Finding Underwater Treasures

Going back to school is like being underwater—deep and treacherous but a lot of wonderful and insightful things to explore. I started this eJournal by diving back into the ocean, going back to school again. Early on, it made me realize that the deep pool of learning I once swam is different. Studying again after graduating, I realized the waves and the currents have changed. I realized I needed to adjust my fins and swimming techniques to keep up. The journey underwater has been challenging but this course has encouraged me to look at assessments differently—to find new treasures lying on the ocean floor of learning and appreciate the hidden gems that I used to overlook before.  I gained a greater appreciation for collecting bits and pieces of the seashells of information to understand the whole concept and its potential application.

I am ending this journey as a better learner and hopefully a more effective educator. I learned to see assessments differently. As a learner, I saw them as something to be scared of—sleepless nights to review, feeling anxious what I reviewed was not enough, feeling clueless when the test questions are so farfetched from what was discussed in class. As a teacher, assessments still haunted me before because; first, I’m the one who’s gonna make the assessment. Second, I’m the one checking their outputs. Third, I’m going to relay the feedbacks to them. Now, especially because I came to know the assessment  cycle, I figured assessments don’t have to be terrifying or dreadful. Yes, they’re meant to be taken seriously even if they’re not graded because all of them are meant to help you get better. Assessment  undergoes cycles that don’t end even if you feel like you’re so good at something, we all need to be improving every time, any chance we get.

I started this eJournal sharing my hopes and hesitations in going back to school and now I’m ending it with new appreciation for old concepts I used to put little attention to before, the little treasures I found underwater. This course taught not just to appreciate the importance of assessments but encouraged me to share what I learned with my students. I have to make them realize that assessments are done for their own good and not to scare them away or give them sleepless nights spent reviewing.  I have to guide them as they swim in their own seas of knowledge so they don’t drown. I have to let them explore and find the hidden treasures that will be helpful for their growth as learners.

How far can fishes swim

Learners start their journey as little fishes trying to swim in deep waters. Teachers guide them and help them find ways to get better. There are a lot of things involved in helping learners become faster and trained swimmers. It’s not just lengthy lessons and teacher talks but the journey also includes assessments and feedbacks. As we learned in previous modules, assessments are vital–to prove learning, to serve as learning in itself, to gather new ideas to use for new learning. This entails that assessment involves rigorous process of coming up with something with great reliability and validity to ensure that students will be getting good quality assessments. To achieve this, most people make use of the Tables of Specifications to plot down assessment types and their correlation with Bloom’s Levels of Thinking and the Learning Objectives set for that particular topic. TOS has the ability the make sure that what is being assessed can be accurate and consistent. This keeps the components aligned with each other. TOS can be useful tools but it is not always necessary to use them to ensure alignment. One can make sure that the learning objectives and the assessment tools are aligned and try to incorporate both higher order thinking skills and lower order thinking skills for a better quality of assessments.

Not all assessments can be marked according to a clearly defined set of right and wrong answers, some utilizers different methods that incorporate nontraditional assessment methods that uses Rubrics for grading. Rubrics are consist of the categories related to the topic that is assessed in varying range of scored depending on how well the task is done by the student. Rubrics make it easier for teachers to grade their students, it also practices objective reasoning because instead of grading the task only as whole the task would be assessed using the sum of its whole. It shows the students the importance of each part that constitutes the whole. The categorized setting makes it easier for the students to figure out what they need to accomplish to get the highest possible scores. Breaking down the score in each category also makes it easier for the students to see how each component is graded.

These assessment tools makes it easier for the teachers and the students to monitor the teaching-learning process. No one wants to be left clueless about how they’re doing in life. Schools serve as a microcosm of the bigger world outside the four corners of the classrooms. Students have to be aware on what’s happening to them the same way that people should. Teachers are there to mold their students to be better hence they also hold the important role of relaying feedbacks to their students. They have to be mindful of the fact that students would want to know if they’re doing things right or if they have things they need to work on. An open channel of communication is important for both parties to understand what one another needs. Feedback is one good way to do that. It can be an advice or a directive given through written commentaries or consultations. Students need timely feedback. They need to track down how much they’re improving, if they’re actually improving or not.

Changing Currents

The transition from being the student to being the teacher can be an exciting but terrifying at the same time. Switching places. Turning Tables. I was once facing the board and now I’m facing the seats that were once  occupied by the younger me. I still go to school but for a very different reason, not to take those dreadful exams where I spent my whole night reviewing for but to guide the students how to learn more during discussions so they don’t have to stay up late when assessment days are coming. The wind is blowing from a different direction, the tides have altered, and the currents have changed.

“When you don’t know the answer, it’s always B” I remember my older brother telling me that. He told me that for every Multiple Choice question that I might encounter in which I don’t know the answer. I should just answer the letter B because there’s a huge chance that the one who designed the exam placed the correct answer in the middle. I was confused. I remember one time in grade school where I flunked the quiz because I used my brother’s technique. I went home crying telling him I failed because I used his method and he just laughed at me saying I should have studied instead of relying on pure luck.

