Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Creating assessments WITH your students. Pt. 3

Creating assessment together
In this final post about assessment, for now, I'll talk about how I create assessments with my students and not for them. I have used this a lot in my teaching now, so I thought I'd share why I think it is useful and how you can go about doing it. 

Making assessment more accessible
I was worried that my assessment methods were too subjective. By this I mean my students and I had different ideas as to what was being assessed. This happened for two reasons. One, I didn't explain the assessment system to them clearly, two, my students didn't understand it, or interpreted it differently. With this in mind, I wanted to make my assessments and rubrics, clearer and less vague.

I started by changing the language in my rubrics. A lot of rubrics I have seen are written in an overly complex way, so I wrote all my rubrics in a way that my students could easily understand and without needing to use any decryption software. Next, I wanted all my students to be able to access it at any time, so I created a page on my Wiki just for assessments, which means at anytime or anyplace they can check out what is expected of them for a particular task.

Even with the rubrics written in plain English and posted in a place, where it could be easily accessed, I still felt that I needed to do more to make the assessment process less of a mystery. 

Why create assessment with your students
While doing my MA I had a conversation with a co-worker on how to make assessment less subjective and more accessible. He and McConnell (2002) suggests creating the assessment with the students. It sounded so simple at first, that I couldn't believe I had never done it before.

Take a look at the two rubrics below. The first one I created by myself and the second was created with my students input.

Rubrics created by the teacher
Rubrics created with students
I used the first rubrics in a project. Even though the project asked students to write, it also asked them to create a Wiki page for the writing. I was only concerned with assessing the writing whereas in the second rubric, my students voiced that the design element of the project should also be taken into account.

The two rubrics helped me to see that sometimes, the teacher's and students' interpretations of what exactly is being assessed can be different. Therefore, when a teacher and his/her students create assessment together, both know what is to be expected. Then, there is no argument as to why certain criteria were not fulfilled. 

How to do it
This is quite straight forward to do. With your students, ask them what would make a good, or bad project. If it is the first time doing it you may want to give them some ideas. However, the more you use it, the more your students will be able to identify what can be classified as good. It is a learning process for both you and your students, so take it slow and see how it goes. 

Before getting into assessment, I thought it was an unnecessary burden on students. Now I have looked into it more and experimented with it, I have completed changed my view of it. A lot of students, and teachers for that matter, may be weary of assessment as we don't talk about it that much. It is often seen as something that the teacher controls and comes at the end of a task or activity. 

I realise now that assessment is an integral part of the learning process, especially when it is in a situation where a final grade is required. If not, assessment can help students to keep track of their progress. If I have learned anything, it is to keep the students involved in the whole learning process. I like my students to be active learners, as well as content creators and assessors. By doing this, I hope they can get a lot more out of the classroom experience. 

McConnell, D. (2002). Collaborative assessment as a learning process in e-learning. Conference on Computer Support for Collaborative Learning: Foundations for a
CSCL Community.

Monday, 15 July 2013

You mean I have to grade my friend? Pt. 2

This is the second post which will look at alternative assessment for use in the classroom. Peer-assessment (PA) is another method which can be used to get your students involved in the assessment process. 

What is peer-assessment?

“When it comes to measuring individuals relative contribution to group work, the only people who reallyknow what the relative contributions are, are the students themselves.” (Race 2001)

Peer-assessment can be used by students to assess each other's work. For example, if your class write an essay or do a presentation, your students can give their classmate's a grade. There are two kinds of PA, which are formative (as you go) and summative (at the end) (Falchikov 1995), I will talk about this in more detail later on. 

Why use it?
Peer-assessment can really change the learning environment of your classroom. Instead of the teacher controlling everything, the students feel like they have a say in how their work is graded. This can turn students from passive on-lookers to active participants (Harris 1997; Gardner 2000). 

An issue of trust
As with self-assessment trust is always going to be a question that both teacher and even students will ask. Unlike self-assessment, where students take responsibility for themselves, peer-assessment asks students to take responsibility for others. This can cause anxiety on the part of the student and stress at the thought of having to take on the role of the teacher (Gardner 2000; Kennedy 2006). 

Another issue, which concerns reliability and validity, is over- and underrating (Boud and Falchikov 1989; Wilmot and Crawford 2005). Studies report that weaker students tend to overrate themselves whereas stronger students tend to underrate themselves. Of course this adds to the argument that peer-, or self-assessment may not be trustworthy, however, more studies report that used in the correct way, reliability and validity can be greatly increased. 

In the end, it is up to you, the teacher, to decide how best to assess your students. Peer-assessment just gives the students a great say in how the assessment process goes. 

The next section will provide some examples of rubrics, which can be used for peer-, or self-assessment. 

How can it be used?

Formative - PA can be used to assess the on-going progress made by the students. This is a good way for students to get some immediate feed-back on the progress they are making. PA is especially useful if you have a large class as much of the feedback can be done by them. As it is on-going, 

Summative - PA can be used to assess the final product created by the students. Much like self-assessment, students can be responsible for a percentage of their classmate's grade. 

