Friday, May 24, 2013

Backwards Design and Concept-Based Assessment in "Changing Face of North America" (the colonial era)

Backwards design means that we develop the appropriate assessments for a unit of study so we can monitor the development of student learning.  Instead of creating an assessment to test what we taught, we must create assessments that assess what students are expected to know, understand, and be able to do.

As part of concept-based learning, we want to incorporate more opportunities to see if students have developed conceptual understanding.  In a 5th grade unit titled The Changing Face of North America (some districts still use the Eurocentirc title of Colonial America), students should walk away with deep understanding of social, political, and economic facets of this era. 

Colorado Academic Standards state that students should be able to explain the development of political, social and economic institutions in the British American colonies.  Notice how this standard implies deep conceptual knowledge.  A teacher can't create an assessment with fill-in-the-blank or true-false questions and come away knowing if students can EXPLAIN these ideas.

To approach this goal, consider this performance assessment that connects student understanding of political, social and economic institutions to the historical concept of continuity and change over time

Instead of saying, "What do I need to teach?", begin your own mental conversation by asking, "If I were the student, what learning experiences would I need to prepare me for this assessment?"  You may even go so far as to try and complete the assessment as an adult.   Once you sense the learning experiences that students need, you may have a better sense of how to construct learning in a rigorous conceptual way.  (I suggest creating concept-based timelines as a tool for students.) It may not be easy at first, but we must move beyond the days of assessment that's about regurgitating facts...we must move to assessment that causes students to use facts to explain more complex concepts.

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