3 strategies for introducing Assessment as Learning in Indian Classrooms

I currently work with the teachers from one school each in Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Rajasthan, training and coaching them to embed meaningful and authentic Assessment of Learning, Assessment for Learning, and Assessment as Learning Approaches in their classrooms. Before I initiate any professional development intervention in a school, I usually start with a diagnostic assessment of teacher skill sets in the areas the school wants me to focus on while I engage with their teachers. As I was going through the data I managed to collate through the diagnostic tests I had implemented in the schools that I currently work with on In-class Assessment, I noticed a very evident pattern in there when it came to the teachers' understanding of the idea of assessment in the classrooms. Most teachers that I was slated to work with found it easy to pull off Assessment of Learning in their classrooms, most probably, as it is something we have been doing for years in our schools, in the garb of summative pen and paper tests. Many of them seemed to be now getting a better sense of Assessment for Learning, as we spent a lot of time in the recent past developing our understanding in that area, attending workshops, webinars, seminars, and conferences that focus on formative assessment. Assessment as Learning, however, seemed to be elusive and alien to the teachers who took the diagnostic tests I had designed for In-classroom Assessment, obviously because that is a concept we have introduced to the teachers in India very recently. This post on 3 Strategies for Introducing Assessment as Learning in Indian Classrooms is the part of and adapted from a pre-session reading worksheet I had developed as a part of the professional development interventions I designed to train and coach Indian teachers on In-class Assessment, based on the insights I could gather from the diagnostics tests about Assessment as Learning.


3 strategies for Introducing Assessment as Learning in Indian Classrooms

Assessment as Learning is widely understood as ongoing self-assessment and peer-assessment in the classrooms. While that is true, there is more to Assessment as Learning than merely organizing a few self-assessment and peer-assessment events in the classroom. Since many of us wrongly connect the idea of assessment to the idea of testing, looking at Assessment as Learning through the lenses of self-assessment and peer-assessment alone may lead us into the trap of viewing it as another in-class event like we misconstrue Assessment for Learning as stand-alone events that happen in the classroom, apart from teaching.

Like Assessment for Learning, for Assessment as Learning to be successful and meaningful, we must view it as an integral part of the process of teaching and as formative in nature and not as a few stand-alone assessment events in the classroom.

Assessment as Learning aims to help students develop metacognitive skills.

What is metacognition? To give you a little bit of its history before we look at the meaning of the word: John H Flavell, an American developmental psychologist specializing in children's cognitive development, introduced the term Metacognition in the early 1970s. It seems to be derived from another term, Metamemory or Socratic Memory, which is all about our introspective knowledge of the strategies that help us aid our memory and the processes that involve self-monitoring our memory. Metacognition is, therefore, our ability to use our knowledge and understanding of how we think, introspectively, to think about our own thinking and learn more about our own thinking. In other words, Metacognition is the knowledge of the cognitive processes and strategies we employ while thinking or is 'what we know about ourselves as thinkers and learners'. Assessment as Learning intends to facilitate this awareness of and reinforce this knowledge we have about the strategies and processes we use as we think and learn.

Very often, self-assessment and peer-assessment in classrooms focus only on what students have learned, and not on why they have learned it or how they have learned it.

Exit Slips are currently most teachers' favorite self-assessment strategy as they are easy to pull off in a classroom of 30 to 40 students. Exit Slips are written student responses to questions teachers pose at the end of a class or lesson. Usually, teachers themselves go through what is written in these Exit Slips or allow peers to read through the slips and share comments or rate them. Very often two standard questions are asked while making students write down Exit Slips after a lesson: a) What did you learn today? and b) What did you find confusing or difficult about the lesson today? The problem with these two questions is that they make your students talk only about what they have learned. However, since Metacognition, is about the how of thinking, it is important for students to consider why and how they have learned, along with considering what they have learned.

The most important focus of a teacher must be on providing students with sufficient opportunities to think and talk about learning.

