Thursday’s Tip: Assess to Improve

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Despite the fact that I work for the University of Missouri, I am a lifelong Ohio State Buckeye fan and alumnus. It’s basketball season and I’ve been following the team’s progress carefully. The following quote popped out in a recent article following a Buckeye win:

“I told our guys that last year I think we learned a great lesson in the Kentucky game,” [Buckeye head coach Thad Matta] said, “but the season was over. Do we have an ability to learn a lesson here in the end of December and continue to move forward?”

They did last night.

The No.6 Buckeyes started their new year by getting back in the win column with a 71-40 rout of Nebraska in Value City Arena.

“That game the other night, I thought for the first 10 minutes we were playing as well as we’ve played all season,” Matta said.

“But the lesson you learn there is you’ve got to play through adversity, and we didn’t do a good enough job doing that.”

Last season, Ohio State lost only three games all year. The last was the aforementioned Kentucky game in the NCAA tournament. While there were many lessons to be learned from that defeat, it was all for nothing as it was the last game of the season. Now, the Buckeyes have an early season loss they can learn from and improve upon in order to get better.

This is something for which Thad Matta’s teams are known. After every game – win or lose, each player has to closely study the game film and identify mistakes such as fouls and turnovers so that they can correct them before the next game. It’s worked well as Matta’s teams have gone 217-60 with four conference championships in seven complete seasons and they’re favored to win another championship this year.

Where I draw the parallels with teaching and learning is in assessment. The final game a team loses in a year-ending tournament is a summative assessment. It’s the assessment taken at the end of a learning period (or season) that demonstrates all that is learned. The downside of this kind of assessment is that the learning basically ends and only demonstrates a snapshot of where a learner (or team) is at that moment in time. Coming into the Kentucky game, Ohio State was almost unanimously considered a shoe-in for the national championship based on their play to that point. However, all the great successes of the season were forgotten as the final buzzer sounded with the Buckeyes trailing. The season was over. The learning ceased.

Conversely, the lessons the current basketball team is learning and adjusting to are formative assessments. The team plays a game and evaluates the performance in order to improve for the next game. There are even little moments of assessment going on throughout each game as coaches give direct and specific feedback during timeouts, on the bench, or at halftime. This kind of assessment allows for learning that improves performance, not simply assessing for evaluative purposes.

Granted, every season and grading period has an ending and an assessment of that moment in time is needed. However, we sometimes don’t do enough formative assessment so that learning and performance can be improved along the way.

As a Buckeye fan, I hope Thad Matta’s work to use formative assessment leads to a national championship for Ohio State. As an eMINTS instructional specialist, I hope formative assessment can help you attain your own “national championship” in the classroom.

What are some ways you have used formative assessments to improve student learning? How might you use the metaphor of a basketball coach to inform your teaching? How do you plan to utilize formative assessment more often in your classroom?

Zac Early is an instructional specialist and blogger for the eMINTS National Center and thinks Ohio State has an excellent chance at a national championship this season.