Is Assessment a Four-letter Word?

I really like what Steve Ersinghaus wrote about assessment.

One of the significant issues I’ve faced has to do with attitude.
Mine, not the students. Typically I ask students not to worry so much
about making the deadline, but that the deadline is real nonetheless.
I’ve also informed my students that they don’t have to complete their
papers or exams. They don’t even have to come to class. Why? Because
this is true. Students don’t have to complete work, take a test, or
come to class. No prison sentence will come of this. They may not pass
into hell, either. I used to worry myself to death about students
completing their work and doing everything I asked. Now, I try not to.
They’ve paid their money and will address their commitments to the
degree that they able at a given time.

I typically tell students that if they want to be “assessed” then
they should complete their work and come to class and study and study
and study. None of this can be forced. The philosophy goes like this:
if a student wants their performance to be checked at a given time,
typically at those times when I set deadlines on the calendar, they are
certainly encouraged to do so by handing in an analysis, research
paper, or project. In this procedure, an assessment becomes an
“opportunity” for a student to show their ability.

The “You paid your tuition, you can make your own choices” conversation is usually something that I only think about when a student is already in trouble.

One of my colleagues who teaches in another division, Victoria Marie Gribschaw, never says that she “gives” grades — she merely “reports” them.  I’ve started adopting that language when I speak about assessment.  I also inform students that I don’t “correct” their drafts, and if a student tries to thank me for a good grade, I say something like, “You should thank yourself, since you did the work.”

But I haven’t really ever tried to use the language of “assessment opportunity” from the very start of a class.

I did have some very exciting success this year in my entry-level new media class, “Writing for the Internet,” in which I would

  1. demonstrate a new task, telling the students that eventually they would have to do the task on their own, but that they would get detailed instructions and several opportunities to practice
  2. give pairs of students a week to follow those instructions (wth a full class period devoted to an in-class workshop)
  3. ask pairs of students to complete a timed, in-class exercise (telling them that this was practice for when they would be expected to perform the task on their own)
  4. give individual students a task to complete in a few days (letting them start the assignment as homework and bring their problems to a workshop day)
  5. require individual students to perform the whole procedure in a timed, in-class setting

Students really seemed to appreciate the chance to go over the material in stages. Of course, this works best for discrete, core skills; once students are synthesizing and evaluating, this many iterations would be very hard to manage. Asking students to complete a major paper in stages (thesis statement, bibliography, draft, and revision) is hard when students believe they should still be able to get a decent grade by banging out a “How I apply the material to my life” paper the night before the due date, as they did in high school.

In a content-heavy course, it’s not easy to devote so much class time to workshops, so the “assessment opportunities” language may help students see the value of the prewriting assignments.