· 14 min read

Authentic and Adaptive Assessment

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    Patrick Collins

    Educator | Web Developer

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Assessment. Probably the most misunderstood part of the learning cycle because of how often it is poorly implemented.

Most assessments are archaic. At best, they focus on the learner applying a concept to an isolated problem, but more often than not they focus on simply recall and understanding.

Important prior to the internet? Probably.

Important when the whole internet is in your pocket? Absolutely not.

It is time that we modernize assessment so that it authentic for today’s world, while also leveraging modern technologies to make it adaptive as well.

Self-Assessment

One of the best ways to provide authentic and adaptive assessment in a classroom is to take time to have the learners self-assess. Not only does this give them time to reflect on their content knowledge for gaps, but it also gives them insight into how they learn.

Just like an educator will self-assess their lessons and make adjustments in their content and delivery, a learner can also make adjustments in how they choose to acquire knowledge. The ultimate goal for both is to increase the learning outcomes during the next learning cycle.

Co-Planning

Co-planning provides a model for how one should self-assess.
Co-planning provides a model for how one should self-assess.

Co-planning is a process where the educator and learner meet one-on-one throughout a learning cycle to discuss their progress. During the first couple of sessions, the talking time is generally balanced between the educator and the learner. This balance starts to shift as the learner makes progress on their project.

The learner is expected to provide a summary of what they have learned, what they have worked on, and what they plan to do next. While the learner is talking, the educator probes about their process with the goal of helping the learner develop a model for how to better self-assess their own learning and creative processes. Questions should be personalized for the student and their project, but a few common question sequences would be:

  1. What were you trying to research? What search terms did you use? Did you find what you were looking for? Why or why not? How might you be able to refine your search in future?
  2. How is your project going so far? What are you struggling with at the moment? What have you tried to solve the problem? Did it work? Why or why not?

Blogging

Blogging can be used as a digital archive of self-assessment.
Blogging can be used as a digital archive of self-assessment.

Just as the educator probes the learner during a co-planning session, it is the role of the learner to probe themself while blogging. It asks them to not only self-assess, but also organize their thoughts and make them concrete. This posts can be refenced during co-planning sessions to further develop their self-assessment model.

I believe that blogging provides a unique opportunity to use technology to have each learner create an archive of not only what they are learning but also how they are learning. By taking inventory of what did and didn’t work, the learner begins to optimize their own learning by avoiding certain approaches in the future and focusing on others.

At the completion of a learning cycle, learners can go back and read their old reflections before providing a cumulative self-assessment

Presenting

Presenting serves as proof that the learner is an expert on the topic.
Presenting serves as proof that the learner is an expert on the topic.

Presenting, while generally loathed by learners, is an important part of the learning cycle. Learners hate it because makes them uncomfortable, but no one is ever nervous to share something that they are proud of. It reminds me of something that one of my professors would say while I was working Music Education degree.

Performing makes us nervous because of a perceived level of importance and a lack of adequate preparation.

The goal of the presentation is not to make the learners squirm, but to let them be the expert of the topic that they have spent so much time learning about. The better that they self-assess and adjusted their learning process, the more prepared they should feel when it is time to present.

When presenting learners should summarize their learning cycle for the class. This includes what they have learned, how they have applied it to their project, and what they wished they would have known at the start that they know now. When they finish presenting, the class has the opportunity to probe their peer. This is important because the class was no in on the co-planning sessions or the blogging - they don’t know what they don’t know. This allows the learner to build public speaking skills and showcase their expertise, or self-assess on why they might have missed a piece of important that their peers asked about.

Content Assessment

Of course, all that self-assessment doesn’t mean that educators shouldn’t assess content knowledge. They absolutely should and it should be as equally authentic and adaptive as the learner’s self-assessment.

There isn’t anything wrong with have a standard level of knowledge that each learner should be, but this standard is really for “internal use only.” That data is so educators can self-assess. The external standards that the learners see should be different for each learner so that they can push themselves at the right pace.

Just like each learner will have different needs related to content types and delivery, they will also absorb content at a different pace. By giving them an adaptive standard to shoot for, the bar is never set too high or too low for a learner which allows them to maximize their learning outcomes over time through positive reinforcement.

Interactive Tools

Interactive tools, like MusicTheory.net’s tool for identifying notes on the keyboard, allow you to customize an assessment to each learner’s experience level.
Interactive tools, like MusicTheory.net’s tool for identifying notes on the keyboard, allow you to customize an assessment to each learner’s experience level.

Interactive tools are one of the easiest ways to implement adaptive assessment. They provide a way for learners to practice a skill independently and adjust the difficulty to match their own needs.

When learning to compose music, there are many pieces of prerequisite knowledge and skills necessary in order to be successful. At a minimum, you have to understand how to either identify musical notes on a musical staff or a piano roll. There isn’t much to it to get to a functional level, but there is a lot of depth to it that can only develop over time. Fortunately, there are tools (such as MusicTheory.net’s Keyboard Note Identification Tool) that allow learners to start with the basics and increase the difficulty over time.

