Educators, psychologists, and philosophers alike have been contemplating this question for centuries. In fact, just this morning in a Piagetian moment I asked my 6-year old son the same question: how do you know when you don’t know? What do you do? His response matched the fore-mentioned erudite scholars while echoing precisely my journey in assessment: you ask!
This is where I began my assessment journey: with a question! In my scholarly work I’ve studied the way people come to know what they don’t know by looking at the questions they ask. In my teaching, I try to understand what it is students don’t know by modeling and encouraging questioning. Since the research on student questioning is dismal at best, I’ve dabbled in clickers and digital check-ins to quickly assess the general knowledge level of my students before each class. Depending on their responses I know whether I can skip to the activity where we actively engage in the content, or if we need to review the readings together to ensure understanding.
There are other questions here, embedded within the question of what students want to know and what are they ready to know, namely how do they learn? How do students study? When do they know they’ve mastered the content? In this way, my class on assessment also encompasses prevalent learning theory and the dissemination of novel research that challenges their assumptions about the way learning happens best so that it can be measured authentically and effectively. In other words, if you aren’t a strong learner, you are less likely to adequately recall content, and will likely not succeed in the assessment. It is then my job to guide the skills and wills behind good learning techniques, to evaluate whether that learning sticks, followed but what we can do to extend your knowledge.
As an educational psychologist teaching assessment courses I constantly struggle to meaningfully assess whether or not my students grasp key content in each and every course meeting and whether their understanding is deep enough such that they can apply their learning in their own classrooms. I hope you’ll share your best practices so that together we can build our cognitive toolbox to encourage our students’ continued success.