Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Best of Frank Serafini: Assessment & Reflection


Assessment has to be about more than simply generating information about my students to report to parents on a report card. The information I gathered about my students had to do something for me and my students. In order to do so, I had to do something with this information. I needed to learn how to use this information to make better instructional decisions and to design more effective lessons and learning experiences in my reading workshop. This led me to investigate the concept of reflection, reflective practices and how to assume the role of “teacher as researcher.”
Much of my understanding of reflective practice came from the early work of John Dewey. In How We Think, Dewey described reflective practice as an, "active, persistent, and careful consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the grounds that support it, and the further conclusions to which it tends.” The grounds that support our instructional and curricular decisions are based on the information we generate through the assessment windows we utilize. This seemed to be the connection between assessment and instruction I was looking for.
Reflective practice begins with a perceived uncertainty, a nagging sense of doubt, and ends with a judgment or action. These “uncertainties” or doubts do not appear ready-made for the teacher, rather they are created or “framed” from the experiences one encounters in the classroom. In other words, through careful, extended observations we determine the challenges or uncertainties we will need to address and the information we will need to generate to make more informed instructional decisions. In order to create more effective learning experiences, we need to identify an area of the curriculum to focus on, gather and generate relevant information, and learn how to use this information to make sound instructional decisions. In other words, the information we generate must work to inform our instructional practices.
In addition, Dewey wrote about the concept of “suspending conclusions”, describing this as the ability of teachers to resist the temptation to jump to premature judgments, and to carefully weigh the evidence provided and the consequences of one’s actions before making instructional decisions. In order for this to occur, teachers needed to generate enough relevant data to make effective decisions. This is where classroom-based assessment comes in. Reflective practitioners are knowledgeable teachers that generate information, act according to their best judgments, suspend their conclusions, but also understand that knowledge is tentative and open to change when new information comes to light.
For Dewey, the purpose of reflective practice was to change teachers’ actions and their processes of arriving at instructional decisions. If reflection did not lead to action, it was simply a waste of time. Without action being taken after reflection has occurred, teachers are simply reflecting for the sake of reflecting and not using their new understandings to improve their teaching practices. In this sense, the value of assessment and reflection is in its usefulness to the teacher and the student, not as an isolated mental activity. In other words, if we don’t use the information we generate about our students to inform our instruction, we are simply "navel-gazing".

In summary, reflective practice is an active stance a teacher assumes towards his or her practice. Reflective teachers view the experiences in their classroom as open to inquiry, are able to suspend judgments in order to question why they do what they do, use the information they generate about students to critically examine the learning experiences they create in their classrooms and make the necessary changes in their instructional practices and learning environments.

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