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Pedagogy for Librarians Day Five: Assessments and Evaluation

By the final day of the course, we were all pretty wiped out! I think the Big Teaches on Day Four took quite a lot out of us. At the same time though, I felt incredibly energised: I couldn’t wait to get back to work and put some of what I’d learned into practice (This was slightly tempered by the knowledge that I don’t really do any teaching over the summer, so it’ll be a few months before I actually get to use any of my new ideas… I just need to keep up the enthusiasm until then!)

Friday was a shorter day, so we didn’t cover quite as much as in the previous days. We spent most of it going over assessments and evaluations. We started with an activity to explain initial, ipsative, formative and summative assessments. We were split into four groups and each had to take one of the four and explain the How, What, Why, When, Where and Who of each assessment type. Below is what we came up with…

Initial Assessments

Ipsative Assessments


Formative Assessments


We went on to discuss Assessment for Learning, a technique used to incorporate formative assessment throughout a learning session, aimed at improving learning by having frequent checks and adjusting the teaching accordingly. We watched a video by Dylan Wiliam, one of the theorists behind the technique, discussing it – it was originally introduced as a technique to use with children in school classrooms, so a lot of the literature focuses on its use in this setting, however it is applicable to learners of any age in any setting. I can’t embed this one unfortunately but I urge you to click the link and give it a watch – it’s only a few minutes, and well worth your time.

A couple of points really struck me from this video:

  • The startling claim that students can learn at double the rate with this technique!
  • The point that teachers learn most of what they know about teaching before they turn 18, as most of us teach in the way we were taught at school. It’s incredibly hard to change this habit – Wiliam notes that most teachers, when told about the benefits of assessment for learning, are already aware of them, they just aren’t implementing them. He posits that this is because traditional teaching is “good enough”, so as nothing is going disastrously wrong, there’s not as great motivation to change some very deeply ingrained habits.
  • Teachers typically wait less than one second to allow a student to answer a question, whereas 3-5 seconds is far more effective at promoting dialogue. I’m definitely guilty of doing this – leaving silent space for an answer is slightly terrifying, it always feels like you’ve gone quiet for much longer than you actually have!

We then went on to use the jigsaw technique (as discussed on Day Two) to investigate and explain to each other various elements of assessment for learning, including effective questioning techniques, peer and self-assessment, and effective feedback.

What struck me most is that many of these techniques seem really common sense – of course it’s better to ask someone a question that actually requires them to demonstrate their learning, rather than a yes/no, “do you understand” question! However I must admit, that hasn’t been the way I teach, probably because (as Wiliam noted) it isn’t the way I was taught.

Finally, we talked a little about evaluation, i.e. seeking feedback on learning experience, whether via external feedback, formal or informal, or self-evaluation (reflection). The key points to remember here:

  • You must act on evaluation! There’s no point collecting feedback forms and then sticking them in a drawer and doing nothing more with them.
  • Evaluation criteria should be integral and tailored to purpose, rather than one size fits all.

And with a little more form-filling and a final thinking round, we were done! I felt quite emotional when it was all over, and I know I wasn’t the only one! It was such a fantastic week. Jill, our tutor, was wonderful – knowledgeable, encouraging and supportive. And I learned so much from everyone else on the course as well – as I said in my first post, librarians are just such a wonderful bunch!

So, onwards and upwards. My next steps involve completing the assessments for the course (a couple of short essays and reflexive journals), reading some of the interesting materials we were pointed towards during the week, and of course, planning some of my teaching for the Autumn term to incorporate some of the great ideas I’ve picked up!


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