I wrote quite a bit about metacognition last month. After thinking about it, if students were truly able to "think about their thinking" daily and without my intervention, I might find myself without a job! Part of any educator's job description should be to guide students in their thinking about the day's concepts and ideas. Fisher and Frey in the book Checking for Understanding discuss a common talking point in any teachers' lounge:

"...students aren't always self-regulated learners. They may not be aware of what they do or do not understand." (2007, p. 1)
It's too easy to complain and rant about students who just don't "get it" but think they do. I often refer to this type of student as possessing a "high confidence, low competence" personality. This is where formative assessment comes in to play. In my experience, this is a tough pill to swallow:
"...checking for understanding provides students with a model of good study skills. When their teachers regularly check for understanding, students become increasingly aware of how to monitor their own understanding" (Fisher and Frey, 2007, p. 3)
Checking for understanding doesn't just involve assigning more problems or worksheets. On p. 16, Fisher and Frey (2007) quote Schmoker (2006) in what I consider to be the "wRong Rx" of education:
"...an enormous proportion of daily assessments are simply never assessed - formally or informally. For the majority of lessons, no evidence exists by which a teacher could gauge or report on how well students are learning essential standards."
Too often, we aggregate homework, quizzes and tests in to some sort of group that exists to accomplish the same purpose. When this happens, what evidence can we point to that our teaching is producing positive results? I believe we (educators) must practice some metacognition as well and ask ourselves, "What is the purpose of this assignment/assessment?" Once again, Fisher and Frey outline this nicely:
"Even more importantly, we need to help our students understand the purposes of testing...while we cannot change the testing climiate overnight, we can create classrooms where testing is understood and appreciated by teachers and students for what it can accomplish...We must understand what different tests do and share that information with our students...We must develop a classroom climate that empowers students in their quest to check their own understanding" (2007, p. 99)
I wonder what my students would say is the "purpose" of homework, quizzes and tests? Before I ask them, here is what I hope they would say...
  • Homework: practice and a time to ask any and all question
  • Quizzes: an opportunity to find out how well we're doing with detailed feedback from the teacher
  • Tests: the "big show" where knowledge is demonstrated and recorded
If students think otherwise, I have a great deal of "culture changing" to do before the end of the year!

What are you doing in your classroom to change the climate that empowers students to take responsibility for their own learning? What would your students say is the "assessment prescription" in your class?