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Innovative assessment tools and methods - Norway

In some Norwegian schools, particularly at the level of Year 5-7, prior assessment tools have been further developed and put back into use again. What these tools have in common is that they must have the effect of promoting learning via the pupils participating actively in the assessment, via interaction with the teacher, and that they must function in an informative manner in relation to the parents. It is a broad repertory of assessment tools that are involved here, and the challenge the teacher faces in his daily teaching situation is to choose the one that is best suited for the individual pupil. At the same time, it is not a goal to use as many tools as possible. The pupil needs time in order to gain experience in how the assessment must be carried out, and before he sees that the assessment has a positive effect on the learning. 

In this part, we will discuss some of the tools that are currently in use in Norwegian schools. By using such tools the pupils can develop robust learning strategies through their work with the subjects. One goal is for the pupils to develop the ability to take a detached view of their own work, that they individually or jointly with others can say both what they are doing as well as why they are doing it, which is difficult, and what they need help in, how they envision going forward, how the co-operation is going, etc. We are attempting both to show the methodological aspects of the tools as well as to also reflect over the didactic challenges. In this way we hope that this review can give a picture of what is occurring in some of the Norwegian classrooms. Many of the tools have been developed via inspiration from other countries; however the new ones have been adapted to Norwegian practices and Norwegian conditions. 

The information about and systematisation of these tools is based upon the research and development work that has been performed by researchers at Hedmark University College, Faculty of Education and Natural Sciences. The development work was supported financially by the Directorate for Primary and Secondary Education and is described in more detail in its own report (Haugstveit 2005).

Portfolio 

The use of a portfolio as a form of documentation and as a starting point for assessment has received broad acceptance in schools in a number of countries in recent years. The portfolio involves the pupils undertaking different forms of work, such that they can document both the competence they have developed and the learning process they have been through. The following definition of portfolio is quite comprehensive: “A portfolio consists of a systematic collection of the pupil's work that shows effort, progress and performances within one or more areas.” (Taube 2000:12). This definition indicates that the work must not just be finished products, but must also show the way forward to the finished product, such as notes from the work, sketches, drafts, conceptual maps, responses from teachers and fellow pupils, etc. The physical folder can be in paper or electronic form, and for example can consist of drawings, written texts, objects, photos, films, audio recordings and hypertexts. 

The portfolio is a manner in which to learn and organise content and working methodologies that also encompass guidance and assessment. Viewed in this manner, the portfolio is a form of learning for the pupils and a teaching strategy for the teacher. The portfolio is also important documentation in the meetings and dialogues with the parents. One of the main ideas behind the portfolio is that it should not just display the learning of the pupil, but that it must also show a pupil's own reflections over his own learning and assessment of his own work. This means that the meta-cognitive perspective is central in the portfolio conceptualisation, that is, the pupils must assess their own work and reflect upon the working process and their own development. 

The portfolio is also well-suited to adapted education. In an inclusive school it is the school that must adapt itself to the pupil in terms of manners of learning, forms of documentation and assessment tools, not the opposite. Pupils who work hard in school will often underachieve on standardised tests such as national tests and the like. Via the use of portfolios the pupils who have learning difficulties are also able to have their work and progress documented and gain the possibility to have varied forms of assessment. 

The pupils must, together with the teacher, be involved in determining the content of the portfolio, that is, what type of work should be included in it, their scope, the deadlines, etc. It can also be the case that some of the content is determined jointly and some of it by self-selection. The idea of the portfolio being open to insert work that was done during free time, for example something that was written at home, photos of pets and the like, can be a part of connecting the time at school with a pupil's free time, and thus showing a larger context in the lives of the pupils. It can also give the teacher valuable information about the pupil and give a broader impression of the pupil's interests and competence. 

