Assessment in the Learner-Centered Classroom

Instructor: Sharon Linde

Sharon has a Masters of Science in Mathematics

Assessment can be a tricky piece of teaching. What does it look like in a learner-centered classroom? This lesson shows the processes and purposes of assessments in learner-centered classrooms and gives examples of each.

What Is a Learner-Centered Classroom?

When Betsy started teaching 20 years ago, things were a lot simpler. She was given the curriculum, taught the students, gave an assessment, and then repeated the process. Now, her district has adopted a new kind of curriculum, called learner-centered. Hasn't her teaching always been centered on learning?

That traditional teaching method focused much less on being learner-centered than it did on a serve-and-return, or curriculum-based method of instruction. So, what is a learner-centered classroom? The main difference between the traditional curriculum-based method of teaching and learner-centered instruction is that in learner-centered instruction, both teacher and student focus on and are responsible for individualized learning, and the focus of instruction is on the student. Here's how a learner-centered classroom might look:

  • Teachers use information about each student, such as his or her home life, likes, and dislikes, to plan meaningful lessons and set goals and objectives.
  • Teachers focus on short-term goals rather than over-arching and end-of-unit assessments to monitor student progress.
  • Teachers use student grouping and authentic learning experiences to make learning interactive and engaging.
  • The learning environment is calm, open, and welcoming, encouraging the student to take chances and participate actively in learning.
  • Teachers write lesson plans, but they are flexible and easily adjusted to accommodate students' needs.

In addition to these new ways of teaching, in learner-centered classrooms, teachers use a specific type of assessment different than Betsy is used to. Let's take a look:

Assessment in a Learning-Centered Classroom

Betsy is used to giving assessments to see whether or not a student mastered a skill. If she taught a unit on fractions, she gave a few quizzes to make sure students were keeping up with their work, and then gave one big test at the end to see what was learned. At the end of the semester, she gave a comprehensive test on all material covered. That way she knew who got it and who didn't and could give each student the correct grade on his or her report card. Keeping up with learning was the student's responsibility; her job was to teach.

The shift to a learner-centered classroom is very different. For starters, Betsy is no longer just the deliverer of information; she is now responsible for making sure students are learning along the way. One method she'll use to help guide this process is assessments, or an evaluation given to determine a specific criteria.

Assessments in Betsy's old way of teaching had one purpose - to determine whether or not a student was able to remember or understand something she taught. In other words, they were summative, used at the end of learning to sum up understanding for the purpose of a giving a grade. Assessments in a learner-centered classroom shift the focus from being a measure of grading to helping teachers understand learners and create lessons based on their specific needs.

Formative Assessments in a Learning-Centered Classroom

Betsy is stepping into a whole new way of looking at assessments. Instead of using only summative assessments at the end of teaching to give grades, she will now be using formative assessments, given during learning to help guide her instruction and focus her plans.

Let's go back to the fractions example. In her new learner-centered classroom, Betsy will set goals and objectives based on her learners' specific needs. Her stronger students will have higher expectations than those who struggle in math. She consults with her students to set these goals, giving them a say in their learning. As she teaches, she'll continue to monitor these goals in the short term, giving frequent formative assessments to see how her students are progressing.

Rebecca is strong in math, so she had several high learning objectives for the fraction unit. Sally, however, just transferred from another school and doesn't bring as much background knowledge with her. Betsy recognizes this and, after conferencing with Sally, sets a few basic objectives for this unit. Betsy's goal for both students is for them to learn, to build on skills and knowledge they already have, and help each of them make progress.

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