Assessments with Intention in Anatomy & Physiology

Published August 18, 2017

By Molly Schiel, Northeast Iowa Community College

Within the college classroom there are teachers and learners. Each carries a separate set of tasks, a set of expectations, and a set of goals. A learner intends to complete the semester with a passing grade and newly gained content. That learner will complete the readings, attempt the assignments, attend the lectures, and sit for the exams. As the teacher, what are your intentions for your students, for the assessments, for the course?

According to author Lynne McTaggart, “an intention is a purposeful plan to perform an action, which will lead to a desired outcome.” Course policies and assessment construction represent the plan needed for successful learning in your course. Think about the meanings of the following words: practice, study, try, attempt, prove, test, demonstrate, evaluate, and analyze. Each word has a different connotation and intention attached to it. When these words are used in discussion and formative and summative assessments the intention of the teacher is being communicated to the student. There are two types of assessments: formative and summative.

Formative assessments aim to monitor student learning and progress, and help students identify what they “know” and “don’t know yet.” When assigning formative assessments the intention will be for the learner to practice, and engage with new content and questions. Learners expect to review their work, ask questions, and gain feedback about their misunderstandings. Through the continued use of formative assessments students can learn the content and prepare for the summative assessments. Directions for formative assessments will include the words: practice, attempt, repeat, recharge and try. Policies for these assessments may include multiple attempts, detailed feedback provided, pair/share time, hints or revisions.

Summative assessments aim to evaluate student learning and produce grades for individual learners. When assigning summative assessments the intention will be to quantify the content the learner has mastered and answered correctly. Learners have the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge of the objectives and their use of the formative assessments. Directions for summative assessments will include the words: prove, test, demonstrate, answer, and analyze. Policies for these assessments may include one attempt, no opportunity for revision or hints, and feedback only after submission.

Whether assessments are constructed and delivered on paper or a digital platform like Connect, the intention of the given assessment is priority. Work backward from your intention. Before you build any assessment, first identify the intention and policies. Knowing the intention and goal will guide question selection, and focus the directions a student will read before begining the assessment.

Communication of the intention and the policies is vital to the success of the learner and the assessment. Only through communication will the teachers and the learners be effective and collaborative. There are numerous opportunities to communicate intentions; beginning with the syllabus. Here is a sample of syllabus language for a homework assignment (formative assessment): “Students are encouraged to work on a LearnSmart / SmartBook module every day for 15-20 minutes to practice and master 100% of the learning objectives. Even after a student has completed 100% of the probes within the module, there is the opportunity for more review and recharge of material – so keep going back to these modules to practice content throughout the unit.” Notice the use of intent words, clear expectations of time, and the goal for the assignment. In addition to syllabus language, discuss assignments, policies, and intentions during class. During class repeat the goal of an activity, and state the intention. Here is an example, “each of you is expected to construct a chart comparing characteristics of formed elements. List items you know first then use your notes, textbook, and classmates to fill in the columns. Aim to list 7-10 items in each column. After class consider adding more descriptors that you come upon during your review and practice.” Remember the goal is for collaboration between the teacher and the learner; work together to reach course objectives. Remove the “us” versus “them” mentality and make the classroom a collaborative space that encourages learning and growth in the discipline.

Throughout the semester evaluate your assessments and the learner behaviors. Survey students to identify the value and effectiveness of formative assessments; do they see the importance in practicing prior to an exam? Review their decisions to practice. Use the Performance Reports within Connect to identify missed objectives, and observe student behaviors. Are multiple attempts being taken? How/if are they remediating between attempts? Are mistakes on the homework repeated on the exam? Remind students of the course policies and the intentions for each assessment. Encourage them to follow your plan for the semester and identify best practices. Listen to student feedback, perhaps the ideal study plan isn’t practical for their schedules. Demonstrate how the formative assessment led to success on the summative assessment.

Implementing your course with intentional assessments can result in positive learning outcomes. Communicating those intentions to the learners builds a collaborative learning environment. Intentions can create an environment with shared learning goals, and where teachers and learners work cooperatively. Teaching learners to learn, to practice, and to evaluate their progress is one intention we all share.