Consider this extract from an article I came across in an Australian magazine:
Much of the article is quite useful I think, and I'm looking forward to reading other articles in the series. But the suggestion I've quoted above could be misused quite badly. It all depends on three factors:
- the nature of the annotations
- how the recording sheet is used, and
- how these two factors affect the student's grade or evaluation.
The nature of the evaluations
I'm interested in whether these are of the nature of a tick, to indicate that a particular skill has been achieved, or a symbol of some sort indicating that it looks like the skill may have been achieved.
The two things are quite different. The latter requires you to regard the observation as an hypothesis to be proved or disproved, rather than an outcome to be confirmed. On the other hand, the former interpretation leads you to relax in the "certain" knowledge that your work is done.
How the recording sheet is used
I'm all in favour of recording data -- I used to use a markbook and an Excel spreadsheet myself. However, although both were full of data (especially the markbook), they served not only as a record of student achievement but also both as a prompt to what I needed to do next and as a tool for cross-reference.
For example, I could tell from looking at my markbook that Joe had asked some very pertinent questions in the previous lessons, and that I therefore had set him some extra work to help him deepen his understanding. I could also tell that this was consistent with the fact that he scored particularly highly on a recent test I set on relational databases.
In other words, the recording sheet should be an aid to formative assessment rather than, or at least as much as, summative assessment.
How these two factors affect the student's grade or evaluation
There is always a danger that using an observation sheet to record students' achievements leads you to taking the view that the more often a particular box or column has been ticked, the more secure is the student's knowledge in that area.
Well, that is not necessarily so. It all depends on what led to the ticks in each case. If you set the same or very similar exercises each time, then it may be that the student is good at, or has become good at, performing in that sort of way. Ideally, you would want the student to demmonstrate his or her knowledge, skills and understanding in a variety of contexts.
To conclude, observation sheets or markbooks can be very useful indeed. But they must not be allowed to descend into a glorified ticklist. They should, rather, be used to support, and be supported by, other sources of assessment information.
The article I have referred to is Assessment in context-based teaching and learning.
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