Assessment activities should also be authentic--they should be similar to the tasks people do in their communities, in businesses, or in scholarly disciplines. This often involves preparation for an audience beyond that of the teacher. When the teacher is the only audience for a task, students have little motivation to show what they know. When children retell a story they have heard to someone who doesn't know the story, for example, their explanations are much more complete than when they know the listener has heard it as well. Similarly, when students communicate for a real audience, they perform at a much higher level than when they complete an assignment only to turn it in to the teacher; students are motivated to show what they know because of the necessity of getting their audience to understand them. This use of authentic activities highlights another characteristic of constructive evaluation--its continuity with instruction. Traditionally, teachers think of assessment as what comes after instruction: You teach students about something (or they read about it on their own) and then you test them to see if they learned it. In most classrooms, it's easy to tell the difference between teaching and assessment. In fact, schools often go to great lengths to make the two situations as different as possible: When students are being tested, they don't talk, they don't move around, they don't work together, they don't get help from the teacher. But in the kinds of classrooms described in this book, there is no such split between instruction and assessment. An observer walking into one of these classes would not be able to tell whether it was a "teaching" day or a "testing" day, because they're one and the same thing. Teachers take notes while students are talking, observe their presentations, review their projects, and read their written reports; all these are part of the ongoing assessment of learning. There are few separate times set aside for assessment because assessment is always taking place.
Hart ( 1994), Johnston ( 1992)
Assessment tasks should involve authentic historical activities.
Hart ( 1994), Wiggins ( 1992)
Perhaps the most important principle to keep in mind in assessing students' historical understanding is that constructive evaluation must be consistent with a constructivist perspective on teaching and learning. People learn new information by linking it to what they already know; their understanding, then, is never a simple reproduction of the information they encounter, but always an interpretation in light of prior understanding. A student's understanding at any given time represents the interaction between external sources of information and her prior knowledge. As a result, no two people's understanding will be identical, nor will a child's understanding be the same as an adult's. Anyone's understanding of history will vary depending on what she brings to her studies; learning about history is not an all-or-nothing process in which you either "know" a topic or you don't, but a lifelong process of schema-building that involves not only a greater quantity of information, but increasingly sophisticated insight into the connections and relationships among concepts. Constructive evaluation seeks to provide teachers and students a picture of how this schema-building process is going, rather than assessing whether students have "caught" discrete pieces of factual information.
Constructive assessment does not focus on the simple reproduction of information.
Historical understanding develops in the interaction between new sources of information and prior experience.
In this chapter, we have identified the aspects of human learning that we think provide the best guidance for teaching history. Based both on contemporary research in cognitive psychology and on our own experience, we have argued that the best teaching focuses on in-depth understanding of important ideas; builds on what students already know; engages students in collaborative, disciplined inquiry, in which they investigate important questions in authentic ways; involves extensive scaffolding; and is assessed through a process of constructive evaluation. Although we have tried to describe these principles separately, they have little meaning in isolation. Teachers will not succeed if they focus on important ideas but do not build on students'prior knowledge, if they require inquiry but don't teach students how to do it, or if they teach problem solving but never address significant content. By devoting consistent attention to these principles in an integrated way, however, teachers can