This page originally authored by Greg Lewis (2007).
This page has been revised by Mark Reed (2008).
This page has been revised by Jhodi Leong (2012).
- 1 WHY EVALUATE? The Evolution of Evaluation
- 2 Evaluation in Constructivism
- 3 Principles of the Constructivist Approach
- 4 Implementing Constructivist Approaches
- 5 Historical Perspective on Constructivist Learning and the Implications on Evaluation Practices
- 6 Relevance of Constructivist Evaluation in Education Today
- 7 Techniques to Evaluate Learning using Tools Based on the Constructivist Paradigm for Building Knowledge
- 8 Contention Surrounding Constructivist Evaluation
WHY EVALUATE? The Evolution of Evaluation
Evaluation is an integral part of the learning process. Evaluation drives the learning goals of a teacher and students, provides students with feedback about their learning, and guides teachers and students to create appropriate learning tasks . Evaluation can take the form of many methods such as assessment for, as, and of learning (also known as formative assessment, self-assessment, and 9http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Summative_assessment summative assessment]). Quite often in current educational systems, summative assessment is a focal point- marks driven assessment practices and standardized tests. However, there has recently been a shift from summative assessment methods to self- and formative assessment methods. Driving this change is the belief that students need to be active participants in their learning, which requires them to assess their own learning processes. This alternative assessment is based on frustration with traditional evaluation methods and a desire to create deep understanding and evaluate the ability to apply learning to real-life contexts (Reeves & Okey, 1996).
Evaluation in Constructivism
From a constructivist point of view, the process of learning is emphasized over the end product. Constructivism favours evaluation for and as learning (formative and self-assessment), as opposed to evaluation of learning (summative assessment). While behaviourism and cognitivism focus on measuring specific outcomes objectively, constructivists tend to subjectively assess student work.The journey in attaining knowledge is as important as the actual knowledge itself.
Constructivism’s shift towards authentic assessment, performance assessment, and portfolio assessment has stemmed from dissatisfaction with summative assessment approaches that are used to standardize students and do not take into account individual differences and the application of learning (Reeves & Okey, 1996). Evaluation in constructivism focuses on the process that the individual learner takes in the process of knowledge creation. Each learner is perceived to be different with individual strengths, weaknesses, and previous knowledge and experiences. Evaluation focuses on how a learner is able to learn new material through linking it with previous knowledge to create lasting ties in the learner’s mind. Through this linkage, students are evaluated on their ability to apply learning to real-life contexts.
According to Andrew Scholtz (2007), if ‘assessment is to be meaningful it should in some way reflect the practice of the profession, vocation or practice being assessed, while at the same time giving learners the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge and skills.’ Lorrie Shepard (2000) describes this approach to assessment as performance based, in which 'Teachers’ close assessment of students’ understandings, feedback from peers, and student self-assessment are a part of the social processes that mediate the development of intellectual abilities, construction of knowledge, and formation of students’ identities.'
Within a constructivist classroom, evaluation takes the form of endless methods designed to focus on the processes that a learner has used to gain knowledge. Through self-assessment and reflection, the learner strengthens his/her linkages within the mind. The teacher uses many formative assessment methods to monitor the learner’s process and determine how the learner is learning. Regina Public Schools and Saskatchewan Learning (2004) provides us with a list of some evaluation methods often seen in the constructivist classroom:
Sample Evaluation Methods in Constructivism Classrooms
|Anecdotal Records||Formative Assessment|| A teacher’s ongoing observational assessment of a students learning progress. Often includes information about how a student processes information, collaborates with others, learning styles, attitudes, and behaviours.
|Exit Cards||Self-Assessment|| A brief activity completed by students before, during, or after an activity that helps students clarify what they have learned. Often consists of short questions based on the desired learning goals of the activity.
|Exit Cards||Formative Assessment|| Feedback from students allows teachers to assess which goals a student has reached, as well as which goals still need to be worked on. Exit cards can help a teacher determine future learning goals and activities.
|Graphic Organizers||Self-Assessment|| Also known as mind maps, this form of organization allows student to create links between different parts of their knowledge. Students create and demonstrate links between previously learned knowledge and new knowledge.
|Graphic Organizers||Formative Assessment|| Teachers use these as a resource for determining a student’s previous knowledge and visualizing the thinking process of an individual student. Through this assessment, teachers are able to help guide students to achieve their learning goals.