The flexibility of them make them great to get new learners started working on basic skills, while also providing more advanced levels for learners with prior experience. For example, the keyboard note identification tool can be adjusted so that learners totally new to reading a piano can limit themselves to one or two notes to start, but learners that have been playing piano for a while can practice their speed or more uncommon note names (such as B# or Cb).

Immediate Feedback

When there isn’t a way to adjust difficulty, assessments can be adapted by providing feedback.
When there isn’t a way to adjust difficulty, assessments can be adapted by providing feedback.

Having assessments that provide varying difficulty levels so that they adapt to each learner is a luxury that many don’t have. The next best solution is providing immediate and specific feedback. This allows learners to self-remediate based on their individual misunderstandings.

Most digital assessment platforms have the option to give specific feedback based on the misunderstanding of the learner. This can be used to make an assumption of why the learner might have selected an incorrect answer, and then provide them with a reference so that they can self-remediate. Although the assessment only has one difficulty level, it is adapted so that each learner is getting specific feedback based on their own mistakes.

Project-Based Learning

Assignment details for a Halloween/Scary soundscape created during October.
Assignment details for a Halloween/Scary soundscape created during October.

Of course, there is no better assessment than an authentic assessment. Learners aren’t going to be randomly taking tests in the real world; they will be asked to produce something that requires their knowledge.

Project-based learning is not “now that we have finished reading the book, do a little more research and make your own slideshow.”

Project-based learning is “we are going to compose a song, but while we do that we are going to learn about these composition techniques and technologies.”

The learning happens during the project, not prior to the project. This kind of assessment can be time consuming for educators to design and for learners to complete, but I believe that the learning outcomes and learner engagement is worth it. A key component to it is ensuring that the project is authentic - how would someone who does this for a career use the knowledge that we are learning? “A slideshow” is not often the answer to that question.

For my music technology courses, all major assessments are completed through projects. In the beginning classes, the learners explore all of the different facets of music technology by composing an original song, composing a remix, producing a podcast, and creating their own sound design and film score for a movie clip. In the intermediate classes, the learners produce archival recordings of all school concerts, compose music by sampling household sounds, produce a children’s audiobook, and compose music for contests. In the advanced classes, the learners develop their own capstone projects that focuses on something applicable to their interests or future career aspirations.

For me, project-based learning is about exposing the learner to career options that might interest them related to my class “Education”, “Personalized Learning”, “Assessment” ] series = “Personalized Learning” +++

Artifacts of Self-Assessment

Co-Planning

During co-planning, we discuss how to self-assess.
During co-planning, we discuss how to self-assess.

At the start of their project, our co-planning sessions are generally an even balance of speaking time between me and the student. As the students start to make significant progress on their projects, they begin to take a more active role in the co-planning sessions. The students generally provide me with a summary of what they have learned, what they have worked on, and what they plan on doing next. During these updates, I probe them about the process they are taking towards completing their project. The goal is that they will gain a model for how to better self-assess their own learning and creative processes. Below are a couple of common question sequences that I use with them in addition to more personalized question sets:

  1. What were you trying to research? What search terms did you use? Did you find what you were looking for? Why or why not? How might you be able to refine your search in future?
  2. How is your project going so far? What are you struggling with at the moment? What have you tried to solve the problem? Did it work? Why or why not?

Blog Posts

Blogs provide the major outlet for self-assessment.
Blogs provide the major outlet for self-assessment.

Each of my upper-level students maintains a personal blog throughout the school year. While this blog serves as an archive or portfolio of the students' projects throughout the year, it also serves a more vital role as a way for the students to self-assess those projects and the process they have taken learning and creating those projects. In preparing students for these blog posts, they know that they are an opportunity for them to probe themselves like I would I our co-planning sessions. We discuss that being thorough with you assessments now will actually make them better learners in the future as they talk though what did and didn’t work for them. Students complete these reflection blog posts every two weeks so that they have a lot of content to write about and reflect on. Additionally, students complete a post at the end of each project for which they go back and read their old posts and provide a synopsis of their project, their learning, and what they have noticed in their self-assessments.

Project Presentation

Presentations force them to self-assess in the moment.
Presentations force them to self-assess in the moment.

At the completion of each project, students will create and present a summary of their project to the class. Similar to the final blog post of the semester, their presentation includes a summary of what they have learned, how they applied it to their project, what they know now that they wished they would have known at the start, and the presentation of their final product. At the conclusion of this presentation, the student serves as the expert on what they created and learned and has to facilitate a short question and answer period from the class. During this time, their peers can ask specifics about the tools or resources they used, about their process, about the final product, or simply give them praise on a job well done. This helps develop the student’s public speaking skills in addition to their ability to self-assess and reflect on the spot in front of peers.

