In this section we will discuss the importance of conducting evaluations of our skills as teachers or paraeducators. We will also discuss some of the issues surrounding evaluation.
As educators we should view self-evaluation as a way to increase student success. The questions you will be able to answer by the end of this chapter are:
- What do we mean by evaluation for both student and for educators?
- Why do we need continuous self-assessment as part of our personal professional development?
- What is the distinction between formative and summative evaluation?
Evaluation in the Classroom: Monitoring
What do we mean by evaluation? Let us first consider the evaluation processes that you use in your classroom. The major focus of evaluation in the classroom is evaluation of student progress. How often do you monitor student progress? Weekly, daily, or hourly? Would you expect to be able to meet student needs adequately by only making periodic checks? On the contrary, you make weekly and monthly checks, but you literally spend your whole day monitoring student learning—putting out feelers, watching for physical signs of bewilderment or class understanding, testing the learning atmosphere, and making necessary adjustments. As student's progress through a logical hierarchy of skills and knowledge, their progress needs to be carefully monitored and the proper adjustments made. Not only does this facilitate student learning, but it increases students' confidence and self-esteem. Research suggests that this is the only way to be truly effective as an educator.
Take a moment to complete the first part of the exercise on the next page. In the left-hand column, list the evaluation activities that take place in your classroom that are directed toward students and their classroom behavior and progress. Complete only the left-hand column at this time.
You will notice that we have already used three different but related words associated with evaluation: assessment, evaluation, and monitoring. The words assessment and evaluation are often used interchangeably. We will most often use the term evaluation, but will treat assessment and evaluation as synonymous terms for our discussion. Both terms indicate not just a measurement of performance, but also judgment about the quality of performance. The word monitoring has more of a sense of just watching what is happening, and that is the sense in which we will use it. But because educators generally monitor in order to judge quality of performance, you may wish to add the watching you do to judge quality to the list on the following page.
Monitoring Your Own Behavior
Why do we need continuous self-assessment? Considerable research has been done on the effects of self-evaluation on students' work and attitudes. The pattern that emerges is that students make greater gains when they learn to monitor their own progress and become more aware of their own learning. As an educator, you are constantly monitoring student progress, but you also keep track of how well certain teaching strategies and procedures work with these students. Thus, you monitor your own behavior, not only that of the students. This is part of teaching expertise. When there is a problem, you can usually identify it and try to think of ways to deal with it. You also watch to see whether your strategy works. If it does not work and you have run out of ideas you try something else — perhaps asking colleagues, students, or even your spouse, what they think will help.
This usually works well enough. You follow your instinct for what works well, based on your classroom experience. Many of the difficulties you encounter can be resolved with this approach, but often the process lacks precision. Problems that are more persistent, or which require a deeper understanding, may require a more objective and systematic approach.
Now take a few moments to complete the above prompts by listing all activities that take place in your classroom which relate to the evaluation of adults.
Self-Monitoring as Professional Development
Although as an adult learner you have some needs that are different from those of younger students, the same basic principles we have discussed in relation to your students also apply to you. As an educator you are constantly trying to learn and improve. The times when you will learn the most, and make the greatest gains in skills and knowledge, will be those times when your own learning is being monitored and your professional development needs are being met. This means monitoring not just 3 or 4 times per year, but monthly, weekly, or daily, as you do for your students. Who is responsible for this? It is incumbent upon you as an educator and a professional to take responsibility for your own progress. Student learning is dependent upon your skills and caring, but also on your deliberate attempts to increase your ability to deal with the challenges of teaching. This involves more than just accumulated years of experience. You can increase the rate and extent of your professional development as an educator by making opportunities to monitor and improve your own skills. This applies to teachers and paraeducators.
Teachers are assigned responsibility for students from the first day of school. During the first year or two teachers learn school procedures, establish their own methods of record-keeping, build resources, and generally become oriented to the profession. For the paraeducator, orientation is as much to a particular teacher's way of working as it is to instructional techniques or other classroom skills. Both teachers and paraeducators may be offered in-service training opportunities at the state or district level. There may also be structured professional development plans and requirements in the school or district. Evaluation may have been limited to an annual visit from a school administrator to satisfy district assessment and tenure requirements.
But who has been most responsible for your professional development? In most cases, it will have been left to you to take initiative to seek professional development and choose areas in which you feel you need greater expertise or skill. How have you made those decisions, and how often? Although your professional development needs may be apparent every day that you teach, you may not have taken action on those needs more than a few times each year. This is not intended as criticism. Teaching is a busy and time-consuming occupation. Immediate concerns about students take priority. However, there are two points we wish to make.
- Your professional development is left primarily to you, but you need not limit your progress to the opportunities offered by your school or district.
- Concerns over meeting student needs are directly related to your professional development as an educator. These are not separate issues.
With these thoughts in mind, this chapter will introduce you to a simple yet effective way in which you can begin to determine your own professional development needs and monitor your own progress as an educator. This formative evaluation process, which mirrors the approach you use to determine student progress and needs, will be discussed more fully in the next chapter. But first we need to establish what we mean by formative and summative evaluation, and what the function of each is.
Formative vs. Summative Evaluation
What is the distinction between formative and summative evaluation?
Our main focus will be on formative evaluation, or assessment for the purpose of making personal improvements. This is not the summative evaluation that many teachers go through once or twice a year, which is normally conducted by a school administrator. Summative evaluation is an end product and is generally used for administrative and promotion purposes. Formative evaluation, on the other hand, is for development and learning. It is part of the process of continuous improvement that we seek as professionals. It has nothing to do with the process of hiring and firing. Ideally, a summative evaluation could include the results of several formative evaluations so that it describes a learning process over time rather than just an end product. But by definition summative and formative evaluation have different functions and often different formats and both are necessary.
