Self Assessment in the Methods Class

Article excerpt

Abstract

This paper discusses a self assessment activity in a methods course for preservice English teachers. Students are asked to strategize responses to writing assignments of their own design and critically assess the quality of their assignments. Ultimately, students fail to move beyond practical considerations in their assessments. Examination of methods students' struggle with critical self assessment is necessary to effectively train teachers for reflective practice.

Introduction

The methods course, in the broadest sense, faces this staggering challenge: How can one class best engage content area knowledge with theories and strategies of teaching? When we talk about methods, we must acknowledge this balancing act of theory and practice. While I doubt there is any one perfect formula, students must acquire applicable skills in a framework that continuously incorporates the changing values, needs, and circumstances of their future classrooms. These challenges are cross-disciplinary in scope and particularly pressing for those of us with commitments to both content area training and pedagogical theory.

Self assessment is a crucial site of intersection between theory and practice in methods courses, particularly because it asks students to think about classroom practice from a reflective, critical stance. The ability to assess their work with an eye towards relevant concerns of democratic education, curriculum standards, student experience, and the importance of critical thinking is a skill that teachers need for successful practice. Self assessment is not only about making technical revisions to one's work. It is also about thinking through the experiences of struggling learners, and trying to understand what a given pedagogical approach will mean for their skill level, their creative and diverse perspectives, and their current developmental needs (Jokinen and Saranen 1). I will discuss my effort to engage students in critical assessment of writing assignments they designed for my methods class in teaching secondary English. I will investigate the difficulty of this effort in hopes of suggesting revised strategies for effectively teaching self assessment in the methods course and exploring the dimensions of our responsibilities as teacher educators. My experiences, though grounded in the English classroom, suggest that we must train future teachers to recognize the theoretical complexity of the "texts" they produce, such as writing assignments, lesson plans, grades, and written commentary. This valuing of teacher work through critical self assessment has resonance for methods classes in all disciplines; it is about understanding teachers' instructional tools as equally important to disciplinary content. In my methods class, students analyzed William Faulkner's "Barn Burning" with great depth, but assessed the writing assignments they designed on the story with superficial and overly practical observations.

Scholarly efforts to bridge the conceptual gap between the theoretical and practical objectives of the English methods class have opened up valuable dialogue. In their 1995 study, How English Teachers Get Taught: Methods of Teaching the Methods Class, Peter Smagorinsky and Melissa Whiting examine seventy-nine sample English methods syllabi. The authors contend that many faculty learn to teach the class by "informal lore" and that more clearly articulated approaches to the course are necessary. They write, "With little formal knowledge of how preservice teachers are educated, all we have left to fall back on is our own experience in teaching the course and our shared conversations with peers about how we go about our business" (Smagorinsky and Whiting 2). The project then surveys varied approaches to the course, including activities, assessments, and the theoretical concerns of the syllabi studied. Lack of communication between scholars in composition and English education may be to blame for at least pan of the instructional lore of methods. …