|Journals||Self-Assessment|| Often helpful for students to organize their thoughts and explain their understanding. Either open-ended or guided with a question from the teacher, students can organize their thoughts and clarify their thinking. Journals help students to improve communication, and allow teachers to get to know their students better (Messerer, 2011).
|Journal||Formative Assessment|| Allows teachers to see a student’s thinking process. As students clarify their thoughts, the teacher is able to see where a student may be excelling or struggling.
|Peer Assessment||Formative Assessment|| Peer assessment allows students to share ideas and see alternative ways of thinking. Students are exposed to the thinking of their peers of similar skill levels. Often this can help a student receive alternative feedback as a student’s observations may differ from those of the teacher. Peer evaluation lets the learner step outside his/her normal role and take on the role as pseudo teacher.
|Portfolios||Self-Assessment|| A collection of artifacts created by a student or group of students developed over time - a period of months or more. Characteristics include:
There is choice involved on the part of the pupils in analyzing what their vision is regarding what they perceive to be their strongest efforts. This is both meaningful and motivational as they are involved in the selection and not just the teacher. Further benefits include the idea that there are many paths to success. While the instructor or mentor provides an overall set of criteria, it is up to the learner to decide how these criteria will be met.
|Portfolios||Formative Assessment|| Portfolios allows teachers to follow a student’s learning path. Since a portfolio combines material over a large span of time, a teacher can analyze what learning has occurred. Also, allowing other classmates to make comments and offer suggestions can lead to a larger collective body of knowledge.
|Project-Based Learning||Self-Assessment|| Students are provided with meaningful, engaging learning investigation through real-world questions and examples to increase motivation. Students must learn how to apply knowledge to life. Often, this requires linking the new knowledge to previously learned knowledge in a meaningful way that is designed to create retention. This allows students the opportunity to assess their previous knowledge as well as new knowledge.
|Project-Based Learning||Formative Assessment||Constructivism emphasizes the ability to apply learning. Applying learning requires a student to understand the content to a deeper extent and create links to previously learned knowledge. Teachers can assess a students understanding and thinking processes by analyzing the processes that a student takes to solve a problem that the student may one day actually encounter in real life. In a constructivist classroom, the ability to apply learning is a strong educational goal.|
Principles of the Constructivist Approach
Constructivists approach learning using two main principles:
- First, in order for a student to learn or receive knowledge he/she must be actively involved in constructing that knowledge; it is not passively received from the environment. Perceptions, experiences, and reflections are all important in forming an overall view of something.
- Second, "knowing something" is arrived at through a process of
adaptation - the learner's continued experiences are constantly adding information that may alter the end product. Relationships and interactions all help to formulate or synthesize knowledge. This knowledge is not a static phenomenon but rather is one that evolves and changes depending on how the involved party interprets various events.
Evaluation then, should reflect these principles. Constructivist evaluation takes into account the differences that exist between students. There is no one true reality; rather, there are many views of the world through the eyes of the learners. These views are arrived at through personal experience and social interactions.Similarly then, the way that a teacher makes sense of the world or constructs knowledge is very different to that of a pupil. Further, the language that an instuctor uses and the events experienced to gain this language would be markedly different to that of a student.
Implementing Constructivist Approaches
The teacher’s role in constructivist evaluation is to evaluate the learner’s thinking processes to evaluate a learner’s current understanding. This evaluation is used not as a tool to compare students or provide criticism, but as a tool to understand how an individual learner thinks and the path taken during knowledge creation. Brooks and Brooks (1993) provide us with a list of principles that a teacher should use in a constructivist classroom in order to maximize these outcomes:
- 1. Constructivist teachers encourage and accept student autonomy and initiative.
- 2. Constructivist teachers use raw data and primary sources along with manipulative, interactive, and physical materials.
- 3. Constructivist teachers use cognitive terminology such as "classify," "analyze," "predict," and "create" when framing tasks.
- 4. Constructivist teachers allow student responses to drive lessons, shift instructional strategies, and alter content.
- 5. Constructivist teachers inquire about students' understandings of concepts before sharing their own understandings of those concepts.
- 6. Constructivist teachers encourage students to engage in dialogue both with the teacher and with one another.
- 7. Constructivist teachers encourage student inquiry by asking thoughtful, open-ended questions and encouraging students to ask questions of each other.
- 8. Constructivist teachers seek elaboration of students' initial responses.
- 9. Constructivist teachers engage students in experiences that might engender contradictions to their initial hypotheses and then encourage discussion.
- 10. Constructivist teachers allow a waiting time after posing questions.