Examples of Peer-assessment Rubrics

Product Rubrics
The rubric below was used to assess a Wiki project. I wrote the rubric using easy English, so the students would easily be able to understand it. 

Project Self-/Peer-assessment Rubrics
I have use this rubric, or a version of it, for self-, peer-, as well as a teacher-based assessment. 

Soft skills rubric
The next rubrics could be used to assess soft skills such as team work, collaboration, sharing, contribution, or any other soft skill which you think is important for the process of the task. 

Peer-/self-assessment rubric to assess soft skills

I like assessing soft skills, because I do a lot of group work. The process is usually just as beneficial as the final product, so I believe that assessing soft skills can help create a better final product. 

Peer Evaluation Form
If you are still a little skeptical of peer-assessment or self-assessment for that matter, you can create a peer-evaluation form. It can be used as confirmation of scores made by individuals, or of other group members. I keep it pretty simple and ask basic questions such as: Who did the most work in your group? Who needs to work harder next time? You will find that students will be very honest and accurate about this. On many occasions, students have stated that they themselves need to work harder next time as they were the weak link in the activity. Finally, I included a pie chart, where students could quantify how much work each person contributed. 

Williams, S (2013) Peer-evaluation Form
I have used various assessment methods in my class and it really depends on what kind of activity you are assessing. When my students do collaborative group tasks, I use self- and peer-assessment, because it is so complex and the demands on the students are great. When it comes to singular work, I use self-, or peer-assessmet to bring the students into the assessment process.

I have learned that assessing work with the students helps them to better understand what is expected of them. They know what I want them to achieve and they know how to do it. I really feel that it helps to take away some of the vagueness out of the assessment process. 

Giving away some power to the students was strange at first, but now I trust them with it. Due to this trust, I feel that my classroom is a better place for my students and I. Admittedly, it is a trial and error process and whatever I have mentioned here may not be suitable for your particular situation. That said, I hope it gives some food for thought when it comes to your classroom. 

In the next post on assessment I'll go over how I create the rubrics with my students and not for them.


Falchikov, N. (1995). "Peer feedback marking: Developing Peer Assessment." Innovations
in Education and Training International 63: 15-28.

Gardner, D. (2000). "Self-assessment for autonomous language learners." Links & Letters

Harris, M. (1997). Self-assessment of language learning in formal settings. Oxford, Oxford
University Press.

Kennedy, G. J. (2006). Peer assessment in group projects: Is it worth it? Australian
Computing Education Conference. Australia

Boud, D. and N. Falchikov (1989). "The role of self-assessment in student grading."
Assessment and evaluation in Higher Education 15(1): 101-111.

Wilmot, P. and A. Crawford (2005). Validating the assessment of individuals within
undergraduate teams. International conference on Engineering Educations, Gliwice.

Saturday, 13 July 2013

Student Film Festival

Student Film Festival 
I recently finished a really fun project that I thought I would share with everyone. I wanted an end of the course activity that would engage students in their learning and put them in charge of it. We recently finished a visit to a school for children who come from low income families and have refugee status (I'll do a separate post about that). Here's how I did it, but I am sure it could be easily adapted for any other situation. 

Step 1
I told my class that they would visit a school to be teacher assistants and to interview a few of the students to find out more about their situation. In the briefing I told them to take pictures and from this moment on they should take pics, video of everything from the school visit to the meetings they would have after it.

Step 2
After the school visit, I told the students to collect all their pics and video and to turn it into a documentary. The video gave the students the chance to reflect on what they had learned during the project. They could talk about:

Festival M.C.
- What they did?
- How they did it?
- How they felt?
- What did they do well?
- What would they do differently next time?
- What was their best memory?
- What did they learn?

Step 3 - Filming
All most all the students had smart phones, so they used those to interview each other and record the spoken sections. The nice thing about recording themselves is the fact that they could re-do it  if they were not happy with the first take. 

Note* Advise the students to find a well lit room which is quiet. This helps the picture and sound quality. 

Step 4 - Editing
All the students had not edited video before, so I introduced some useful and easy to use online tools. The first is Animoto. This is an easy to use tool, where students can upload pictures and video and put a sound track to it. There are a number of themes and it is very student friendly. The second it Smilebox, which is similar to Animoto and equally student friendly. Finally, if your students want to do some fun remixing, they can use Popcorn, which allows students to remix videos after they have been posted to Youtube. 

Step 5 - Organising the festival
I spilt the class up into different groups such as food, invitations, advertising and room layout. The students decided which department to enter and then decided on a festival leader and deputy. 

The aim of the festival was to give the control to the students. They were given a small budget in order to give them responsibility over the running of the festival. Each team had to submit their receipts and spending plans. 

I really had no idea how this event would go. In the end I was more than impressed. I gave my students full control of the event to my students and they really out did themselves. They were organized, took pride in the event and came together as a class to make it happen. 

It was also a great way to end the term and a chance for the students to showcase what they had done. I also feel it gave the students a new sense of ownership as it was their responsibility. They stayed late, held meetings and only came to me when they needed money or to ask a question. I learned that the students are very capable if given a challenge they can engage with. Because of its success, I am thinking about asking the students to put on a TEDx event next term. I have a feeling that it will go very well. 

