Comprehending assessment literacy
Posted May 29, 2012on:
One thing a modern parent must develop is assessment literacy if they want their kids’ grades not to suffer. For me, this means knowing what to assess, how it currently gets assessed, and where necessary, making changes to assessment or instruction so that the two are aligned.
After analyzing my 8-year-old son’s recent English paper, I concluded that he had problems with answering comprehension questions. I could not make an earlier diagnosis since not enough work came back from the classroom for me to realize this.
This is one reason why I am for more open and social classrooms via platforms like Edmodo or class blogs. Getting regular feedback or having means to monitor closely (but not oppressively) is one way teachers and parents can work together instead of against each other. But there are not nearly enough arrangements like this in place.
Another barrier is the reluctance to change strategies or the lack of awareness of other strategies.
I asked my son what strategy he was taught for comprehension. He recalled that he was told to read the passage first, read the questions next, and then read the passage again. This might sound reasonable, right? No, not if you apply cognitive psychology.
If you prattle off a long list of numbers or tell a long story and inform the audience beforehand that you are going to test them for recall, you will almost invariably get lots of hits of items near the beginning and the end. The middle tends to get lost. That is how the working memory of the mind works.
Now English comprehension relies more than just recall, but it is built on what the learner has in working memory. If you realize this and apply it by scaling it up to comprehension strategy, then the things that tend to stay in the mind of the learner are the two readings.
It is actually far more important to alert the mind of what is important. So I told my son that he should read the questions first and then read the comprehension passage with purpose. Leave out the first formal step.
Why does the old comprehension strategy persist despite what we know about cognitive psychology? It could be that teachers do not go for the right kinds of professional development. But I do not think that is normally the case.
I think that the answer lies in old school methods (it has always been taught this way) and maintaining discipline (do as I tell you, do not talk back). Teachers argue that kids seem to eventually get it after brute force drilling. I would argue that they get it despite the way they are schooled.
The mind looks for more logical and efficient strategies. Reading the questions first for ‘hooks’ and processing the passage later for ‘fish’ is both more logical and efficient. This is the strategy that eventually gets internalized.
Furthermore, doing this requires discipline and trains the mind to bear a higher cognitive load because you have to keep the questions in mind as you fish for answers.
Finally, the strategy focuses on working smart over working hard. The latter are what schools and some teachers still value, even to the detriment of their learners.
Not every parent will offer these ideas as viable and logical alternatives. Not every teacher is willing to listen. After all, if school is still based on the industrial model, who is the customer to tell the factory what to make and how to make it?
But times have changed and the relationship between some parents and teachers has become more antagonistic. Both parties can only recall the good old days and both also share the task of nurturing the child. I would rather see both parties focus on the future of the child, not past glories or present circumstances.