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An ass was grazing in the field. A horse came up to him and said, “I can graze better than you.” The ass looked at the horse for a few seconds, swayed his head and continued grazing. The horse came back and said, “I can run faster than you.” The ass, a little bewildered, still continued his grazing. Soon, the horse was back, “I carry Kings and knights, you carry loads of cargo.” The ass, a little amused, continued grazing. After some time, the horse concluded, “You see, I am taller, more good looking. People like me more. I am better than you.” The ass smiled and replied, “Sire, You’re a horse. Then why ASSess yourself.”
Why do we need assessment?
Especially since none of us like being assessed, judged, or evaluated. Also, in most cases we already know how good or bad we are at a particular skill or knowledge.
Is it then just a way of selecting some (and rejecting others), where we cannot accommodate all? The limited seats in a college or vacancies at a job require assessment to possibly choose the best candidate.
So let’s make our question more specific: Why do we need assessment in learning?
Personally, we are at a loss to answer this one. When we think of most of the things we have learned in our life there was no role of assessment, at least not of formal assessment.
Assessment did not make me read better – the joy of books did; Assessment did not make me write better – the joy of expressing did; Assessment did not make me paint better - it only made me give up painting, concluding that I am not good at it. Sigh.
Whatever I wanted to learn (or even needed to learn - say, a professional skill) - I learned because I saw the value in learning it. Can our learning environments be designed in such a way that they invite children to learn, to do, and to play - not because they are going to be assessed but because they are going to learn and enjoy and benefit from it.
The Horse came back to the Ass, “I get your point dear. Maybe we can share notes on grazing, running and carrying.” The Ass grinned widely, “Looks like you have been deeply reflecting.”
The Horse nodded pensively, “You made me reflect, thanks Bro.” The Ass snuggled up to the Horse and said, “That’s the beauty of sharing the field with you. We can give each other feedback, question each other, and help each other grow.”
At Aarohi, our open learning community - we decided to stick to the two natural assessment processes that we all use in life - self-reflection and peer-feedback.
Both these are fairly intuitive, we all use them naturally in our day to day life. Hence we’re not going to get into detailed explanations here.
But what we would like to share is, how, consciously, knowing their importance in any learning journey, we have been trying to make these processes deeper and richer:
At Aarohi, self-assessment is a mix of
1. Preparation (at the time of planning) - what I want to reflect about, what I would like to monitor, etc.?
2. Awareness (while working) - what, how I am doing, my feelings, thoughts, group dynamics, etc.
3. Reflection (at the end of work, or day, or week) - qualitative and quantitative mulling over of what, how, why etc.
4. Peer-inputs (and people of all ages are our peers :) - seeking feedback, criticism and suggestions from any or all around.
Can this be adopted into a regular classroom? The answer is obviously - Definitely.
A class or session or day is a journey and we need to pack up for it. So for a few minutes it’s time to think about
• What we can/will do, what we want to achieve (by today), what is exciting, what would some of the challenges be, etc.
• Why are we taking this journey? What is our motivation, benefits, etc.? Also, what are my beliefs about learning or doing this?
• How will we go about doing it? What material/resources/support do we need? What skills (abilities, strengths, hard skills, and prior knowledge) we will need? The above can be done visually (drawing), verbally (discussing in pairs), written lists, acting out, one child presenting, etc.
As the children do their work, in many different ways - by self, with help from peers or teacher - they can be made aware of - feelings, thoughts, what is easy, what is difficult, challenging, boring, exciting, repetitive, new, how am I doing this, what else am I thinking, what I am experimenting with, what I am exploring, etc.
A cool way is to take pit stops (just like the cars do in Formula One racing) - say after 20 minutes of work. In this one minute pit stop, one can pause and become aware of oneself and see what adjustments one would like to make.
The idea here is to review the session, or day, or week, or a course in terms of what was planned. So one would think about:
1. What I did/achieved, what I did not - quality and quantity of work
2. How I did, how I did not
3. What else/next I would do
Children reflect not just on the content of their work but also on various self-development parameters - such as: I can reflect today on where I used perseverance, reflect on how I used my creativity, then the next day, I can reflect if I used visual skills, and further how I used interpersonal skills and so on - the list can be co-created by children and they can may be pick up one a day, etc.
A whole host of tools can be used (and developed) to help make this process exciting, richer, and more meaningful. Here is one such example - where children use the analogy of a car to reflect:
(see a presentation of more tools at our website aarohilife.org/self-assess)
The good news is that this is already happening - in many different ways, Children informally and teachers formally give inputs, suggestions, and criticism. What we need to do is to make it planned (on a continuous basis) and make it specific.
Children can share with each other their beliefs, feelings, attitudes, approaches, strategies, methods, tools, etc. They can also share their specific observations about each other.
The Horse came to the Ass and asked, “I am definitely better than you in many ways, but by the end of the day, we eat the same grass and poop on the same earth, then how are we different?”
The Ass smiled, “True, we do much the same. But it's not how we are different, but how we spent our day differently that matters.”