As the summer turns to fall, the bells begin to ring, calling students back to the classrooms. Shorts and t-shirts are traded for long sleeves, and a favourite pair of jeans.
The reason? Nobody likes the cold. Rather than presenting our students with evaluations that leave them feeling Cut out of the conversation, Offered limited forms of expression, Limited in their ability to demonstrate skills, and Devastated by lingering grades, we need to present them with the opportunity to experience WARM evaluations.
Much like how your sleeves and jeans prepare you to feel comfortable, ready to face the day, so too do WARM evaluations prepare students to feel comfortable, ready to face the day.
You are no doubt already using the COAT Method for lesson planning. Add a little extra warmth by considering how to build success directly into your evaluations.
What are WARM evaluations?
WARM evaluations are evaluations that take four key concepts into consideration during their design and implementation.
Built upon the foundational understanding of Universal Design for Learning, WARM evaluations ensure that your students will have the best opportunity to engage with their materials, and reach their highest levels of success.
Though they will seem simple, it is important that we actively consider how to best include these four principals into each and every evaluation we present to our students. When designing your evaluations I ask you to consider how you present the following four concepts:
- Welcome student voice
- Assessment opportunities
- Repetition of skills
- Marks into grades
Note how these four pieces are binary opposites to COLD evaluations where students are:
- Cut out of the conversation
- Offered limited forms of expression
- Limited in their ability to demonstrate skills
- Devastated by lingering grades
Where COLD evaluations hinder student performance and success, WARM evaluations bring out the best in both students and teahcers.
Welcome Student Voice
When designing evaluations, teachers often feel that they need to prove themselves to be experts. Asking for help, or looking to students can be seen as a sign of weakness, they believe. However, we know that their belief is not only incorrect, but incredibly damaging to the classroom community.
Co-creating evaluations is a powerful way to demonstrate your commitment to shared leadership, and the value you place on your students’ learning. By welcoming student voice during evaluation creation they will take ownership of their task, and be more committed to demonstrating their full abilities.
Putting it into Practice
- Students should be asked what the best ways to demonstrate their learning might be. You will be surprised with the unique, and powerful opportunities they suggest.
- Students should be able to choose which specific curricular expectations will be evaluated for their selected task. Building in an understanding of their curriculum will provide them with an understanding of why certain evaluations are presented to them.
- Students should co-create specific rubrics for the assignment. After the task, and curriculum connections have been identified, students will be fully aware of how to demonstrate their expertise, as they will have designed the yardstick against which their efforts will be measured.
One of the fundamental tenets of Universal Design for Learning is that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to education. This is no more true than when it comes to evaluations.
We know that students learn in a variety of different ways, and that they must be engaged as such in the classroom. It’s for that reason that the COAT Method is such a powerful tool for lesson design. Just as you don’t expect all students to succeed in a classroom taught only one way, neither do you expect students to succeed on an evaluation that presents only one method of completion.
By differentiating your assessment opportunities you demonstrate to students that it’s not what they create, but the specific curricular expectations they demonstrate, that matter.
Putting it into Practice
- Once you have selected the expectations that you will evaluating, create a variety of methods for demonstrating them. Create multimodal forms of expression, as well as text-based methods that will allow students to demonstrate their learning.
- Consider the importance of writing with pen and paper for your evaluations. While there may be some times when that skill is integral, oral recordings, video recordings, voice-to-text, or visual representations will often allow students to demonstrate the evaluated skills.
- Engaging students’ interest is the surest way to lead them towards their full success. Consider your curriculum, and look for opportunities for students to use their own special-interest topics to demonstrate the learning that occurred in class using a single resource.
Repetition of Skills
Everyone has bad days. Teachers are no exception. For anyone doubting this, let me present you with three words that are sure to get your heart beating faster: Teacher. Performance. Evaluation.
Teachers spend weeks leading up to their performance evaluation. There are multiple pre-meetings, administrative conversations, discussions with colleagues, and the creation, re-creation, further re-creation, testing, throwing everything out, and once more constructing-from-the-ground-up lesson plans, resources, and materials.
Consider how you, and your colleagues feel leading into evaluations. Are they WARM evaluations or has the system done everything it can to ensure that they are COLD evaluations?