- 11. Constructivist teachers provide time for students to construct relationships and create metaphors.
- 12. Constructivist teachers nurture students' natural curiosity through frequent use of the learning cycle model.
Historical Perspective on Constructivist Learning and the Implications on Evaluation Practices
Lev Vygotsky is well known for his work surrounding language and how a child comes to construct knowledge through interactions with the community leading to internalization or "knowing how". It is foolhardy to assume that both instructor and pupil share a common set of experiences that result in the same body of information. Moreover, reality is created or synthesized in the mind of each student who interprets the external world based on personal beliefs and occurrences.
Constructivist Seymour Papert created Logo, one of the original programming languages, which is based on learners creating knowledge in their own minds using their interactions with other people and the world surrounding them.Papert and others support the idea that computers and programs can act as cognitive tools or a tool for learning. Jonassen supports this by saying, "Cognitive tools provide an environment that often requires learners to think harder about the subject matter domain being studied while generating thoughts that would be impossible without the tool." The main thrust of this thinking is that computers do not create learning on their own. Rather, they can provide affordances or potential opportunities for learners to perform actions.
"We should be measuring what kids can do with knowledge, not how many right answers they can give to questions."Seymour Papert
These potential actions are tied to the physical capabilities of students and their beliefs and past experiences. Psychologist Donald Norman did much work surrounding affordances and what they entail. His definition deals with the actual physical properties of an item as well as the perceived properties. Key to his view on affordances is the idea that objects provide clues as to how they should be used. Examples include: chairs are for sitting, balls are for throwing or bouncing, a slot indicates that something is to be put into it. Design approach to learning or project based learning can prove to be very useful in creating affordances that are motivational. "Constructionism suggests that engagement, and thus learning, is particularly efficacious when learners can design personally meaningful artifacts to share with an audience. Computers and their related software provide digital methods for students to engage in collaborative and reflective practices that lend themselves to a project based environment. With the computer acting as a cognitive tool it is able to give physical representations of concepts that might otherwise prove to be quite abstract for learners; this in turn leads to students exercising and developing metacognitive awareness and self-regulatory ability. Electronic portfolios or e-portfolios are but one example of this type of medium.
Relevance of Constructivist Evaluation in Education Today
The trend to make schools and districts educationally accountable has led to the widespread use of standardized tests. Originally used to pre-test students for class placement, standardized tests are frequently used to demonstrate the success or failure of the student, teacher and school. Criticisms of this type of assessment frequently mention socio-economic factors in relation to test scores as well as cultural factors such as language. Standardized tests are completely opposite to the idea of diversity or allowing for individual differences in schoolchildren.
Constructivists believe that assessment should be employed as a tool to provide understanding for both the student and teacher and to further the student's learning in general.
Often seen in classrooms today is an attempt to use authentic learning experiences. Authentic learning experiences are designed to provide learners with applications of learning that they would expect to see in real life. Rather than learning a concept just for the sake of learning it for an exam, constructivism argues that the ability to apply knowledge in contexts it what is important. By providing students with authentic learning tasks, students learn the concepts through real-life experiences. Constructivism contends that this approach creates lasting ties for each learner where the learner builds knowledge through linking it in a meaningful way to their individual previous knowledge. Herrington & Oliver (2000) provide nine characteristics of authentic learning environments, namely that authentic leaning environments should:
- 1. Provide authentic contexts that reflect the way knowledge will be used in real life.
- 2. Provide authentic activities.
- 3. Provide access to expert performances and the modeling of processes.
- 4. Provide multiple roles and perspectives.
- 5. Support collaborative construction of knowledge.
- 6. Provide reflection to enable abstraction to be formed.
- 7. Provide articulation to enable tacit knowledge to be made explicit.
- 8. Provide coaching and scaffolding by the teacher at critical times.
- 9. Provide for authentic assessment of learning within the tasks.
Authentic learning experiences provide students with an opportunity to explore their learning and develop a sense of their own understanding. Often, students are exposed to alternative points of view through collaboration that can help them clarify their own thoughts. Since each individual learner is unique and will think about and interpret these experiences differently, authentic learning experiences allow students to formulate their own methods of implementation. Most currently, constructivist approaches to learning and assessment are being integrated with endless forms of technology. Technology is providing opportunities for students to explore authentic learning tasks that would not usually be available to them. Additionally, the mobility of emerging technology such as laptops, cell phones, and tablets, are providing students with anytime, anywhere learning opportunities (Machado, 2012). Technology is being used to provide students with opportunities such as game-based learning, which provides students with real-life contexts in an online format (Routledge, 2009). Technology skills themselves are seen as a necessity for advancement in current and future society. By combining constructivist approaches to learning and technology, students are acquiring more than one useful skill. Assessment therefore not only assesses the curricular knowledge that created the learning goal, but the learner’s ability to apply this knowledge through the use of technology as well.
