Three breakthrough ideas in assessment can help make students want to learn, Rick Stiggins told his audience at ASCD's second annual Conference on Teaching and Learning, held in October in Orlando, Fla. The first of these ideas is "student-centered classroom assessment," said Stiggins, who is president of the Assessment Training Institute in Portland, Ore.
To illustrate the value of student-centered classroom assessment, Stiggins described his daughter's experience as a junior in high school, when she was required to write a term paper—an assignment she found daunting. Before the students began to write, their teacher gave them an outstanding example of a term paper, Stiggins related. The students read it and discussed what made it outstanding. Then the teacher gave them a dismal example of a term paper, and they brainstormed a list of the elements of shoddy performance. Next, the students did "a careful comparative analysis" of the two papers, identifying seven essential elements of difference.
Then the teacher assigned the students to cooperative teams. Each team worked on one element, developing a definition of it and a simple three-point rating scale. The small groups reported back to the rest of the class "for criticism and revision." Then the students applied the revised rating scales to the two example papers—finding, in the process, that they still needed to make some adjustments "to refine their vision."
Only at this point did the students begin to draft their term papers, Stiggins said. As peer reviewers, they applied the agreed-upon criteria to one another's drafts. Then the students revised their papers based on the feedback they received from their teammates and the teacher.
In short, "the teacher opened up the assessment design process and brought students into the very creation of the assessment as full, responsible partners," Stiggins said. "Everyone understood and internalized the vision of success here. The question was: Could they deliver? And the responsibility was clearly theirs."
The second breakthrough assessment idea is "student-involved record keeping," Stiggins said. As an example, he cited "growth portfolios," which require students to reflect upon their improvement periodically.
"We must keep students in touch with the accumulation of evidence of their own increasing proficiency, and give them a vocabulary that will allow them to communicate about that," Stiggins said. "The very process of helping kids prepare to be intelligent reflectors upon their own performance may be one of the most powerful instructional interventions that it's possible to conceive."
By helping students track their progress along performance continuums, "we're holding up a mirror to them so they can watch themselves succeeding," Stiggins said. "And that's where the internal sense of motivation comes from. Kids feel they're in control of their own academic success."
The third breakthrough idea, Stiggins said, is "student-involved communication about their own achievement." Student-led parent conferences, where students describe their progress to someone whose opinion they care about, "appear to bring about a fundamental shift in a student's internally held sense of responsibility for her own academic success," he said.
If teachers combine student-centered classroom assessment with student-involved record keeping, and then "top off the equation" with student-led parent conferences, Stiggins contended, they will get "a motivational package" that far outstrips anything they could get through applying rewards and punishments. "You don't get motivation by threatening people," he emphasized. "You get motivation by bringing people into the process and helping them feel as though they're on internal control."