Looking back, I have experienced a lot of traditional assessments like Multiple Choice, True or False, Identification, and Enumeration types of tests. I considered myself fortunate because I have a good memory. I find it easier to remember things I have reviewed. When I grew older, I realized my methods were inadequate. Memorization doesn’t exactly equate to mastery of the topic. I can’t just memorize all the concepts and not understand how to relate to them or apply them to other situations. However, I figured it was the easiest way to study for exams before—to memorize the concepts, their meanings, and given examples because that’s how they show up in examinations. I’d be asked define concepts or enumerate ideas and to me just memorizing them would help. 

During my high school and college years, I enjoyed non traditional assessments more, like illustrations, performance tasks, and essays. They made me feel more creative and I can express my thoughts better compared to just answering whether the statement presented was True or False. I also enjoyed interdisciplinary approaches on most assessments where two or more subjects collaborate on the same activity. One, it is lifting a weight of my shoulder knowing there’d be less things to accomplish and second, it is important to see the connection between two or more seemingly different disciplines. 

When I became a teacher, the usual traditional types of assessments are still prevalent in the institution I worked at. I couldn’t help but wonder on whether or not the students are also doing my memorization technique when I was younger. I taught History and most of them complain to me that my subject was hard because it involves memorizing a lot of dates and historical facts. I was baffled. I didn’t know that’s how they saw the subject i was teaching and my assessment methods. I took it as a challenge on my part to create non traditional types of tests so that the students won’t think that the subject was boring or was irrelevant to their lives. I stayed away from the usual Enumeration and True or False types of assessment and came up with more essays and other assessment tools that gave my students more freedom to express their thoughts and share their insights on things.

I believe it is important for us teachers to know when to go with the flow and use the traditional assessments we came to know but also be prepared to withstand the changing currents and provide our students with more thought-provoking assessment tools so that we can make them realize the dynamism that lies behind education including the components of it.  

Training Fishes

We were once clueless fishes swimming in the deep sea of knowledge. We keep on swimming in unfamiliar waters learning a thing or two about a lot of things we thought would never end. Looking back, when I was a student, I always felt that there’s always a lot of things to do everyday—quizzes, assignments, seat works, and projects. I always felt like the things I need to do on a daily basis as a student won’t end. I felt burdened. I was always that student who keeps on asking my teacher if all the things we needed to do was graded. I thought to myself at the time that there was no point in doing numerous tasks if I won’t be graded for it. I remember my teacher would always tell me that all the things I do might not be graded numerically but that I should always try my best to do them because they’re for my own good. Doing these tasks will help me develop various skills. 

When I became a teacher, it reached full circle. I became the person who gives the instruction and my students would be on the receiving end of it. Whenever, there’s a new task that needs to be done my students would ask me immediately after I have given them the instruction if the activity was “formative” or “summative”. We were told to discuss the difference of such to students and the way they understood it was—formative means not graded and summative means graded. I would often come across instances where students refuse to give their greatest effort in activities wherein they knew they wont be graded directly. Upon realizing that, I tried to solve my dilemma by just telling the students that all they do in school are for their own scholastic development and that I shouldn’t tell them explicitly if it was for formative or summative reasons because at the end of the it will be beneficial for them.

Based on experience, I noticed students tend to give higher regard for summative assessments than formative assessments for the sole reason they think they’re more important because they would be reflected on their grades. What they fail to realize is that formative assessments can be of great importance to them especially when they want to see how they’re progressing. The learning process is a long way journey and down the line there would be bumpy roads and raging currents but the students need to realize that teachers device formative assessments so that it will be easier for them to know what they’re learning, if they’re learning. I believe it is important for teachers to make their students value the importance of getting  better at something through formative assessments. It promotes self fulfillment, knowing you’re getting better at something. It is important to instill the eagerness to do better to students so their thirst for new ideas get stronger.

Encouragements to push further and to get better at something is significant. Learners won’t swim in small fish tanks for their whole lives, we need to see if they’re getting better through various assessment tools to prepare them to swim vast oceans. As teachers, we can’t let them be clueless fishes forever. We need to encourage them to extend their fins and swim faster even in toughest conditions. They might not see it instantly and consider the numerous preparations as a burden on their backs but in the end all these assessment measures are for their own good.

Keeping The Ship Towards The Right Direction

Every Voyage has a destination, a point where it’s heading to and a way to reach that point. A compass has to be directing the voyagers towards the right direction else they would be lost, a captain has to be steering the wheel while weathering wavy waters and heavy winds to make sure the passengers get to the destination safe and sound. The assessment process has to be in line with the learning objectives so that it would achieve the desired learning outcomes that the educators want their students to learn.  A poorly aligned assessment is like a ship headed to the wrong direction because of a faulty compass or a clueless captain, it might be headed somewhere but it’s the wrong way.

It’s important to keep every component of the learning process on the same page. They’re all connected anyway and has to be synchronized with each other. The module taught me the triangular relationship between the components of learning–The Learning Goals and Objectives, Instructional Activities, and Assessments. All three form each vertex of a triangle that keeps track the alignment of the learning process. When each component stays true to the projected learning outcome then the learning process would be more fruitful.

