I teach assessment literacy in a graduate program (Masters of Science in Advanced Teaching Practices) designed specifically for classroom teachers to gain assessment knowledge and performance skills. It sounds pretty straight forward. The learning outcomes (also known as learning targets or goals) are clear–or at least I think they are! These are to gain knowledge, skills, and experience in assessment literacy to: a) use assessment to improve student learning and achievement and b) to develop and serve as assessment leaders: coaches, student advocates, and change agents.
We know from the Assessment Literacy Definition (www.assessmentliteracy.org) created by the Task Force on Assessment Education that one of the key characteristics of an assessment literate educator is the ability to create clear learning targets in order to align quality assessments for learning. This is also one of the learning outcomes in the first week of the first course, Purposeful Assessment. Let me share with you the assignment centering on creating clear learning targets (i.e. setting goals).
Directions: Create one personal learning outcome that (a.) aligns to the Student Learning Outcome for Week One – SLO: 1C. Communicate and collaborate to gather information and data concerning assessment policy and practice. – and (b.) supports your Personal Growth Plan.
This seemingly simple assignment initially sends my students into a panic. While they are very used to writing learning outcomes for their own students, when they are faced with personalizing learning to align with program, specialization, and course learning outcomes, they suddenly find themselves on shaky ground. As they begin to understand that there is much more to creating clear learning targets than they previously believed, they begin to understand the complexity of assessment FOR learning and the need to explicitly convey to students what is expected of them.
So, what is the ‘magic’ to creating clear learning targets, setting goals, or writing precise learning outcomes? Sorry, there is no magic. Connecting learning targets/goals/learning outcomes to clear criteria is essential (Chappuis, Stiggins, Chappuis, & Arter (2012). Classroom Assessment FOR Student Learning). My students quickly understand while they write learning targets for their own students, they need to be tightly aligned to whatever standards they are required to adhere to (i.e. Common Core State Standards) and to ensure they are written in language students can comprehend. What my students learn from writing personal learning goals is stated in their reflections:
- “This assignment taught me to closely evaluate the criteria and outcomes that are expected of me to learn…I had to reflect on how I could show that learning had taken place and how that could be evaluated. It helped me dissect the assessments and see if it measured the learning that I was trying to measure. This assignment gave me a better understanding of the connections of the outcomes from the program, specialization and courses. I could see how they related and overlapped in the concepts and learning that was to take place”. (M.B.)
- “This assignment and the struggle behind it has taught me that I need a lot of practice around creating my own personal learning outcomes or learning targets when it comes to the students in my class”. (S.D.)
- “It [the assignment] also makes me realize that the students deserve to know what the expected outcomes are in every lesson or assignment they do. That seems obvious, but sometimes I don’t think I make the targets clear to them. There’s a difference between giving clear directions for an assignment and explaining what the outcome is to be and how it will be measured”. (J.R.)
Perhaps the best outcome of the Personal Learning Outcomes assignment is awareness. The InTASC Model Core Teaching Standards and Learning Progression for Teachers Standard #6: Assessment, (CCSSO Interstate Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (InTASC, April 2013) Essential Knowledge 6(m) states: “The teacher knows when and how to engage learners in analyzing their own assessment results and in helping to set goals for their own learning.” This process begins when teachers truly KNOW how to create clear learning targets. Setting this as a personal learning goal ensures a strong focus and intentional teaching and learning.