One of the main reasons teachers find Teacher Performance Evaluations so stressful is because their entire career rides on one lesson. It doesn’t matter how successful they are the other 179 days of the year, or 899 days if you’re evaluated on a five year cycle. Everything rides on one seventy-five minute period.
This is how students feel every time they write a test, hand in a quiz, or submit an assignment. Their anxiety is heightened for the same reason teacher anxiety is heightened: there is a lack of opportunity for the repetitions of skills.
By providing students with multiple opportunities to demonstrate their skills they will not only feel comforted, but they will perform at a higher level, free of the stress and anxiety that prevents them from demonstrating their full abilities.
Putting it into Practice
- If students don’t perform well on a test, allow them the opportunity to take the test again. Some teachers immediately recoil at this suggestion. “But then they’ll know what’s on the test!” Sure, but the real question is why are we keeping that secret in the first place? Students don’t demonstrate their skills by regurgitating memorized information, they demonstrate their skills by putting them into practice. Not only does this method allow students to feel comfortable during their test, it also guides teachers to design their tests to best require the practical application of skills.
- Allow students to resubmit their work after they have been given their mark back. There’s a reason that you spent ages writing descriptive feedback on your students’ work. You wanted them to see how to best improve their abilities. There’s no point to that if you’re not willing to allow them to put your wonderful advice into practice.
- Forgive students who were unable to perform on one specific day. We plan our classes in a meticulous fashion. Each day is precious. Thursday was evaluation day. That’s the only day it can be. But then Riya was absent because of a field trip, Kwame was ill, and Jordan wasn’t in class – you’re not sure why, but you know that doesn’t matter. You understand that sometimes life gets in the way. That has nothing to do with a student’s ability. Just because Thursday was the in-class evaluation, you are prepared to allow them to demonstrate their skills on Friday, or next Monday, or a week next Wednesday when they are able to do so. You know that what matters is how your students demonstrate their skills, not when they demonstrate their skills.
Marks into Grades
How marks – numbers, letters, feedback presented to students on their evaluations – become grades – the final determination of their credit’s status – is at the centre of Universal Design for Learning.
Many teachers are confused, thinking that marks directly translate into grades. We, however, understand that there is so much more to a student’s grade than the marks they received over the entirety of your course.
A student’s mark demonstrates who they were at a specific moment in time. A student’s grade demonstrates who they are at the completion of a course. It is for that reason that careful attention must be paid to how your evaluations translate marks into grades.
You don’t expect your colleagues to hold the mistakes you made when you were fourteen against you today. Likewise, your students don’t expect the mistakes they made in September to be held against them when grades are determined at the end of June.
Putting it into Practice
- Grades should never be a straight average of marks students attained throughout a course. Since students are offered the repetition of skill demonstrations, different students will have different numbers of evaluations. That alone should make straight averages seem impossible, if not impractical. Student grades should be based on the most consistent demonstration of their evaluated skills, with priority given to their most recent marks.
- Once you’ve decided that grades are not a simple average of marks, it becomes understandable that not every assessment requires recorded marks. Some evaluations will better strengthen student ability through the use of specific descriptive feedback, rather than a numerical mark. Consider how many students flip to the last page, see their number, and cast their work aside. Free from that paradigm, they’ll be better directed to learn from your hard-written feedback.
- Presenting WARM evaluations will free you from the question of “why will students complete their tasks if they don’t matter?” Since students designed the tasks, created the rubrics, and were allowed to demonstrate skills using their special interest topics, knowing that one poor attempt won’t follow them for the rest of the year, students will eagerly complete their work, and look forward to reading your strong descriptive feedback.
The Importance of Universal Design for Learning
Universal Design for Learning is the framework that ensures success for all students by designing lessons in a way that meets student needs before their needs are even identified. It’s the way to ensure all students feel safe, protected, comfortable, and ready to face the day.
By using WARM evaluations you will ensure that learners of all types will find a way to engage with the materials, while also reinforcing key concepts in a number of different memorable ways.
We know that WARM evaluations increase both student engagement and success, but each of us embraces it in our own way. Join the community, and share your successful implementation stories in the comments below.
Michael Barltrop has been teaching since 2006, integrating comics, video games, and TTRPGs into his classroom. He has been the head of English, Literacy, Special Education, and Assessment & Evaluation and Universal Design. Feel free to reach out through Twitter @MrBarltrop!
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