Conferencing and Assessment

I recently had amazing success with the use of student teacher conferences.  We had completed our science learning for the term – predictable phenomena in Earth and Space.  Lovely.  Think Lunar and Solar Eclipses and Solstices and Equinoxes. 

My students enjoyed it.  Let’s be honest – the whole earth spinning on its axis while also orbiting the glorious sun as the moon also does its thing around the earth is all a bit of a mind storm.  We all know it in theory but getting students to grasp all that and explain it is a whole different ball game.  

Add to that what happens during a lunar and a solar eclipse as well as what causes the seasons and we are in a pickle if we expect our students to complete a written test on all these concepts. Nor should they be restricted to one single mode of demonstrating their understanding.  

As I planned this task, the assessment of their learning was at the forefront of my mind.  Some students in my class have some oral language difficulties (mostly with expressive language), some students in my class refuse to write and some students in my class needed alternatives to sitting still for 45 minutes to show me what they had learnt.  

Keeping all this in mind I decided on a student teacher conference with a difference.  I had my questions ready to go.  I also had a globe, blank paper and pencils.  I had some diagrams of the eclipses and also allowed my students to bring their science books with them.  Before we began our little one on one meeting I asked them to take a look at the diagrams and have a look through their books to refresh their brains.  I explained that I wanted them to tell me as much as they could about what they had learnt during science.  I explained that our little meeting was a chance for them to ‘show off’ all their science knowledge about predictable phenomena in space.  

The results blew my mind.  

I had diagrams and labelled information.  I had students standing up, using their hands as moons and their heads as the sun.  Every single one of them touched the globe and moved the globe to show me what they knew.  It was as if having those things in front of them allowed their brains to bring forth all they knew.  

Like I said, it was amazing.

I also learnt a lot from this.  Firstly, I was so glad that I took the time to think through how I was going to assess what they learnt.  I am so glad that I didn’t fall back on a pencil and paper ‘test’. I am so sure that the results would not have been the same.  The students that refused to write would have shown me none of what they knew.  The students with expressive language difficulties had all the time in the world to tell me and show me what they knew.  I spent each ‘meeting’ writing madly everything they spoke about and took photos and work samples (all those lovely diagrams) as evidence of their learning.  

It was one of those AHA! moments in teaching where I gave myself a little (invisible) high five.  

The moral of this little story? Assessment does not have to be what it has always traditionally been.  Everything a student creates, produces, shares and explains is evidence of their learning.  We just need to change our mindset, be ready to take notes and record evidence of learning.