Assessment-Centered Environments

Environments that are assessment centered provide opportunities for learners to test their understanding by trying out things and receiving feedback. Such opportunities are important to teacher learning for a number of reasons. One is that teachers often don’t know if certain ideas will work unless they are prompted to try them with their students and see what happens; see Box 8.1. In addition to providing evidence of success, feedback provides opportunities to clarify ideas and correct misconceptions. Especially important are opportunities to receive feedback from colleagues who observe attempts to implement new ideas in classrooms. Without feedback, it is difficult to correct potentially erroneous ideas.

A report from a group of researchers highlights the importance of classroom-based feedback (Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt, 1997). They attempted to implement ideas for teaching that had been developed by several of their colleagues at different universities. The researchers were very familiar with the material and could easily recite relevant theory and data. However, once they faced the challenge of helping teachers implement the ideas in local classrooms in their area, they realized the need for

BOX 8.1 “Exceptional Kids”

Mazie Jenkins was skeptical when first told that research shows that first-grade children can solve addition and subtraction word problems without being taught the procedures. When she saw videotapes of 5-year-old children solving word problems by counting and modeling, Mazie said they were exceptional kids because they could solve “difficult” word problems, such as:

You have five candy bars in your Halloween bag; the lady in the next house puts some more candy bars in your bag. Now you have eight candy bars. How many candy bars did the lady in the next house give you?

Then Mazie tried out this problem with her first-grade class at the beginning of the year, and she excitedly reported, “My kids are exceptional too!” Mazie learned that, while she herself saw this problem as a “subtraction” problem—because she had been taught the procedure for doing the problem that way—her first graders solved the problem spontaneously, typically by counting out five unifix cubes (to represent candy bars), adding more cubes until they had eight, and then counting the number they had added to get to eight. Mazie’s kids then proudly reported the answer as “three” (Carpenter et al., 1989).

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