What is the “best” way to assess students? I think this is probably the wrong question to be asking. There is no one best way. . .is there a best way for each individual? If they read a book, for instance. . .well, first of all, just the actual act of reading is the first hurdle, but that’s an issue for a different blog. The experience of reading in and of itself is a learning experience, so how do we assess that? Is it perhaps as simple as having a conversation with the student about what they read, to ask them what they learned, to encourage them to think about it deeper, to reflect on that reading and learning experience? Is that enough?
Today I had 27 conversations. 27 conversations with high school juniors to talk about their reading and writing progress. 27 conversations across the course of three blocks, roughly a third of each of my three class sections. Today was Workshop Day #1. Group 2 conferences will happen on Monday, and the rest in Group 3 will follow next Wednesday. What is the rest of the class doing while I’m having these conversations? “Workshopping.” Of course they’re spending those 80 sacred minutes doing exactly what they’re supposed to be doing, which is reading their choice books and drafting their essays. Of course they are. Oh, wait. Some of them might spend a few of those minutes studying for the AP Psych test next hour or scrolling Tik Tok.
What are the most important things for them to learn? Again, is this the wrong question? The answer may be different for each student, and each student may be doing their best learning at a completely different time from another student. All I know ( well maybe not all I know) is that where I see the best learning demonstrated is when we’re having a conversation and the student is reflecting on their work. When they ask a thoughtful question. . .when they explain what they were thinking about that piece of evidence. . .when they make a unique connection. . .when they decide that they’ve accomplished their purpose. Those are the most powerful learning moments. That’s when I see the cliched light bulbs going off. That’s when they smile. That’s when they feel like “maybe I’m not a bad writer” or “I can enjoy reading if I just find something that’s interesting to me.”
Those 27 conversations give me insight into my students’ learning that I can’t get in another format. In a conversation, you can’t hide. In a conversation, things can get awkward. In a conversation, breakthroughs can happen. In a conversation, the evidence of learning comes from the primary source. The reading, the writing, and the conversations are the learning. . .those are the things that matter.