Monday, February 24, 2014

Assessing students understanding of concepts

Concepts are mental constructs that are timeliness, abstract, universal, and transferrable. If students truly understand a concept, they should be able to apply their understanding to different contexts, regardless of time, place, subject matter, or level of abstractness. In fact, “the ability to transfer knowledge and skills to new or similar contexts is evidence of deeper understanding and higher-order thinking,” (H. Lynn Erickson, p. 13, Concept-Based Curriculum and Instruction for the Thinking Classroom, 2007, Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press). Erickson states though, that we can’t leave this higher-order thinking to chance. We must set up opportunities for this transfer of understanding when planning curriculum.

In fifth grade, students learn about the concept of expansion and how it impacts cultures over time. At the factual level, students learn about the colonization and settlement of the United States and study in particular the Jamestown Settlement. To assess their students’ conceptual understanding of expansion, teachers created an opportunity for students to demonstrate their conceptual understanding in a different context. First, students create a list of things that have expanded. Then, working with just one event, students identify the cause for that particular expansion and at least three subsequent changes that happened as a result.

Students demonstrate their conceptual understanding of expansion to many different contexts, including their own families, the professional football stadium in the area, and even a local business that has experienced significant growth. In each circumstance, students investigate the reason for the expansion and contemplate the positive and negative changes that happen as a result of the expansion.
The blank graphic organizer students use to demonstrate their understanding on expansion and how it impacts culture.

With this learning engagement, teachers were better able to accurately assess their students’ higher order thinking skills. Did they truly understand expansion beyond the specific case of the Jamestown Settlement? Were they able to apply their understanding to other contexts, regardless of time and place?
Based on this story, ask:
  • How do you assess your students’ conceptual thinking?
  • Do you find it is effective?
  • Is there a way to change how you assess your students’ conceptual thinking to have a greater impact on their learning?

Share your thoughts and ideas by commenting on this post.

No comments:

Post a Comment