5 Ways to Storyboard the Assessment Design Process

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StoryboardWalt Disney gave us the storyboard: a set of images or illustrations that help designers visualize, experiment with, and sequence critical shots in a narrative. Defining key scenes, taking the time to flesh them out, and considering the influence of order on meaning serves filmmakers, artists, novelists, software designers, and animators well.

As someone who frequently facilitates assessment design, I’m loving how storyboards can power up the process.

Often, the teachers I support are in the midst of shifting their understandings about assessment. Some still define it as a thing that is given rather than a process we engage in. When I share other perspectives and approaches, eyebrows raise a bit at first, and then, a sort of relief tends to wash over the room.

“You mean, I don’t have to give a test in order to assess?”

That’s correct.

“I don’t have to give grades?”

You don’t have to give grades.

“Are you saying that the task itself isn’t the most important part of the work?”

That’s what I’m saying, yes.

High quality assessments allow students and teachers to measure progress against a standard. Not just the Common Core State Standards–our own standards. Such assessments don’t require us to stop learning in order to test. We can assess as we provide over-the-shoulder feedback, confer with our students, shoot our data, and then, zoom in to discover more. We can scoop the data from the learning experience rather than bringing the learning experience to a halt in order to study it.

After all, assessment is about increasing our understanding of learners, not the number of grades in our book.

If this is the case, we can begin treating assessment as a narrative that unfolds over time rather than an event that occurs in a class period. Storyboards help us craft powerful assessment experiences. Using them helps teachers shift their focus off of the task and onto the learning that happens along the way.

Storyboarding Your Assessment in Five Quick Steps

1. Begin by defining your vision of the culture you’re trying to create, the teacher you’re striving to be, and the student you’re working to support.

  • What characteristics come to mind?
  • How can you design an assessment experience that perpetuates this reality?
  • Where do you notice misalignment?

For example, if I hope to produce creative students who are able to think critically and solve problems independently, I’m not quite sure how a multiple choice test accomplishes this.

2. Once you’re clear about your vision and you’ve begun aligning your assessment experience to it, sketch out the end product using an index card or sticky note.

  • What will learners do in order to show their mastery of the standards?
  • What will they produce?
  • How will they know if they’ve been successful?

This note is your landing point. You’ll work backwards from here.

3. Include additional index cards and notes that attend to the following:

  • Your plan for helping learners define authentic learning experiences
  • Clarification of expectations
  • The specific phases that students will move through as they work to achieve these expectations:
    • Investigation or input sessions
    • Drafting or prototyping
    • Feedback
    • Revision
    • Exhibition

4. Once your index cards or notes are completed, order them purposefully. What should happen first? Next? Last? Move your cards and notes around. Are you missing anything important? Add more as needed.

5. Seek diverse perspectives. Invite colleagues on the ground to provide feedback on your board, and share your thinking with others online as well. We all maintain confirmation bias, and it often comes to bear heavily on our assessment design process.

The storyboard above was designed with a group of teachers earlier this month. Their students will be investigating and producing myths next year, and as you can see, these teachers were far more focused on the learning experience than they were on the final sticky note that described the task.

Interested in facilitating a similar sort of shift? Try storyboarding the assessment design process, and come back here to tell me how it went. You can find me on Twitter as well.

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A former English teacher, Angela Stockman is the founder of the WNY Young Writer's Studio, a community of writers and teachers of writing in Buffalo, New York. She is also an education consultant with expertise in curriculum design, instructional coaching, and assessment. Read more from Angela at Angelastockman.com.

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