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Very good question! You can definitely do a PhD in a topic like that, so be prepared for lots of study! To measure the learning of a particular student you need to be able to have some idea of their starting point before you start teaching them through something like a diagnostic tool or level testing. Then you need to have some kind of summative assessment that measures where they have reached by the end of their teaching programme, compared to their starting point. Obviously good teaching will also involve regular continuous assessment methods throughout the period of teaching and some teachers would argue (myself amongst them) that actually every class should have some kind of assessment, formal or informal, that reveals how much a student has retained from the material presented in that class.
This is a very broad question, but an important one. After all, if one isn't able to measure learning, or chooses not to, then is learning really taking place? There would no way to know. I like to think of measurement as differentiated, that is assessment varies according to the goals, lessons, and audience. I think sometimes as teachers we get too caught up with assessment and believe it must take the form of something complex and lengthy. But although this format has its place, short and sweet can sometimes be quite revealing. Sometimes a multiple-choice question, just one, will suffice. This could be the pivotal question needed before continuing with a lesson. A sentence written to share a question or reflection of a lesson or activity can speak volumes to a teacher. A drawing, a paragraph, an open discussion, the raising of a right hand or thumbs up, these are all measurements that are simple, can be done on the spot, and provide immediate feedback to an instructor.
This is a topic I've been focusing on more and more in the last years of my teaching experience. Usually, it's done by a measurable assessment...a test of some kind. My school uses the THINKLINK tests which we use three to four times per year as a preparation for the KATS test (our statewide assessment of all sophomores). My wekaness is assessing data, and identifying weaknesses in my students, so I've been using this as my professional development goal. My professional learning community as our school has been helping those of us who chose this PD goal in learning how to read data, figure out what it says, identify students' areas of weakness, and helping to strengthen those areas of weakness before the state assessment. Last year, using this data (which you can get from any scantron test--a print out of which students missed which questions and the number of times a question was missed, etc.--it's not necessary just from THINKLINK scores or other state assessments) to target student weaknesses, I did notice a 40% increase in student scores by the end of the year. That's a good feeling!
It is very topic-dependent and specific, and varies a lot from kid to kid as well. I try to measure learning with as much writing and creating by students as I can. Not interested in what they can copy and paste or plagiarize, so I want to see what they can remember and put together, usually in essay format, in a class period or two. I like to tell them ahead of time the essay questions I'm interested in their learning, so as to be very clear what the objectives are.
I measure learning by the little things that happen over time. Sometimes it's not something you can see right then and there, but if you look back over the school year you can see where your students were when school began and where they are now! Sometimes it's just one small accomplishment of an individual student mastering their times tables finally. Sometimes it's a beautifully written report by someone who wasn't able to write a single sentence to start with!
Learning doesn't have to be bells and whistles; it doesn't have to be lights, camera, action--it's subtle, quiet, calm. Learning goes on every single second of every single minute our whole life. We never quit learning and it doesn't just happen in school. It's everywhere and everything.
In essence, I measure learning by how far a person has come in the journey from where they've been.
As a sophomore teacher, my students have to take a state writing test. When school begins, I give my students sample writing prompts to diagnose their strengths and weaknesses. After analyzing this data, it helps me know where to begin teaching. As I teach, I offer assessments to measure my students' progress. This has to be done on an individual basis. No two students learn equally. Considering what level a student is on at the beginning of the school year has to be taken into account. While teaching the writing process, I have a benchmark writing assessment that helps me know how much a student has learned. Considering where a student has begun to where I want the student to be is a daily concern for me. For example, the student who could only write a few sentences on the first days of school is on a different level compared to the student who wrote five paragraphs fluently and must be measured differently. Leaning is relative, meaning it is based on what is being taught. Did the students learn to follow rule number one in my class which states, "Have respect!"? I place so much emphasis on being respectful one to another until you would sometimes wonder if my class is a writing class or a class on behavior. Measuring learning can be a rewarding process if one knows what is the most important subject being taught.
You have to measure each students learning individually based upon their performance. I do not like the use of State mandated tests or even entirely on standardized tests. I feel that with the use of Response to Intervention schools will finally get a better measure of a students actual learning than in the past.
As everyone here has pointed out, assessments of learning are essentially individualized. Everyone learns differently, at different rates. We are all held to standards in our profession, and we are all required to assess our students according to certain exams and tests. Yet in the classroom, we all seek alternative modes of assessment. I like to offer as many as possible, from oral questioning to critical essays to class discussions to multi-part projects. While all my students must meet certain standards in their writing, perhaps an original skit can show me what they've learned more directly than a formal essay.
And as others have said, it doesn't have to be anything formal that you record in your gradebook. My favorite moments come when a student tells me they've recognized a particular syntax construction outside the classroom, or that they've watched a show where one of the characters referenced a text we studied. I like those moments, especially because I know the students are carrying their knowledge beyond the classroom, into their everyday lives.
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