‘After week eight, consolidate… ‘
Or ‘When you are three quarters through, no need to add anything new….’
A proposition for more meaningful assessment
I have adapted my teaching and assessing using a Universal Design for Learning framework and in so doing have made several decisions about how much content is enough (that is, I do less, better) and how, how often, when I engage in assessment. One of the decisions is how much content is enough. The duration of a semester at my university is 12 weeks long. Following the ‘do less better’ mantra, I have shifted to organizing around threshold concepts and to curtailing the introduction of new content to the first eight weeks, or three quarters, of the term. This allows me to use the last four weeks to consolidate the earlier learning through application and real world problem solving and it allows me to plan for early assessment that functions in a formative and scaffolded fashion to support learning, middle of the term assessment that involves both information and digital literacy skills and embedded engagement with the foundational threshold concepts, and later in the term assessment that compels consolidation of threshold concept material, partner and group engagement and proximal learning, as well as peer review and accountability.
I will offer examples below from one course to illustrate how these strategies work and how the assessment unfolds.
Threshold concepts are concepts in a course that are foundational for learning and progressive in the sense that future learning depends on having established the threshold concepts. In my fourth-year course on Adaptive Physical Activity Programming, there are several threshold concepts:
- Fundamental movement patterns form the basis of future complex movement patterns
- Planning individualized movement requires observation and analysis of a person’s movement patterns over time and across contexts to program developmentally and age-appropriate movement and activity
- Movement planning and programming require the ability to break a task into its constituent elements and then rebuild the task using station based distributed practice
- Developing expertise in the above three areas, actively practicing anti-ableism, and interrogating normalcy as an unquestioned starting point allow practitioners to be more attitudinally prepared to work with movers of any ability.
These four threshold concepts contain embedded knowledge that I must present in the form of content-based materials, skills practice, and direct contact with disabled people; my assessment must be ongoing and progressive as well.
I use Participation Posts that are in a Pass/Fail format. These online posts have a prompt that allows students to practice their engagement with content or a process or problem solving that will then occur later in the module for more formalized assessment. If students achieve a B level in their post, then they get the full grade (5/5). If they do not achieve a B level, then they get 0/5. This seems harsh at first, but it takes the pressure off students’ need to be perfect and it allows them to understand what a B grade is. If a student fails, I offer an opportunity to revise and resubmit after they have seen and experienced the zero. I do not offer this option until after they have received their grade. Then they can choose to try again or move on. I usually have four participation posts over the term, @ 5%, so the students have significant control over their destiny in these posts since they are designed to be achievable at a B level for full marks. The last participation post of the term is one that consolidates knowledge from the previous eight weeks. By this time, they have become more proficient in this type of post, and they usually do a 5/5 level post near the end of term.
I schedule the Online Activity (OLA) for each module for the end of the module so that the participation posts can offer practice and feedback that will allow the students to do a better job on the OLA. I usually have three to four of these OLAs @ 10% which allows me to formulate different kinds of prompts, applications and problem solving that I can then assess across three to four modules. For example, an OLA would pose a problem about designing a station for fundamental movement practice, and a Participation post preceding it would ask them to break a skill down into its components.
One culminating assignment is the group-based board game that the students work on from week four onwards with in class facilitation of their ongoing work. The board game consolidates material from all the threshold concepts so that the eventual game functions as both a fun activity and an educative opportunity. Students play each other’s games either in person or online and then do a review of the game they played using a template provided by me, and then post this in addition to their own game for assessment.
The other culminating assignment is done solo, partners, trios or small groups and involves an experiential project. Students have choices among event planning, placement in an activity program or an organization, an accessibility audit, or a design of an accessible home and garden activity circuit. This is also a consolidating assignment and uses all four threshold concepts in application.
These two culminating assignments take up considerable class time in the last module and allow students to integrate their previous eight weeks’ work into two final products that take shape over the term as they build experience and expertise.
Students appreciate the Participation post rehearsal for the OLA, they appreciate the 20% assigned to achieving B level work that makes their planning more manageable. Ironically, their writing in the pass/ fail posts that only require them to work at a B level is usually better than their writing in their OLAs. It seems that when the pressure is off to write at an A level, they relax into their writing more.
They appreciate how the assigned work and content diminishes as the course unfolds, instead of having it build incrementally and still having new learning as late as the last week of classes. This allows for progressive engagement with material, a manageable selection of prioritized content, and the freedom to fail in ways that are not catastrophic or unsalvageable. It also allows me to scaffold the assessment so that early work is more literal, then moves into more interpretive integration and problem solving and finally moves into consolidation and application.
Professor, Kinesiology, Brock University