However, not every learning process is a smooth sailing experience. Sometimes teachers and students experience the occurrence of poorly aligned assessments wherein the assessments used to gauge the skills and ideas gathered by the students during the instruction phase is not directly related to that of the learning objectives that should be met at the end of the course or chapter. It can be pretty problematic especially when teachers want their students to make the most out of the topic they’re tackling but the misalignment is hurdling them from that. One way to solve this is to constantly put yourself on the shoes of the students. Always ask yourself in every instructional activity or in every assessment you’re going to give to your students whether or not they’re prepared for it, did they learn enough to successfully complete the task, or if you taught all the things they need to know to ace the assessment, if the assessment itself would help them achieve the learning objectives. If the answer to all inquiries is on the affirmative then you’re doing a good job making sure that all components are aligned to your desired outcome. However, if the answer is a resounding NO then we should take it upon ourselves as teachers to steer the wheel of the ship to the right way maybe provide a different assessment measure that will be leaning towards the goals of the course or conduct activities that enhance the students’ understanding of the key principles and ideas of the lessons we taught to them.

Teachers hold the very crucial role of guiding our students throughout their learning journey making sure they’re becoming better learners as we go on. We serve as the captain of the ship that leads them to their destination, an island filled with new concepts  or a lagoon with deep realizations,  and it is very important that we bring them to the right destination every time.


Gathering Seashells and Fishes

How would we know an ocean has a busting marine life? We search for traces and evidence of life underwater like fishes, seashells, and coral reefs. We have a choice to dive in there and see what’s floating and swimming in its depths. A learner’s mind is like a vast ocean educators need to learn how to navigate to gather traces of learning and progress. We don’t literally dive in there and see what’s inside their brains like how we would in a ocean, but we find ways to understand these students’ learning patterns through different evidences that can be used for assessments and then we process these results to identify what realities they show to us.

There are different sources of evidences that we can gather to help us come up with student assessments. They may be by numbers–scores on exams taken by your whole batch or by perceptions–what the student body thinks about the new cafeteria rules through survey sheet tallies. All of these things may differ in forms and methods but all of them are vital in understanding how students tick through their actions in and out of their classrooms. Evidences differ to facilitate the diversity  each form of assessment wants to look into and is not limited to how the students are keeping up academically.

Another thing this module taught me is the importance of not just identifying the different components that comprise the process of assessment but also why each of them is integral to the success of the process. Each component is placed to ensure that the result of the assessment will bear a fruitful result because the process it has gone through is carefully planned and executed. The success of an assessment is the sum of the usefulness of its parts.

As far as the assessment process is concerned, we often wonder why after all the years we spent in school, as students and as teachers, why do we feel like we’re going through a cycle of Evaluations, Testing, Outcomes, and Revising. It’s just how it is, for assessments are built in such a way that we never see the end of the process, it’s both ongoing and never-ending. The Lion King taught us the great lesson that we are all connected by a Circle of Life where what happens with one part affects all the other parts. In a sense, the assessment cycle reflects the circle of life, it’s interlinked with each of the basic components and it is unending. It doesn’t end when one becomes better at something, it keeps on going until we master the abilities we want to enhance. Students go through assessments to become better learners, to achieve not just thorough understanding of lessons tackled during discussions but to apply them in their lives outside the four corners of the classroom.

The First Plunge

It’s only the first week and I already found myself swimming in mounds of printed reading materials. The word was swimming, a good sign, because I remember Hell Weeks in UP felt like literally drowning in reading materials. I guess this is UPOU’s way of welcoming me back into the arms of UP Naming Mahal, through the no nonsense ‘let’s get down to business and study hard’ served in a fast paced and direct-to-the-point kind of way.  Unlike the fidgety, self-reluctant, younger version of me back in 2010 during my first week in UP, this time I knew what I got myself into–an immense ocean with raging waves that can drown me alive if I don’t adjust my gears up and paddle faster.

ASSESSMENT was the very first topic we had. The course is, after all, centered in that word. Assessment is a common term we usually hear about and more often associate with reviews and examinations. The very first module was all about understanding the basic definitions of the word ‘assessment’, determining what good assessments entail, and how upholding principles are vital when it comes to assessing things or people.  I figured it’s very timely to learn that the very first drop in this learning ocean is figuring out what you already know, where your strengths are, and where your problem areas lie. Assessments are indeed important to one’s progress.

Like any other endeavors I had in my life, going back to school involved assessments. I knew I wanted to do it so I can pursue my love for teaching but I felt anxious because I didn’t know what to expect except it’s gonna be a wild ride. I had to assess myself, I had to revisit my study habits. I had to learn how to learn again. I had to figure out where I’m good at–taking down personal notes from assigned articles–and where I need improvements–prolonged procrastination even when I have numerous deadlines. I had to reflect on myself and I believe the road to improvement starts there. Setting up a benchmark, a starting point,  is important to anyone wanting to improve at something. To learn more, one should realize what he doesn’t know but needs to and we only figure that out through objective assessments and also through in depth self-reflection.

The first plunge in my goal to become a great educator involved a warm welcome and cold late night reading, but these are the moments I miss with UP. It’s good to feel home again. Now, off to my next module!