Artifacts of Learner Demonstration

A list of options with links to resources on presentation formats.
A list of options with links to resources on presentation formats.

To introduce my first-year students to personalized learning, one of my favorite assignments is a presentation on their favorite album or artist. For this project, the only requirement for the format is that they have to design some kind of presentation that they can share with the class. In the instructions, there is a list of different formats and tools to create those kinds of presentations, but there is also a line stating that if they have another idea for the format they are more than welcome to come talk with me about it. Below is three different formats of this project: Live Tweet, Slideshow, and a Video.

Live-Tweet

A tweet from a live tweet thread on Justin Beiber.
A tweet from a live tweet thread on Justin Beiber.

Slideshow

A slide from a slideshow on Chance the Rapper.
A slide from a slideshow on Chance the Rapper.

Video

A frame from a video on Lin-Manuel Miranda.
A frame from a video on Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Since each of these formats allows for the student to 1) select and share specific pieces of music, 2) discuss the creator’s intent for that piece of music, 3) evaluate and discuss the qualities of that piece of music, and 4) explain why the piece of music is important or meaningful to them, each of the students is able to meet the content standards of the project, which are listed below.

HSMTC1.RE.1 - Choose appropriate music for a specific purpose or situation.

HSMTC1.RE.3 - Support interpretations of musical works (e.g. arrangement, composition, improvisation, mixed-media project, orchestration, sound design) that reflect the expressive intent of creators/performers.

HSMTC1.RE.4 - Support evaluations of musical works (e.g. arrangement, composition, improvisation, mixed-media project, orchestration, sound design) and performances based on analysis, interpretation, and established criteria. a. Apply criteria to evaluate music based on analysis, interpretation, artistic intent, digital, electronic, and analog features, and musical qualities.

HSMTC1.CN.2 - Relate musical ideas to varied contexts and daily life to deepen understanding. Artifacts of Learner Demonstration

Artifacts of Assessment

Interactive Tools

MusicTheory.Net’s Keyboard Note Identification Tool is customizable to each student’s experience level.
MusicTheory.Net’s Keyboard Note Identification Tool is customizable to each student’s experience level.

Music technology is an interesting class in that there is a lot of prerequisite knowledge and skills necessary to be successful. Fortunately, many of these initial skills (such as note names) are things that can be developed overtime through repetition and scaling difficulty-level. Some of the tools that I utilize as diagnostic and formative assessments are MusicTheory.Net’s Keyboard Note Identification Tool, which allows the students to practice identifying notes on the piano, and a tuning trainer that I built myself, which allows the students to start developing their ear for tuning. Since both of these tools have ways to scale difficulty, they become great for getting new students start, but also pushing more experienced to get even better. For example, the keyboard note identification tool can be adjusted so that students totally new to reading a piano can limit themselves to one or two notes to start, but students that have been playing piano for a while can practice their speed or more uncommon note names (such as B# or Cb).

Adaptive Quizzes

A sample question from a quiz - the answer is followed by the feedback based on that answer.
A sample question from a quiz - the answer is followed by the feedback based on that answer.

At various checkpoints throughout each unit, the students take a quiz. These quizzes, which are generally ten multiple-choice questions, are a quick way for the students to check their own understanding and to give me an idea of how well students are mastering the content. When the students submit their quiz, the immediately receive their grade and shown what they missed. In addition to seeing what they missed, the students are also provided with links to review resources. Once they are finished self-remediating, the students can retake the questions that they missed until the demonstrate mastery.

Project-Based Learning

Assignment details for a Halloween/Scary soundscape created during October.
Assignment details for a Halloween/Scary soundscape created during October.

To keep the class authentic, all major assessments are completed through projects. In the beginning classes, the students explore all of the different facets of music technology by composing an original song, producing a podcast, creating their own sound design and film score for a movie clip. In the intermediate classes, the students have the opportunity to record and produce school music concerts, compose music with household sounds, produce an audiobook for children, and compose music for contests. In the advanced classes, the students develop their own capstone projects where they focus on something that is applicable to their interests or future career aspirations. When the students submit their projects, they are graded on a rubric and given specific feedback. Students are allowed to make changes and resubmit until they demonstrate mastery.

Resources

Kingsbury, G. G., Freeman, E. H., & Nesterak, M. (2014, March). The Potential of Adaptive Assessment. Educational Leadership: Using Assessments Thoughtfully, 71(6). http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/mar14/vol71/num06/The-Potential-of-Adaptive-Assessment.aspx

Mueller, J. (2018, July 1). Authentic Assessment Toolbox. http://jfmueller.faculty.noctrl.edu/toolbox/index.htm

Office of Educational Technology. (n.d.) Assessment. Department of Education. https://tech.ed.gov/netp/assessment/

Wiggins, G. (1990). The case for authentic assessment. Practical Assessment, Research & Evaluation, 2(2). https://doi.org/10.7275/ffb1-mm19