Evidence-Based Learning, Now More Than Ever

As we shift our teaching practice online, it begs the question of what kind of work we will be asking our students to do. Will the disruption of COVID-19 lead us to digitize worksheets so that we keep our students busy through the next few months? Or will we create rich learning opportunities that engage them in meaningful ways? For the sake of our students, we sure hope it’s the latter.

This leads to equally important questions around assessment. Will we count the levels our students move on a math fluency website as success? Or will we assign open-ended problems that require them to apply what they know in meaningful ways? Will we assign a certain number of minutes to read each day? Or will we ask them to engage in book discussions with their peers?

In the seminal book, The Case for Formative Assessment, Dylan Wiliam writes, “All teaching boils down to three key processes and three kinds of individuals involved. The processes are: finding out where learners are in their learning, finding out where they are going, and finding out how to get there,” (2011, p. 45). He goes on to suggest that we must engineer effective classroom discussions, activities, and tasks that elicit evidence of learning. All of which is possible in an online space.

Formative Assessment and Feedback in a Digital Learning Environment
Whether your school uses Google Classroom, Schoology, or another learning management system, students will need feedback that is based on formative assessment. This isn’t a stretch technically as feedback can be provided through a webcam, comments from the teacher, or from peers. The key is to assign work that is open-ended and engaging so that we have the ability to give students meaningful feedback. Or in other words, students must still be engaged in learning that elicits evidence of learning. Let’s look at a few examples from a middle school math class that is working on ratios.

Example #1:

Example #2:

In example #1, you’ll notice that there are multiple chances for students to practice the same skill. There is also one right answer for each problem. In other words, students are repeatedly practicing the same strategy. While this is certainly an important skill for learning how to solve ratios, it is a closed task that provides less evidence of learning.

In example #2, students are required to use a variety of strategies to apply what they know about ratios. While there is still one correct answer, the students must determine what strategy they will bring to bear to solve the problem. They also must provide evidence of understanding by explaining their thinking.

As you look at each of these examples, consider how you might provide students with feedback relative to their learning. In example #1, you can provide feedback based on whether or not the students are able to correctly solve the computation that is required. In example #2, you can provide feedback related to the strategies the students used to solve the problem, if they got the right answer, and how they articulated their thinking. Simply put, there are more opportunities to gather evidence of learning in the second example.

Coaching into Evidence-Based Learning
Coaches play an important role in supporting teachers to assign meaningful work to their students. Co-planning lessons that bring forth evidence of learning sits in the wheelhouse of a coach who is using the methods for Student-Centered Coaching. Today, that might look like a coach and team of ELA teachers working remotely to decide how to manage online book clubs. By serving as a thinking partner, the coach can work with teachers to determine how to manage text selection, what the student-friendly learning targets might be, and how to assess and provide feedback to students. Or, it could mean the coach works with teachers to design performance tasks that align with the standards and demonstrate student learning. Of course, there are many other ways a coach can support instructional design, stay tuned to our blog as we continue to share what coaching can look like in the current online environment that we are adjusting to.

In Closing
Even with all of our current challenges, there is a lot of opportunity in the weeks that lie ahead. It’s up to us to navigate through this adjustment with an eye on creating the best conditions for learning that we can. By supporting teachers to design learning that allows students to demonstrate their thinking, we in turn help create opportunities to give targeted and meaningful feedback. Sure sounds better than digital worksheets!

© Diane Sweeney Consulting


Thank you to my colleagues Leanna Harris (@leannaharris22) and Joy Casey (@joycasey1122) for their help with this blog!

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