In the portfolio methodology, self-assessment is an essential point. The purpose of having the pupils evaluate their own products and their own work processes is, among other things, to develop meta-cognitive skills. The portfolio will then, in addition to showing the pupil's learning, attitudes and interests, also show meta-cognitive development across a given interval of time. Meta-cognitive skills will develop the pupil as a learning person, raise awareness about learning strategies and put the pupil more in a position to make relevant selections as regards content, working methodologies, etc. in order to attain the goals that were set. Through self-reflection the pupil himself must, with the support and encouragement of the teacher, teach himself to learn. 

Planning books

The systematic planning of a pupil's work programme for a certain period, a week or fourteen days, has been extremely common in schools. Such weekly plans have usually been made by the teacher, and they have provided an overview of precisely which tasks the pupils will be working with during the next week in different subjects. At the end of the planned period many teachers have made a summary and assessment of the week's work, either as a written individual log or in a classroom dialogue. At some schools the weekly plan has functioned as a “weekly lesson”. The pupil's responsibility is to see to it that they have done the work during the course of the week, and they are no longer driven by the teacher from day to day. It can seem as if the weekly plan is an answer to the desire to develop the pupils to have more independence, and it gives an opening for a certain individual flexibility with respect to schoolwork. The planning book can be seen as a further development of this form of planning. In the planning book, we find many of the elements of the weekly plan, but some have been reinforced. 

Firstly, the pupil's participation in the assessment after a planned period is given significant space in the planning book. At the end of the period for which the planning is being done each pupil has a talk with his teacher, in which the work from the period is reviewed and the plan for the next period is made and entered into the book. This means that with a period of two weeks, the teachers must carry out a dialogue with each pupil every 14 days. 

Secondly, organising with the use of planning books provides better possibilities to individualise the work, plus the planning book can become a tool for being able to take care of the goal concerning adapted education. Each individual pupil sets up their plan for the work in consultation with the teacher, he works with the tasks at his own tempo, and he assesses his own work when the period is over. In such a framework it is easy for the teacher to help the pupil to find tasks that are appropriately demanding and comprehensive, it now becomes either a pupil who needs extra long time and much practice on elementary things or it is a strong pupil who can be given extra challenges. 

One of the characteristics of the planning book that the teachers highlight most often as something positive is the possibility it provides for regular contact with home. In the planning book, the parents can follow what the child is doing in core subjects, they can read the assessment of the pupil and the teacher and it is also expected that they themselves will also write an assessment at the end of each period. Some enter just a signature as a sign that they have looked at the planning book. But many parents use this opportunity to comment on their child's work efforts and progress as well as possible problems, and also to assess the school's presentation: The amount of work is too much or not enough, the school places too little or too much emphasis on mathematics, the pupil has become more able to work on the lessons at home etc. The assessment comments the teacher writes in the book represent to a large extent the feedback link to the home. In this way the planning book can become a place for a periodic dialogue between the school and the home.

In the planning dialogue that in fact occurs every two to three weeks, the pupil is given the teacher's undivided attention for up to 15 – 20 minutes, and the teacher receives the opportunity to speak with the pupil about both subject-related as well as social conditions, plus she can explain precisely what the pupil concerned needs to hear. She can both praise and criticise the pupil's work efforts and performances in the subjects, something that most teachers are cautious about doing in public in the classroom. The dialogue has three, more or less permanent items, on its agenda. There is the assessment of the work at hand, the planning of the next period's work and it can also be that the dialogue addresses social conditions at home and/or at the school. 

Precisely which of these elements will be dominant varies from teacher to teacher, from pupil to pupil and from dialogue to dialogue, however in by far the most cases it is the work with the subjects that receives the largest place.

  • Some teachers use the dialogue to check that planned work has been done and go into it in detail. They check that the pupil has performed the work and understands it, gives praise and makes corrections. Tests that the pupil has taken will often be brought out and commented: How did it go? What was difficult? What were you thinking when you wrote that …?
  • Others spend more time on the planning and actively involving the pupil in the choice of tasks. In both of the phases one is involved with more learning-strategic subjects: How to proceed in order to solve an assignment? How to manage time for schoolwork so that one can complete all the different assignments?
  • Purely teaching sequences can also occur. When the teachers detect what the pupils are struggling with or have misunderstood, the dialogue goes over to a teaching sequence where the teacher is able to explain, what the pupil has had subject-related problems with, or the teacher can review material that has not yet been treated in the joint group, but which the pupil can handle with a small explanation. These are dialogues where it is namely the pupil's understanding and knowledge that are the point of departure for further communication and work. 

