A little bit too ironic

I have just started a master’s course about assessment. The first assigned reading from the textbook, Assessment Balance and Quality, made a variety of points that resonated with my own experience and philosophy of assessment, the most prominent of which was the idea that students must be partners in the assessment of (and for) their learning. By making students aware of the expected learning outcomes, they will be more successful, more motivated and more resilient in the face of set-backs. Ultimately, students become the primary drivers in their learning. I love all of this: agency, intrinsic motivation and a focus on growth over achievement; however, it seems to be at odds with another phenomenon I have observed. Let me explain…

Back when I was a student, getting bad marks was my fault. I should have studied harder, asked more questions and participated more actively in class. Now that I am a teacher, I feel like the responsibility has shifted from the students to the teacher. If a student does poorly, it’s my fault: I should have explained things more clearly, provided more practice and initiated one-to-one assistance.

It’s ironic, isn’t it? When I was a student, it was my responsibility to do well, yet I had very little agency: I didn’t know what teachers expected to see in my work until they returned it with a grade and comments. Now, students have much more agency: they are given grading rubrics when tasks are assigned, they have access to exemplars and are encouraged to seek formative feedback from their peers and teachers. Even so, it is too often teachers who are blamed if students do not reach high standards. I am not suggesting that increasing the agency of students absolves teachers of responsibility; however, if students are going to be the drivers of their own learning, then they must own their successes and their failures.

This leaves me with a few questions…

  • How do we create a culture or responsibility rather than blame?
  • Would an emphasis on growth (improvement over time) rather than achievement (excellence in the first place) give students even more agency?
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