Empowering Learners, Spring 2005
Extra-Classroom Teaching Handbook
The Extra-Classroom Teacher and Self-Assessment
This section of the Handbook discusses how extra-classroom teachers can assess the effectiveness of their own teaching. It begins by examining the role of the extra-classroom teacher and then suggests a model that will help you to better understand that role in the context of self-assessment. It then explores three different types of assessment: the portfolio, self-reflective journals and audio or videotaping. I analyze their general suitability to the situations of most extra-classroom teachers, as well as how the strengths and weaknesses of the various assessments change depending on certain factors.
My exploration of extra-classroom teaching and self-assessment did not stem from one particular instance that occurred while I was acting as an extra-classroom teacher. Instead, it is a product of a gradual realization on the importance and necessity of the extra-classroom teacher to assess herself. To be perfectly honest, it was not until I took this course on “Empowering Learners” that I began to see self-assessment as a vehicle for improving student learning. I placed so much emphasis on evaluating the learning progress of the student(s), that I temporarily forgot the connection between student learning and the effectiveness of my teaching. Now I view self-assessment as the duty of all extra-classroom teachers who take their work seriously.
Self-Assessment is a Duty
Most extra-classroom teachers, if not all, are in a very unique position when it comes to the assessment of their teaching quality. Unlike many professional educators, they are rarely in a situation where it is established- at least in theory- that periodically someone else (whether it be the supervisor, the learners or another extra-classroom teacher) will assess their efforts. Often extra-classroom teachers do not know how their learner(s) is fairing grade-wise in school, so extra-classroom teachers can not even indirectly gauge the effectiveness of their efforts the traditional way. So all this indicates to me that it is ultimately the duty of the extra-classroom teacher to assess herself. This duty is amplified by the fact that extra-classroom teachers are being increasingly relied upon to supplement the learning which occurs in the regular classroom.
Extra-Classroom Teacher as Self-Directed Learner
The model of the extra-classroom teacher as a “self-directed learner” is a helpful tool that allows the extra-classroom teacher to better conceptualize her role in the context of self-assessment (Costa and Kallick 9). According to “Assessment Strategies for Self-Directed Learning”, a self-directed learner is one who sees teaching “as an opportunity for continually improving student learning and the craft of teaching” (Costa and Kallick 10). And although the authors of that text apply the self-directed learner model only to professional teachers, it suits the extra-classroom teacher equally well and perhaps better since the responsibility of assessment mostly tends to fall on her shoulders alone.
A self-directed learner never stops learning (Costa and Kallick 9). The self-directed learner as an extra-classroom teacher views each visit with her learner or learners as a “thought experiment” where everybody is learning (Costa and Kallick 11). She is always trying to improve her work by thinking about the best way to approach a problem or situation, by implementing that approach, by reflecting on the implemented approach to identify its strengths and weaknesses, and by making the adjustments she deems necessary, only to repeat the process again. She is constantly asking herself questions and re-thinking what she knows to be true. Thus the extra-classroom teacher’s duty to assess herself is a duty to be a self-directed learner.
Method One: The Portfolio
The portfolio is essentially a collection of various artifacts that is gradually compiled over the course of numerous teaching sessions. Through examination of its contents, portfolios provide extra-classroom teachers with a unique way to assess their teaching. Professional educators who create portfolios typically fill them with student work samples, lesson plans, course outlines, etc. But for many extra-classroom teachers, the portfolio may very well be impractical. Many extra-classroom teachers are in situations where their ability to acquire materials to make a substantive portfolio is restricted. In addition, many extra-classroom teachers, like most tutors, are in situations where it is not necessary or useful to the learners to form lesson plans or course outlines. As a result, the number, variety and quality of artifacts are restricted which in turn, has the potential to weaken the substance of the portfolio.
However, my critique of the portfolio should not be construed to mean that I think the portfolio is worthless. Indeed, it is a very powerful assessment tool. And if some extra-classroom teachers are in a situation where it is not too difficult to acquire artifacts, then they should certainly create a portfolio. I just argue that since the quality of the portfolio depends to a good extent on the quality of its artifacts, then a portfolio will not be the most fruitful and effective form of self-assessment for most extra-classroom teachers.