The planning dialogue also becomes a central arena for individual guidance and assessment. Many teachers state that an important purpose of such dialogues is for the pupil to receive help in developing meta-cognitive insight. He must put words on his subject-related performances and his work efforts, and the teacher will be able to go into the pupil's “immediate development zone” and assist him further. In such dialogues we see that assessment and learning slide over each other. The assessment receives a formative function when it is used as a manner of learning. Together with an adult, the pupil receives the opportunity to think about his own learning and his manner of carrying out the work. In brief his choice of strategies. Due to the fact the we are now talking about assessment from Year 5-7, we should again point out that this should not result in a grade, but rather in a guiding, formative assessment that on the basis of the pupil's problems points further towards the pupil's next assignments. 

The learning dialogue

The dialogues in the classroom can have many functions - there is the communication of subject-related matter, and then assessment and guidance. Analyses of the dialogues in the classroom have moved from a focus on how such dialogues consolidate the power relationships in the classroom through to the question of who initiates themes and dominates the time during the dialogue to a greater awareness of the follow-up portion of the dialogues (Grøver Aukrust 2003). 

By the concept of learning dialogue we are really thinking of the on-going conversation in the class. It can occur with the entire class, with groups or in hushed individual conversations with individual pupils while they are doing their work. Such dialogues are important learning-promoting activities that at the same time contain challenges for the pupil concerning reflection about and assessment of the work he is currently doing. It can appear as if in the continual learning dialogue with the pupils, the interplay between assessment, guidance and learning is the most clear. If the goal is for assessment to promote formative learning processes, then the learning dialogue represents one of the most important tools, the one that is used most often and in which the pupil can probably participate with the greatest independence and empowerment. In relation to a socio cultural view of learning, the classroom represents a social context where learning occurs in interaction between pupils and between the teacher and the pupils (Nystrand 1997). Hence the interest in what takes place in the dialogues in the classroom becomes extra important. The challenge is to use the dialogue forms and ways of being together that constitute assessment and learning processes in the class so that they function as well as possible. 

Tests

From Year 5-7 there are normally not tests in Norwegian schools, however there has been a tendency for teachers of Year 7 to give a number of tests in order to prepare the pupils for the transition to lower secondary schools. Many teachers at the primary level say that both the pupils as well as the parents ask for such during the course of Year 7. The tests that have been used vary from small vocabulary tests and checks of the multiplication table that just take a few minutes through to tests that are carried out during a school hour in which the pupils must answer a number of questions often associated with the subject area that has recently been covered. Vocabularies and multiplication tables are an example of knowledge that may be automated, and where the tests can have a function in motivating the pupils to learn the material. In Norwegian schools it is seldom that tests are formulated as multiple-choice questions. We also see variation in the written tests from being formulated in a closed form with an emphasis on checking factual knowledge to more open questions that require the pupil to have to reflect, analyse, narrate, draw conclusions, etc. Such variation gives room for expanding the tests from having a traditional summative function to also being able to be utilised in a formative context.

Logs

Logs are preferably used as an aid in the communication between the teacher and pupil, and can involve private themes as well as subject-related questions and work. Some use the log primarily as a place for more private and confidential communication between the pupil and teacher. Other teachers place an emphasis on the log representing a place where the pupil can reflect, comment and think through different courses of learning and work assignments. If the use of a learning log is to function appropriately, the teacher must have a clear understanding of why the log is being used, and how the interaction with the pupil will take place through the log. The pupil must receive the feeling of being taken seriously by having the log being commented upon either verbally or in writing, or that the log is the basis for a dialogue with the pupil. 

It is important to emphasise that it is not just the pupil who expands his understanding and knowledge through the use of logs. We see that those teachers who succeed at this are of the opinion that the log is also a source with which to develop their own understanding of how learning occurs in the class and with the individual pupil. 