Techniques to Evaluate Learning using Tools Based on the Constructivist Paradigm for Building Knowledge
Evaluation of a constructivist learning experience can be used to determine if a student is able to complete an authentic task, using tools and understandings within a particular content domain to solve a particular problem, by determining if the task is completed or not. As well, evaluation of a constructivist learning experience could be accomplished by reflection and documentation on how a student or group of students came to a particular conclusion. The following list provides some parameters for evaluation in constructivist environments:
- Incorporate assessment as part of the teaching experience throughout the learning process as opposed to an exercise at the end of the task.
- Critique and discuss products such as portfolios, projects, compositions, and performances which are grounded in authentic assessment.
- Use work products to complement summative assessment. This can be particularly effective when the critiquing process utilizes different perspectives.
- Evaluate processes for learning by using strategies such as debriefings, abstracted replays, dramatizations, interviews, group discussions, knowledge telling, co-investigation, and post mortems of problem-solving activities.
- Use informal assessment based on teacher observations such as eye contact, body language, facial expression and work performance to compliment formal assessment.
An E-portfolio is a collection of artifacts created by a student or group of students that is usually stored online in an electronic repository. The work that goes into an e-portfolio involves a fairly in-depth process that is developed over time - a period of months or more. Characteristics include:
i) Steps such as thinking, planning, reflecting and organizing.
ii) The learner choosing pieces of work from an overall, bigger collection of work.
iii) The process of being reflective, developmental, and self-directive over a sustained time period.
iv) The culminating goal of presenting work to be reviewed and assessed by another party. 
Like any traditional portfolio, the student is able to showcase his/her "best work". In other words, there is choice involved on the part of the pupils in analyzing what their vision is regarding what they perceive to be their strongest efforts. This is both meaningful and motivational as they are involved in the selection and not just the teacher. Further benefits include the idea that there are many paths to success. While the instructor or mentor provides an overall set of criteria, it is up to the learner to decide how this criteria will be met. The use of rubrics helps to guide students but should not be so specific as to force conformity and not allow for diversity. As mentioned previously, standardized tests show what students cannot do; e-portfolios show what they can. This in itself is inherently motivational. Allowing other classmates to make comments and offer suggestions can lead to a larger collective body of knowledge. Peer evaluation lets the learner step outside his/her normal role and take on the role as pseudo teacher. Lastly, the use of e-portfolios is effective in permitting users to utilize multimedia and developing generic computer skills that may further illustrate what paper and pen struggle to show.
A shift from product-based assessment to process-based assessment has largely been a result of a shift from traditional evaluation practices to constructivist practices (Hayatdavoudi & Ansari, 2011). The end product of a learning experience is no longer the most important aspect of evaluation; rather, modern day constructivist teachers focus on the processes that a student takes to achieve the end goal.
Contention Surrounding Constructivist Evaluation
There is much controversy surrounding constructivist evaluation techniques. Most educators, parents, and administrators will not deny the benefits of using formative and self-reflective assessment, but some have a problem with the idea of significantly reducing the role of summative assessment. One common frustration with constructivist evaluation is the discrepancy between ideas and actual practice. The idea of constructivist evaluation, although being advocated favourably for over a decade, is still relatively new in its implementation. Educators, parents, and administrators still have difficulties creating truly authentic constructivist learning tasks and an even more difficult time implementing all of the intricacies of evaluation (Windschitl, 1999). Constructivist evaluation requires educators to spend a great deal of time getting to know each student individually in order to determine a learner’s thinking processes, strengths, weaknesses, prior knowledge, etc. In doing so, a conflict arises with this observational, sometimes subjective form of assessment when parents or administrators do not agree with the assessment (Scholtz, 2007). There is a certain sense of security that educators, parents, and administrators have come to rely on through summative assessment approaches. The validity and reliability thought to be associated with standardized testing have come to be a safety net for the education system.
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Seymour Papert Speech entitled, "Diversity in Learning: A Vision for the New Millenium"
Design as an Affordance for Collaborative Learning Paper describing the use of a program called DigiQuilt which combines Math (fractions) and Art in a cooperative manner.