You may find that it is relatively easy to make your students think and talk about what and why they have learned something. Research tells us that often students are unable to think or talk about how they have learned something as most of the thinking processes that we employ while learning is not visible or is not very concretely obvious. Besides that, your students may not have the required vocabulary to talk about their thinking. As a result, when we ask students how they have learned something, the best they can tell us about their thinking process is what they liked or disliked about the lesson or what they found easy or hard about the lesson. Very often we will hear them talk about what the teacher said while teaching instead of what thinking strategies they employed to learn what the teacher was trying to teach them, successfully.

Making students think and talk about what they have learned is not Assessment as Learning.

For Assessment as Learning to be successful and meaningful in your classroom, your students need to think and talk about how they have learned something and what else they can do to improve their learning.

In other words, your students need the vocabulary required to talk about learning if they are to talk about how they have learned something. Therefore, the first thing you must do as a teacher who is trying Assessment as Learning for the first time in a classroom is to help your students develop the language of learning. One surefire way to help your students develop this vocabulary of learning is to explicitly make them use the verbs listed under each cognitive level in Bloom's Revised Taxonomy. Following are the three strategies you can use, along with the verbs listed in the taxonomy to help your students acquire the language of learning:

Strategy One

Reflection Slips

This is an evolved version of an Exit Slip. As mentioned earlier, exit slips usually make students talk about what they did or did not learn. Reflection Slips, on the other hand, are designed to make students talk about how they were thinking before they started learning, as they were learning and after they learned what they were learning. In other words, a Reflection Slip has three parts: a) Before Learning, b) During Learning c) After Learning. You can cut up the verbs listed under various cognitive domains in Bloom's Taxonomy and give it to your students as cue cards, give them a sheet with the verbs printed on them along with the Reflection Slips or have a Bloom's Taxonomy Verbs Poster posted on your classroom wall and ask your students to refer to these verbs as they reflect on how they went about thinking Before, During or After Learning. Remember, the idea here is to make thinking explicit and help your students acquire the vocabulary required to think about how they think. If you are currently teaching online, JamBoard is a good way to collect these Reflection Slips once your students are done.

Strategy Two

Reflective Monologues

Reflective Monologues are about making your students think aloud about their process of thinking. Again, it is important that your students use the verbs listed under the cognitive domains named in Bloom's Revised Taxonomy as they talk about their thinking. You can follow the same format used for Reflective Slips and make your students think aloud to themselves or to the class about their thinking before, during and after they have learned something. If you want to integrate technology into the process of Reflective Monologues and make the idea a little more exciting for your students, you can use platforms like Flipgrid where your students will record a video of their Reflective Monologues.

Strategy Three

Reflective Foursome

In the golfing world, a Foursome is when two players pair up to play against another pair of players. A Reflective Foursome is when a pair shares their reflections, using Bloom's Revised Taxonomy verbs, to another pair who will given them feedback on how they learn to improve the quality of the thinking processes they have used while learning. The pairs can swap their roles, if you have enough time during the lesson for both the pairs to share their thinking process and feedback. Peer Assessment is an important component of Assessment as Learning, as much as self assessment. Research establishes that peer interactions that allow reflection go a long way in helping students acquire the vocabulary required to think and talk about their thinking. Of course, you can put your students together into pairs or groups of three for this. However, as you may be handling a large classroom of 30 to 40 students at a time as you teach, groups of four work better, considering the whole group discussion that needs to follow this activity. Needless to say, make your students refer to the list of verbs as they go about sharing their thoughts on how they thought before, during and after learning as you engage them in a Reflective Foursome. When you teach online, the breakout groups feature provided by most videoconferencing platforms will make Reflective Foursomes easy to pull off.

Remember, Assessment as Learning is about making the process of thinking explicit.

To make the process of thinking explicit, your students need to acquire the vocabulary that helps them think and talk about it, as explicitly as possible. You can pull off quality Assessment as Learning in a classroom only if your students have a sufficient understanding of this language of thinking and learning. Else, all your attempts at implementing Assessment as Learning in your classroom may fall flat.


Did you find these 3 Strategies that may help your students acquire the vocabulary required for Assessment as Learning useful? Do let me know in the comment section.

Are you a school leader who would like me to work with your teachers to help them embed authentic and meaningful In-class Assessment in their practice, including Assessment as Learning. Click here to get in touch!