The learning log can be more or less comprehensive, but regardless of the scope, the entries in the log must be made regularly and over a period of time. The goal with subject-related log keeping is to help the pupils in formulating problems and questions and to absorb knowledge. Via making entries in logs the pupils become used to expressing themselves about what they are working with in written form, they have to stop and think about what they have actually understood. 

Knowledge map

The knowledge map has started to be used in some Norwegian schools in recent years. By making such a map the teachers are attempting to operationalise the goals in the curriculum so that the material that the pupil will be working with becomes more tangible and understandable. The knowledge maps give a picture of the knowledge areas of the subjects. They represent a systematic overview of the material that the pupil will be working with for a period of time. In this way they become a tool for the pupil in rendering the material to be learned visible and documenting the knowledge that has been grasped, plus that they are used as motivation for further learning. What such aids have in common is that they must also activate and make the pupil aware in relation to structuring and gaining an overview of the subject material by him having to mark off on the knowledge maps in different ways how the learning work is going. In this way they can also form a basis for assessment dialogues with the pupil concerning what he has been working with, what has been difficult for him, and what he thinks he has learned. 

Assessment form

Assessment forms exist in an infinite variety for all subjects and for most assigned work. Such forms contain pre-formulated questions that the pupil must answer. The questions can have as a starting point subject-related content, address aspects of the work processes, group co-operation, difficulties encountered in the process and other aspects of the work. It can seem as if  part of these pre-formulated forms can lead to the pupils, to a lesser extent, participating in developing questions and criteria together with the teacher, and the form can serve to function more as a check on the work than as thoughts about the work. 

The teacher's assessment comments

At the primary school level, the teacher's comments have always represented the most common and most important form of assessment. They can be oral or written or a combination of the two, plus they can be given both as process comments as well as final comments. The main function with both the oral and written comments is to give the pupil feedback concerning his work, a presentation he has made or a performance of one or another type. At the good schools the assessment comments are a central part of the on-going communication with the pupils. 

Oral comments

The oral assessment comments are given in extremely different situations, from the completely informal, encouraging and immediate moment-oriented, to the more prepared type, in a dialogue or after an assignment has been read and is to be assessed. They can also occur in relation to individual pupils or to groups, but regardless they take place face-to-face. 

Written comments

If such frequently used assessment forms as written teacher comments are to function productively and in a learning-promoting manner, the pupil must first and foremost have the experience that it concerns him/herself and his/her work. The teacher should express interest, respect and understanding for the work that has been done. In addition the comments must obviously also touch on those things that the pupil ought to have managed better, on lacking self-discipline and requirements that were not fulfilled. Finally, the comments must point to the future, they must motivate further work, probably with the same theme or in any event such that the pupil includes the comments and advice and criticism in his/her next assignment. 

Self-assessment

The performance of self-assessments is not in itself an assessment tool. An activity such as self-assessment represents rather an aspect of a view of learning in which pupils are given the possibility quite early of developing an awareness of their own learning and an understanding of different learning strategies through dialogue-based interaction with teachers or other pupils.

The development of the abilities of pupils to perform self-assessment is something that all groups of pupils benefit from. It is also crucial that the teacher has a realistic attitude to what type of self-assessments a pupil can perform at each year of schooling. There must be a gradual development of such skills, beginning with the first school years. All groups of pupils appear to benefit from developing strategies that promote self-assessment, and some of the most important are to give the individual the possibility to develop his meta-cognitive strategies. This can occur by employing varied assessment tools in learning situations that have a motivating effect, and where the pupils encounter challenges that are adapted to the individual. 

