- Discuss the nature and purpose of pre-assessments.
- Discuss innovative differentiation strategies.
- Highlight use of computerized assessments that track learning.
The Nature and Purpose of Pre-Assessments
Students are never a homogeneous group. The only way to cater to the learning needs of all students is to differentiate instruction. However, in order to differentiate, the teacher must first be aware of what the learning needs are of each pupil and where they are at in terms of the knowledge and skills for the unit to be covered. Pre-Assessments are basically placement tests. They are tests teachers can use to evaluate what material to cover and where emphasis should be placed in instructing each student. Pre-Assessments are therefore a necessary step prior to differentiating instruction within a classroom of pupils. Although each student is unique, it may be possible to use the results of a pre-assessment to group students according to their knowledge or skills in relation to the unit about to be taught or being taught. Refer to the mind map below for an illustration of such groupings.
LucidChart Mind Map, https://www.lucidchart.com/invitations/accept/a6f176be-7a6f-4aaa-828c-67a867b53102
Innovative Differentiation Strategies
Differentiation is really about making sure that each student is learning in their Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). Lev Vygotsky’s ZPD basically states that if the material is too advanced, the student will not learn, and if the material is too easy, they will not learn either but will get bored. It is kind of like the moral of Robert Southey’s world-famous classic fable “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” (1837). Unless the teaching is “just right”, learning will not take place. Since each student is at a different place in their learning and have different rates of progress, the teacher must discover what is “just right” for each pupil and keep them within their ZPD. Accomplishing this is no easy feat, but computerized assessments are an innovative differentiation strategy that can greatly facilitate individualization of learning so that each student can start where they need to and progress at their own pace.
Nevertheless, being innovative in classroom differentiation can be as easy as realizing that the teacher need not give all students the same content for an assignment. For example, the teacher usually knows who are the advanced students in her class and who will likely finish the assignment long before the rest. Instead of being caught in a situation where you are denying struggling students feedback and explanations that they need in order to occupy advanced or high achieving students, the teacher can plan for these students beforehand by giving them a more difficult assignment. In this way, each student will be working on something that is equally challenging to them. An alternative way to prepare for high achieving students is to give them longer assignments and require more complete and complex responses from them.
Average students are often overlooked by the teacher to the advantage of high or low achievers in a classroom (who are more often those who disrupt a classroom). Teachers can fall into the trap of believing that average students are doing alright, and therefore do not really need much help. Still, a teacher should ask oneself: “How much better could this average student be performing?” and “Am I challenging them to improve their performance?”. Something as simple as grouping average students together can help them feel less isolated and ignored. Students then work together and share ideas to come up with solutions. Again, there is no need for the entire class to be grouped. Only group those whose purpose is served in this way. We all know the adage “two heads are better than one”. This is no less true for average students, even if they are doing just fine academically: There is almost always room for improvement.
Traditionally, low-performing students probably benefit from the majority of a teacher’s time and attention. The reason for this is obvious: they are the ones who need it the most; who are struggling to master the material. Some of these students may even have diagnosed or undiagnosed learning difficulties, behavioral issues or mental and emotional challenges. No teacher wants any of their students to “fall through the cracks” and fail to acquire the material. Still, sometimes teachers are guilty of helping too much. What I mean by this is that sometimes teachers need to work harder to convey the message that any sub-standard work will not be accepted. This is a subtle way of conveying your belief in every student’s ability to do well. Yes, allow low achievers more time to complete work. But do not just do this within the classroom. Have them redo both classwork and homework assignments as homework until they get the subtle message that their effort can make the difference between them spending one hour on homework per week and several hours on homework per week. In my opinion, the teacher should remain objective and non-critical in their role. Correct their work each time and give detailed feedback (preferably written and in person) to the student. Then send them home to make the required changes and re-submit the assignment. Students will soon catch on that they are spending more time than truly necessary on homework.
Scaffolding is another time-tested tool for helping make work more accessible to low achievers. However, I caution that a scaffold should always be a temporary measure. Make sure that at some point the scaffolding is removed and the student knows how to answer the question completely and to the level expected. (Otherwise, they will never rise to the occasion.) Students will need to practice assignments without scaffolding several times before they master this. Again, redoing assignments (without scaffolding) can be a great way to help them to achieve this goal of independent proficiency.
Computerized Assessments for Tracking Learning
Returning to the theme of computerized assessments – both scaffolding and differentiation are far more easily accomplished using technology. Some fantastic game-based learning platforms are the Khan Academy and Quizlet. Khan Academy is one of my favorites and I recommend it to any Math teacher. This learning platform truly allows for individualized learning and challenges. In fact, the Khan Academy can be fun to play anytime and by anyone, even teachers. Another computerized learning platform that I highly recommend is the game Kahoot!. This game converts testing into a fun competition that the whole class participates in. Below is a link to a Kahoot! pre-assessment I designed for my grade six classroom’s unit on Literary Devices. https://play.kahoot.it/#/k/9e2a9405-3b08-4115-8257-fd365edf9516
Armstrong, Patricia. (n.d.). Bloom’s Taxonomy. Vanderbilt University. Retrieved from https://cft.Vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/blooms-taxonomy/
ESA Regions 6 & 7. (2006). On Target: Strategies That Differentiate Instruction. Grades 4 – 12. South Dakota Department of Education. Black Hills Special Services Cooperative (BHSSC). Retrieved from https://education.ky.gov/educational/diff/documents/strategiesthatdifferentiateinstruction4.12.pdf
Glossary of Education Reform. (n.d.). Definition: Demonstration of Learning. Retrieved from http://edglossary.org/demonstration-of-learning/
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Literary Devices. (n.d.) Glossary of Literary Devices. Retrieved from www.LiteraryDevices.net