feedback from people who want to see her succeed. How awesome is that?

But the real question is how do we formally assess ourselves and the work we do? What kinds of formal reflective practices do we engage in to ensure that what we are doing and continue to do are good practices and are serving kids in the best possible ways? I am especially interested in how some administrators are doing this. It's a bit easier for a teacher to know that what they are doing is working because they can assess whether kids are being successful. But how do administrators know that they are not only supporting their teachers and helping them succeed but, in turn, helping kids as well? What kinds of reflective and formative assessments are administrators engaging in? What models are administrators using to formally assess their productivity and effectiveness? This blog is certainly one piece of the puzzle for me, but I need more. If you have ideas or practices that you engage in, please share.


joe damato said...

Since formative assesment is the hot topic I have begun to ask myself the same things. We, as administrators, have little chance for peer review, or focused assessment. Maybe we need to look at standards for ourselves as a means of measuring effectiveness in a formative sense. Do we use the national standards or something that we devise?

The key, regardless of the standards we measure, is being honest and transparent. I had an unplanned assessment of how I do my job the other day. A group of passionate, intelligent teachers gave me a few things to reflect on and grow from.

Although to some it could have appeared inappropriate, it spoke well of my relationship with them. They were honest, not attacking. The comments were based in fact (and a bit of feeling), over all I felt that I learned something and will change some of the things I do, or don't do, immediately.

This will be an interesting path for us to travel, perhaps a blog is the best tool for this peer review. How do we recruit others is another question?

Angela said...

Jenn Borgioli mentioned the benefits of using a blog to seek and provide feedback: time restraints were lifted, people had time to reflect and wordsmith before sharing, and the writer is able to retain a record of what was shared.

I wonder, though, how threatened some might feel about sharing what they do and seeking feedback when the potential for judgment or even consequence exists.

I know that many people in the field are eager and excited about this potential...also wonder if the field is ready to responsibly support this sort of transparency. Just a lot to think about, and I'm thinking aloud here.

joe damato said...

Just re-reading your blog and I have a few more thoughts.

How does Angela's posting of her lesson relate to Lesson Studies?

A long while ago I read about how lesson studies were used to get a peer review of a lesson.

It is certainly a shift and would cause some stresses on the building to manage the whole process, but think of the impact.

Linda704 said...

Thank you for your reflections on reflection as well as the links to resources.