As we begin a new school year there are growing concerns about how we assess students’ knowledge and skills. Are there mandates? Are there required assessments? Are there specific indicators of student progress and successful development?
Given the answers to these questions there is still latitude each teacher has to ask students questions by using tests, reports, presentations, reflections as well as formal and informal conversations and discussions. Here are some questions to consider as we engage students to respond to questions.
Are we asking the right questions? Most questions we ask have a right or wrong answer; but what if we asked questions that had multiple correct answers. For example, what if we asked students in a social studies class to identify ways that people learn their civic responsibilities. That question has several correct answers including (1) reviewing and memorizing the various civic responsibilities expected of each citizen; (2) engaging in civic work that builds civic responsibilities; and (3) reading historical resources that identify civic responsibilities.
Are we asking questions about knowledge, skills or both? Asking students if they know something is very different from asking them if they can do something. How we create and ask knowledge and skill questions vary. However, it is possible to frame questions that ask both what a student knows and is able to do. For example, asking a student why or how about a solution to a math problem easily determines both their answer (knowledge) and the process (skill) they used to respond.
Are we asking students to assist in the development of questions? Of course, teachers understand course content on a different level than students, but providing an opportunity for students to co-develop the sets of questions for assessment is effective in several ways: (1) ensuring the questions are relevant to students, (2) relieving the teacher of obligation to create all questions, (3) demonstrating a trusting and collaborative environment and (4) demonstrating to students the challenge to create quality effective questions to assess content knowledge and skills.
Are we providing a safe environment where questions can be asked and student are not threatened? As we encourage students to raise questions, we must also ensure they feel safe to do so by creating a classroom and school environments that support inquiry and eliminate shame or embarrassment. Students are curious about course content and its relevance to their experiences and we should provide safe opportunities for them to express their thinking and accept every inquiry as important, interesting and relevant.
As we consider and answer these four questions we will find that questions provide prompts for students to think deeply about course content and experience a more comforting context in which to gain and enhance knowledge and skills.