How do we assess adult learners without necessarily testing them?

In the last section of Wlodkowski’s Motivational Framework for Culturally Responsive Teaching from his book Enhancing Adult Motivation to Learn: A Comprehensive Guide for Teaching All Adults*, he focuses on engendering competence among adult learners. Wlodkowski poses an issue that must be resolved. First of all, adult learners want to become competence in their experiences. However, many adults are not keen about the idea of tests. They like the idea of having their competence assessed but they do not want to be tested… what is an adult educator to do?

I find this observation from Wlodkowski interesting. Personally, I find it to be true. I am currently taking two graduate level courses. In each of these courses, we are assigned a number of papers, reports, etc. and I am very content in knocking them out. However, we also have two final exams, and it is driving me crazy. If they called them something else I would have probably been ok… but they are exams.

Wlodkowski also addresses the idea of giving grades. As he points out and I agree, grades tend to be meaningless, and the threat of adults receiving a low grade can actually be a demotivator to learning. I know a number of people who have dropped a class because they worried about the grade rather than what they could learn. Assessing the learner with learning contracts, portfolios, or rubrics could strengthen this part of assessments.

Wlodkowski provides 13 strategies for assessing learning in an authentic and realistic manner. The key to assessment is will it inform the learner about their strengths and weaknesses. Here are some assessment strategies that resonated with me:

  • Strategy 48, Provide Effective Feedback – I see this as a no brainer. Feedback can be provided at anytime, and it can be used to incrementally adjust learning.  It is important to not only provide feedback when a learner is not meeting a standard of performance but also when they are exceeding it. Feedback must not only be informative but also be specific,  constructive, prompt, positive, personal, and frequent enough to aid learning.
  • Strategy 51, Use Authentic Performance Tasks to Deepen New Learning and Help Learners Proficiently Apply This Learning to Their Real Lives – Basically, this referring to performance tasks. The key is that the tasks resemble the actual real life task as much as possible. In my opinion, the Air Force did a good job in their training because they would build simulators where you could practice a task. The assessments were often conducted in the actual workplace thus adding to the realism.
  • Strategy 52, Provide Opportunities for Adults to Demonstrate Their Learning in Ways That Reflect Their Strengths and Multiple Sources of Knowing – When applying this strategy, it is important to use different types of projects, papers, reports, etc. to assess learning. These assessment types can be spread across the entire curriculum so they will not overwhelm the educator. Portfolios are ways to collect and assess these different projects.

Other strategies that may help keep adults motivated include providing constructive criticism as necessary, although I personally believe providing effective feedback is more useful. You may also want to provide incentives as  a treat to good performance. I believe it is also important to let learners know what the consequences are in regards to what they have learned and how it applies to the larger picture.

Well, I am almost done talking about Wlodkowski’s Motivational Framework for Culturally Responsive Teaching. This is perhaps one of the most practical books I have found on this subject. He has provided 60 strategies that I can use to improve my instruction. In my next post, I will discuss how Wlodkowski recommends weaving these strategies into your lessons.


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