Patrick McGrath, Education Technology Strategist

Promoting learning and building understanding through assessment

Ask yourself a question: What is the goal of teaching? For each of us as educators we may well have a wide range of answers that together sum up how we approach teaching. Perhaps it’s to prepare students for their future. Or to motivate and inspire the kids in our classes. Or maybe it’s to build their independence. We’re all hoping to create lifelong learners,  who look differently at problems, ask questions, communicate effectively and embrace opportunities. These goals are why we do what we do, and these are the goals that have enabled us to work through the challenges we have had in recent months as we shifted our approaches to remote learning. They are also the goals that will carry us through the months and years ahead and will help us adapt our instruction and our pedagogy to provide the very best outcomes for our students.


Distill all of these goals down and we get to the very central goal of teaching - to promote learning and to build understanding. A central tenet to achieving this goal is how we integrate assessment and feedback into teaching practice. Together, these two elements underpin and drive our pedagogical approaches and shape how learning is measured, and more importantly, how learning can progress. Assessment drives instruction and learning. It informs us in our practice, and crucially, it informs our students of their progress and shows the path to how they might improve. 

But what about assessment in the remote or blended learning era?

When remote learning happened in what felt like an instant, priorities had to change. Google Classrooms or Microsoft Teams was implemented almost overnight. Students needed material fast. New resources were built. New communication channels were opened and technology played the central role in a situation none of us could have predicted. Online learning effectively became a repository for learning, and assessment became less of a priority and more of a ‘nice to have’. True to form though, educators quickly worked through this initial vertical ‘switch’, and found new ways to assess learning - both formative and summative using technology tools at their disposal, such as forms and quizzes which are being used by over 57% of educators for assessment tasks. 

The DfE recognized this and quickly harnessed the experience of educators, and have explicitly stated that throughout remote learning,  schools  “should build formative assessment and feedback into the teaching approach through a mixture of quizzes, digital tools and modeling of good answers”.  That requires us all to understand assessment and where technology fits. We all know and understand through experience typical assessment processes, but now we have to understand and use assessment tools in ways we never before perhaps considered. Our recent experiences are shifting our very approach - so just as we adapted to remote learning, it’s now time to look at how these tools can be used in every learning context going forward - remote, hybrid, or blended. 

Selecting these tools requires some thought, because we need to mirror what we know to be effective assessment. What’s important to our processes is also critical to the tools we use. We need to be able to identify progress and understanding and communicate feedback effectively. If we are delivering assessment for learning (AfL), we need to be able to offer implicit, personal feedback in a way that drives learners forward. We need our tools to elicit evidence of learning, encourage students to be responsive and take actions. With learning happening outside of the classroom, we also need to ensure that these tools can help students be independent, self regulated and stay motivated.

Plus, when we are not in the classroom, technology needs to replace some of the key essentials of our classroom work such as discussion and that realtime knowledge of how students are progressing.    

Little and often

For this all to be effective, assessment needs to be little and often, but with a balance of ensuring students don’t feel they are constantly under scrutiny. A further balance has to be struck - with that of teacher workload. Assessment tools need to be easy, efficient and work savvy. 
  
That’s why ‘workflow’ is so important. The process of being able to quickly create assessment opportunities, to have work returned, to effortlessly mark and to provide feedback that's meaningful. This workflow has to be seamless and fast to provide students with timely feedback and detail of the actions they need to improve. Tools like Google Classroom have now put shape to this approach, and allowed us to build-in forms and quizzes that automark, plus quick ways to return work and add feedback. Technology is closing the workflow loop and enabling the balance of ‘little and often’ assessment with our own workload and helping build independence in our learners.

Using technology to support your assessment

At Texthelp we have our own goals to support teaching and learning. Ours is simple - we aim to help every student understand and be understood. We know the importance of assessment to this process, which is why we build in feedback tools, marking, rich quiz tools, workflow, rubrics and Google Classroom integration in appropriate ways across our entire product family.  

In Read&Write, take advantage of Voicenote. In one click insert 60 seconds of audio feedback into a piece of work. It’s fast, effective and personal. Encourage students to use text to speech to model and check written work, or use Check It to self assess spelling, punctuation and grammar and become more independent. Use Read&Write on PDF work and add richer feedback - tick marking, annotations, voice notes or highlights. Quick, effective assessment and feedback that becomes part of your workflow. 

With Fluency Tutor, students can practice reading aloud, easily submitting the work back for review. Provide feedback with something as simple as a ‘thumbs up’ or delve in and score each word and provide actionable feedback in just a few clicks with a complete, trackable assessment. In one more click, add a set of comprehension questions to assess understanding - automatically marked and graded. 

WriQ goes even further - in part automatically assessing spelling, punctuation and grammar, then allowing a super fast way to mark work to a custom mark scheme or rubric. The net result is that students receive instantaneous feedback and access to the rubric to discover how to improve their work. All while their progress is being captured and tracked in an easy to understand ‘dashboard’. 

There are multiple opportunities for assessment and feedback for math and science teachers as well with EquatIO. Add EquatIO to Google Forms and move beyond simple multiple choice answers and assess math solutions, or add graphs or diagrams to deepen learning. EquatIO mathspace even provides a complete workflow to create math content, send directly to students , have students complete work and provide opportunities for teachers to easily assess and return. All in a few simple clicks. 

Remote learning has its challenges. Teaching and learning, however it may look going forward, will have its own, but the process of assessment will always stay as an integral and critical part of teaching. Digital assessment tools shouldn’t be a challenge. They are an opportunity. These effective, efficient and engaging tools will help us build understanding, drive progress and motivate our students and are key to successful outcomes moving forward.  Official guidance requires it, effective practice evidences it, and the technology exists to support it.  

It’s time to embrace these tools and set a new goal - to provide students with new and innovative forms of assessment and feedback. Ultimately that’s what will help bring us back to our central aim of promoting learning and building understanding, no matter where learning is occurring.  

Check out the Texthelp product family and experience the many ways we can help deliver the strategies you need to deliver assessment and feedback across the curriculum and for every learner.

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