Below are some pictures from the event. 




Documentary creators and event organisers 

Thanks to all my amazing students for all their hard work!

Friday, 5 July 2013

You mean I have to give myself a grade? Pt. 1

I recently finished my MA in TESOL and I thought I'd share some of the stuff that I researched and found out. My MA thesis was titled 'Assessing collaborative group work' and I looked at a number of different assessment methods for use in the classroom. I did an action research which means I used my own classroom as my research base and analysed my practice as a teacher. At the end of it, I learned some pretty interesting things, which I thought I'd share. This, I hope, will be the first of three posts about assessment. 

What is self-assessment (SA)?
Boud & Falchikov (1989) define it as how learners decide and make judgments on what they are learning in terms of success. There have been many claims as to the benefits of SA. Harris (1997) claims that "self-assessment is rightly seen as one of the pillars of learner autonomy". He and Gardner (2000) also agree that SA could make active learners out of passive learners. 

An issue of trust
It is easy to quote claims made my researchers as to the benefits of SA, though, I am sure that many of you out there may not be 100% convinced that it is reliable and valid. 

Reliability is defined as "consistency with measurement tools".
Validity is defined as "agreement with teacher judgements". (Ross 2006)

In terms of reliability and validity studies have supported claims that it is a trustworthy assessment tool in the classroom (See Boud ad Falchikov 1989; Sadler and Good 2006; Liang and Tsai 2010). With any study the results may not be consistent for every classroom situation, so Ross (2006) and Chang, Liang et al. (2012) recommend that training is given to both teacher and student. When this is done, there is a possibility of increased accuracy with SA. 

Classroom usage
You can use SA in a number of different situations. Firstly, you need to decide if you are using it for formative (as you go) or summative (at the end) assessment. If you are like me, you may be a little skeptical of basing the student's final grades on a SA, so when I first started, I used SA for formative assessment, then moved on to use it for summative. If they have to do an activity/project for you, such as an essay, you could use SA to help the students to realise their own strengths and limitations. 

A rubrics which could be used for self-assessment
In order to increase the validity and reliability it is important to give your students exposure to SA first. Below is how you can scaffold the use of self-assessment in your class.

Step 1 - Using SA for simple activities/projects
Carry out some group activities with your students. Then, give them a simple rubric and ask them to assess their own performance. Your students will find this strange at first, but they will soon get used to it.

Step 2 - Using SA for your main activity/project
For the main activity you wish to use SA with, it is a good idea to do it twice. You can do it half way through the activity, assuming that is takes a number of days, then use the same SA at the end of the project/activity. 

Step 3 - Keep records
Keep a note of all the students' scores, because at the end you can compare the score from the mid activity/project SA and the final SA. 

Step 4 - scoring
This part is up to you. If you are not so sure about SA why not make their score form 20% of their final grade. That means, 80% comes from you and 20% comes from them. If you are more confident that your students can handle it, why not give them control over 30-40% and you can take 60%. it is completely up to you and really depends on your classroom situation. 

I myself was skeptical about using self-assessment at first, however, I have come to see how powerful it is. Giving the students ownership of their own grade helps them to become part of the assessment process. I haven't had any students complain about their final grade, because they were partly responsible for it.

Furthermore, when I started the main project, I noticed that some of the students were not working so hard. When I gave the students the mid-project SA, they quickly realised that they hadn't done much work and were likely to get a low grade. Needless to say, the next day in class those students' attitudes changed and they suddenly became very active members of the classroom. 

I do support the views that self-assessment can make students more active participants in the classroom, as well as help to make them more autonomous. By using SA you relinquish some of your control as teacher and it helps to change the environment of the classroom from teacher controlled to student and teacher working together.

I realised that it is important for students to be active participants in the assessment process and not just receivers of it. The outcomes will vary from classroom to classroom, however, I do feel that students can get a lot out of self-assessment, as well as the teacher. 

Next time
In my next post I'll look at peer-assessment and talk about how it can be used in the class. I'll also go into overrating and underrating, which is directly linked to reliability and validity. 

I hope this post has been useful and if you use self-assessment in your classrooms, I'd love to hear how you do it and the reaction you get from your students. 


Boud, D. and N. Falchikov (1989). "The role of self-assessment in student grading."
Assessment and evaluation in Higher Education 15(1): 101-111.

Harris, M. (1997). Self-assessment of language learning in formal settings. Oxford, Oxford
University Press.

Gardner, D. (2000). "Self-assessment for autonomous language learners." Links & Letters

Sadler, P. and E. Good (2006). "The impact of self and peer-grading on student learning."
Educational assessment 11(1): 1-31.

Liang, J. C. and C. C. Tsai (2010). "Learning through science writing via online peer
assessment in a college biology course." Internet and Higher Education 13:

Ross, J. A. (2006). "The Reliability, Validity, and Utility of Self-assessment." Practical
Assessment Research & Evaluation. 11(10).

Chang, C. C., C. Liang, et al. (2012). "Is learner self-assessment reliable and valid in a
web-based portfolio environment for high school students?" Computers & Education