Criteria for assessment 

It is important that the pupil has confidence in the teacher's assessment building upon the specific criteria for the work that has been performed. It would probably strengthen the pupil's understanding and benefits from the comments and assessments if the criteria were developed together with the pupil and if regard is paid to the pupil's conception of what he can manage. This does not mean that the pupils make the decisions and in so doing set what is probably too low of a performance level for themselves. The goal of such co-operation on assessment criteria must be to give the teacher the possibility to motivate and stimulate the pupil to do work that is adapted to the pupil's preconditions and abilities in a constructive manner. The teacher can via, among other ways, the use of such dialogues, gain an understanding of precisely which tasks and objectives the pupils can master on their own and precisely what assistance they need in order to reach other goals. The dialogues give the teacher insight into what Vygotsky calls “the pupil’s proximal development zone” and thereby creates a basis for giving better instructional support.  

It is desirable that the comments to the teacher have a productive function, that they can be integrated into the course of learning in such a manner that the pupils incorporate them into their later work. This is a goal we have with all guidance and assessment. However it is easier to see this perspective when the response is connected to the work process. Then the potential for change lies closer, as early as the next round of work the pupil can already be reacting to responses, advice or guidance. He can change something in his own assigned task, rewrite a text or solve math problems in a different manner. 

It appears that pupils have a slightly different attitude to the comments, all depending upon whether they are given as a part of a process or whether they are final comments. The summative function of the final comments can seem to create a distance to the practical use value that the pupil can receive from the comments. When an assignment has been completed the pupil does not immediately become immersed in the same type of work and hence the comments can easily be taken less seriously and not have the direct function of being of benefit in similar work.

It is important to elevate the assessment activity up from representing the individual understanding and practices of the individual teacher to becoming a shared asset for the school and faculty. In such a perspective it is crucial that the management look at assessment as one of the school's prioritised areas. Things must be arranged organisationally for the assessment to take place in an appropriate manner, it must be a part of the teacher's work of developing a shared understanding of the requirements and expectations for the work of the pupils on different levels, among other things there must be an interpretive fellowship that creates security for the assessment being to some extent valid. The development of such interpretive competence would enable the scoring of national tests and the use of different non-standardised tests. Plus it would ensure that the general subject-related assessment of schools become more reliable. 

Competence in assessment is an interdisciplinary competence that places the learning and mastery of the pupil at the centre. The use of varied assessment tools can lead to the teacher becoming familiar with and surveying the pupil's learning strategies and on that basis creating a learning environment in which the work assignments are adapted to the pupil's level and capability to gain mastery. But in order to develop such competence the teachers need both practical as well as theoretical knowledge of assessment. Hence assessment as a part of the professional competence of teachers should be strengthened through school-based immediate practice competence development in co-operation with colleges and universities. 

When one looks at assessment as an overarching professional competence an inclusive assessment practice also becomes still clearer. In a traditional assessment practice, where the assessment first and foremost was conducted in order to check the absorption of knowledge at the end of a course of study, scant regard was paid to the learning preconditions of the individual pupil. The potential in a new assessment practice builds upon the conception that, by using it, one can promote learning and development in pupils with different preconditions for learning. However, this requires that one looks at assessment as a part of a collective professional competence. Knowledge concerning and attitudes towards assessment are a part of the school's competence and responsibility and not solely that of the individual teacher. We believe that the main challenge facing Norwegian schools here is when it involves developing supportive, formative assessment processes in an inclusive classroom.

 

Sources:

  • Grøver Aukrust, V (2003): “Samtaledeltakelse I norske klasserom – en studie av deltakerstrukturer og samtalebevegelser.” [Interview participation in Norwegian classrooms - a study of participant structures and interview movements] I Klette, K. (ed.): Klasserommets praksisformer etter Reform 97[Forms of practice in the classroom after Reform 97] Oslo: Pedagogical Research Institute, University of Oslo 
  • Haugstveit, T. B., Sjølie, G., Øygarden, B. (2005) Rapport fra prosjektet ”Vurdering som profesjonsfaglig kompetanse” [Assessment as a Professional Competence]. Høgskolen i Hedmark. Institutt for humanistiske fag. Avdeling for lærerutdanning og naturfag. 
  • Nystrand, M. et al. (1997): Opening Dialogue Understanding the dynamics of language and learning in the English classroom. Teachers College Press, New York
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