Method Two: The Reflective Journal
Keeping a reflective journal is a type of self-assessment which works for virtually all extra-classroom teachers. They can be done regardless of the extra-classroom teacher’s experience, the age-group of the learners, the frequency of teaching sessions, the length of the teaching session, or how many students are being taught. They have no set form. Their only requirement is that the teacher reflects on her practice. Ideally, there should be a journal entry for every or every other visit, depending on the frequency of one’s visits to the learners. Moreover, reflective journals are very versatile since the subject(s) of each entry can vary widely. For example, one entry can focus on one’s interactions with a student in particular, while another examines one’s time management skills or a singly entry can look at both subjects together. The extra-classroom teacher truly has lots of freedom to decide how he wants to use this self-assessment tool. And the journals are always great to look back on to see how one’s teaching has evolved.
What makes journals very effective is that they help teachers solve problems in their practice by placing them in a position where they must articulate and consequently, concretely define their teaching difficulties. By articulating and identifying these difficulties, teachers can then start to figure out how to overcome them by deciding what things need to be altered, rearranged, abandoned, or repeated. For example, one particularly disappointing visit at my field placement in an urban high school involved the examination of a poem. Prior to my journal entry, I probably would have simply described the problem as a matter of the poem confusing the students which then caused them to miss important subtle aspects of the poem. But while writing my journal entry, I realized the real problem was my difficulty over quickly generating thought-provoking questions for the students. I wrote “for some reason, in those moments I could not figure out more probing questions to ask the students, so they could figure out the answers more on their own.” Once, via the reflective journal, I identified the heart of the problem, I was then able to formulate concrete steps I could take to improve- like getting advice from other teachers that I knew regarding how to ask more probing questions.
Method Three: Audio or Videotaping
Audio recordings and video cameras allow the extra-classroom teacher to give all of her undivided attention to the student(s), and then observe and reflect on the teaching session at a later point in time of her convenience. This type of self-assessment works for extra-classroom teachers of virtually any age group or number of students. These recordings enable her to examine the details of her teaching and thus change those details which she finds problematic for student learning. They also open up the opportunity for the teacher to invite others (another extra-classroom teacher, a supervisor, a friend who is a professional teacher) to give their input on the effectiveness of her teaching. Again, as with the reflective journal, the only real requirement here is that on reflects on his practice. While reviewing the tapes, ask questions like “Did I give the students enough time to critically think about the question I just posed to them?” or “Did I accidentally cut off a student while he was speaking?”. Remember to identify both the positive and negative aspect of one’s teaching.
The video camera may very well generate distraction and feelings of awkwardness during the extra-classroom teaching session, especially if there is only one or a handful of learners. Therefore, the less distracting audio recorder will be better at capturing what the typical teaching session is like. In addition, video cameras are expensive and (for those, like myself, who are not technologically savvy) often times difficult to set up. But if some greatly value the ability to analyze both the audio and visual aspects of the teaching session and do not believe that the camera will be too distracting, then for them the video camera is ideal.
After experimenting with the tape recorder during one of my teaching sessions, I found the real value of recording one’s teaching comes from the recorder’s ability to “catch” important aspects of one’s practice that have been repeatedly overlooked. How can an extra-classroom teacher reflect in her journal about an important element of her teaching if she has never noticed it before? For example, while listening to the tape recording of my teaching session, I was struck to discover that I used a good amount of slang in front of my students. Before this recording experiment I knew that I did not always use Standard English in front of my students but I had thought it was a rare occurrence and so not very problematic. It was not until I listened to the tape that I realized how frequently I departed from Standard English. But now, thanks to the recording, I am at least aware and can make a conscious effort to change this aspect of my teaching.
All extra-classroom teachers have a duty to assess their own teaching and they can more effectively carry out this duty if they understand themselves as self-directed learners. But because of their unique role, some types of self-assessment are more practical for extra-classroom teachers than others. Self-reflective journals are practical for virtually all extra-classroom teachers while audio or videotaping and especially portfolios have their limitations. Besides their practicality, self-reflective journals and tape/video recordings are valuable self-assessment tools because they help extra-classroom teachers identify problematic aspects of their practice, so they can then figure out how to improve. However, even though these two self-assessment tools are effective, they are still insufficient. More work must be done in developing self-assessments that are appropriate for extra-classroom teachers, especially when one considers the increasingly important role they play in education.
Costa, Arthur L., and Bena Kallick. Assessment Strategies for Self-Directed Learning.
Thousand Oaks: Corwin Press.