My Assessment Autobiography

The Past and Present of My GMWP TIWI Journey

Introducing Myself

My career transformed for the better in 2015, when I participated in the GMWP Summer Institute and learned to view myself as both a writer and researcher, with my classroom as the laboratory. Since then, I have been active in all sorts of GMWP initiatives, and I’m very excited to be part of the inaugural TIWI, with a focus on assessment. My bias is always in favor of student centered learning: How will this impact my students? How can I involve them more in the process? Where can I, the teacher, let go?

Autobiographical Insights

So what? “Middle class white male is good at test taking” isn’t exactly a major news lede. My point is, I never thought of these tests — or any other assessments from that time in my life — as avenues for self-improvement or windows into my strengths. They were just charming stops on my relentless journey to the next thing: a selective high school; college; graduate school; a teaching career. They weren’t even “high stakes” to me, because I knew I’d do well. I’m a good test taker, after all.

I think differently now, with years of life — and I hope a little more wisdom — between that version of Skylar and this one. As a teacher, I want my students to finish school with anything but the experience and attitude I had. I want them to look forward to assessments as opportunities to learn and grow, not methods for communicating their supposed superiority or inferiority to themselves and others. I want them to seek out feedback — from whomever they most trust to give it — in the interest of improving their work now, not as a bridge to the next step that might never come. Is “mindful assessment” a thing? Because that’s what I want.¹

A Plan Emerges

In my current classroom, I find that conferencing and reflective writing are far and away the most valuable modes of assessment for our students’ project based learning work. The rubric, by contrast, has become an obstacle for some students, an afterthought for others, and an arbitrary requirement for the rest.

My hope is to develop a format for assessing students that provides the positive aspects of reflection and rubrics while acting as a guide for more focused conferencing in the end. A sort of reflective script, I guess? Surely, something like this already exists… right? I’m not opposed to inventing something new, but I’d much rather build on the work of others, if possible. It seems that a literature review is in order.

In short, my driving question for the next year or two is: How can our end-of-project assessment become more meaningful and functional for students? I have no idea where this work will take me, but that’s what makes action research so exciting. I hope you’ll read along with me here as I embark on the journey.

¹Answer: maybe so?

GMWP: Greater Madison Writing Project

Teacher as Artist, Teacher as Researcher, Teacher as…

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