Friday, October 27, 2006

Using Alternative Assessments To Improve the Teaching and Learning of History

Using Alternative Assessments To Improve the Teaching and Learning of History. This ERIC Digest si from 1997. Although almost ten years old, I enjoyed reading it. One problem I have always had to deal with is how to grade students. I do not always like doing it. How do I know if my assessment actually reflects what the student learned? I know I have given Bs to students who learned a lot but struggled with a test while I have given As to some students who are good at turning in well crafted papers but never really struck me as having learned a lot based on my interactions with them a semester later.

This article addresses a few different ways to assess learning in history beyond the traditional methods. Further, the methods are proposed with the intent that the mere use of the assessment method will help students learn more. There is some food for thought here.

From the site:

A history teacher's curriculum planning, choice of classroom methodology, and means to assess student learning are inextricably linked. Forms of assessment that involve only recall of discrete information are likely to encourage teaching methods that emphasize low-level cognition. Further, traditional forms of assessing students' knowledge of history neither prompt students to reveal all they know about the subject nor challenge them to learn more. Thus, teachers and researchers have concluded that traditional assessments must be complemented by new methods that can reinvigorate and improve the teaching and learning of history in schools.

Alternative assessment can be a diagnostic tool to improve both a teacher's instruction and a student's learning of history by revealing information about three dimensions of a student's historical literacy. First, students who complete alternative assessment activities demonstrate their knowledge of historical facts, themes, and ideas. Second, students who complete alternative assessment activities demonstrate their ability to reason; that is, to analyze, evaluate, and synthesize historical evidence. And third, students who complete alternative assessment activities demonstrate their ability to communicate their historical knowledge and reasoning to others.

Each dimension of a student's historical literacy has its own important characteristics that provide the structural frame teachers need to create an alternative assessment activity for their students. Knowledge of historical evidence is the prerequisite students need to demonstrate their ability in the other two dimensions. The Bradley Commission's "Vital Themes and Narratives" is a conceptual scheme that helps students organize their knowledge of the past. These themes serve as filters to help students differentiate between what is important and what is insignificant in the historical record. They provide direction for students to accurately identify, define, and describe important concepts, facts, and details. (The Bradley Commission on History in the Schools 1988, 10-11).

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