Purpose: making improvements
Characteristics: provides detailed information, occurs frequently
Purpose: provides a summary of performance over time
Characteristics: makes general statements, not usually detailed, may occur frequently
Let us consider for a moment some of the evaluation activities that take place in a typical classroom. The chart on the next page lists some common evaluation activities. Look at each one and decide whether you think the activity has a formative or summative function, and then justify your choice in the right-hand column. The first three have been completed for you as examples. Complete the chart by adding two more activities from those you identified in the previous exercise, and determine whether you think the activities are formative or summative.
You will notice that some comments or evaluation activities may be both formative and summative — they not only summarize what has been done but also help direct future actions because they provide detailed information. In your everyday activities as educators, details are essential to the instructional decisions you make. For example, while grades or percentages are neat and easy to record, they give an overall picture but usually not sufficient information to tell you what a student needs to work on next. When adults make comments to each other, or think to themselves "That was a good lesson," or "I think that turned out really well," unless they add some details about what exactly was good about the lesson or why something turned out well, the comments are not useful for future lesson or activity planning. They are not formative. This is what you will learn to do — to monitor your own behavior in such a way that it will provide you with useful information about how you can enhance your skills for the benefit of your students.
Exercise: Formative or Summative
Justify Your Choice
A student report card reads: Lara has made excellent progress in reading this trimester.
The report sums up Lara's progress but doesn't help us know what we could do next to help her continue to improve.
A paraeducator walks around the class giving out tokens to students who are on task.
If the student knows what the tokens are for, he or she knows what they did right when they get one, and what to change if they did not get one.
Teacher to student: "Well, Jason, you didn't do a very good job on your math homework."
Jason knows he didn't do well but he isn't told what exactly the problem is, so he can't correct it.
The principal comes into class to do an annual evaluation on the teacher or paraeducator.
Teacher to student: "This is an excellent assignment. Legible writing, questions answered in full and attractive layout.
The particularly exciting aspect of formative assessment when you are evaluating your own work as an educator is that it can be done on your own initiative, in your own way, to suit your own needs and those of your students and others with whom you work. You decide which aspects of your teaching need improvement, you set the pace for progress, and you are an essential part of the assessment—which then helps you decide what your next focus will be. You can evaluate your performance as an individual and as a member of the education team, constantly reevaluating your skills in light of your individual role and as a contributor to the team effort.
You will recall that in previous chapters we listed some of the important questions we need to ask ourselves regarding our roles as members of the instructional team.
- What are our respective roles as team members?
- What is expected of me with regard to each of those roles?
- What are our goals and expectations as a team?
- How well do I think I am doing in my defined role as a member of the education team?
We dealt with the first three of these questions in some detail in the previous chapters. We now need to focus on and expand the last question. When we ask ourselves "How well do I think I'm doing in my defined role as a member of the education team?" we are really asking:
- What strengths do I see in my work?
- What would I like to improve?
- What would I like advice on?
This starts the self-evaluation process. Take a moment to consider some areas in which you feel you have strengths, and others in which you would like to make improvements. You may wish to discuss this with another team member, but it would be useful to have started the process yourself.
As we proceed through the next chapters you will need to keep these strengths and areas for improvement in mind. They can serve as a focus for evaluation activities.
In this chapter we have looked at:
- Evaluation in terms of what we mean by the terms evaluation, assessment, and monitoring
- The need for continuous self-assessment as part of professional development
- The differences between formative and summative evaluation
You have started the evaluation process by considering areas in which you have professional strengths and areas in which you would like to make improvements. In the next chapter we will introduce you to a procedure that will help you focus on these areas and identify ways in which you can make the improvements you seek.
If you have followed the reading and the activities in Chapter 6, you now recognize the difference between summative and formative evaluation and the value in self-reflection for improvement. No one can improve your performance in a way that you can!
On the next page you will find the assignments for this chapter. The first collects your thoughts on evaluation as it applies to your team. The second assignment encourages your reflections on the areas where you would like improvements. Following the assignments are the classroom applications.
If you want ideas about what to focus on, talk to colleagues about their work. Ask what they are doing and what they think is particularly effective. You may not find this out by asking the question directly, but by listening to what they talk about doing. There is a tendency to think that everyone does much the same as we do and that our ideas are not particularly clever or new, but in fact we often do not know what other people are doing and could benefit from their ideas. This helps us view what we do from a new perspective.
To refresh your memory on skills you may have let lapse, and effective practices you may have forgotten, dig out books and notes from courses you have taken.
Get into the habit of talking shop, but get beyond the superficial level of swapping compliments or complaints. Make it an informal but professional discussion about what might be done better.
Here are ideas for specific questions you might like to address:
- I don't always feel that I know how well all of my students have understood a lesson before they go on to independent practice. Do some of them get left out when I ask questions and check for understanding?
- I don't get much response from the questions I ask. I wonder whether it's the type of questions I'm asking?
- We seem to waste time moving from one activity to another. What could I do to change that?
Consider video- or audio-recording yourself as you work to get some idea of where your strengths and weaknesses lie.
Set realistic expectations for areas of improvement. For example, "I want to improve my teaching" is not realistic as an immediate aim because it has so many components that need to be tackled individually. Break your goals down into the smallest possible parts and deal with them one at a time. You are much more likely to progress steadily with this approach and are less likely to get discouraged by the enormity of the task.
(Ashbaker and Morgan, 1999)