In order to provide direction and raise the student’s level of performance, assessment must be factual, and it must be aligned with the completion standards of the lesson. An effective assessment displays the characteristics shown in Figure 5-1.
The effective assessment is objective, and focused on student performance. It should not reflect the personal opinions, likes, dislikes, or biases of the instructor. Instructors must not permit judgment of student performance to be influenced by their personal views of the student, favorable or unfavorable. Sympathy or over-identification with a student, to such a degree that it influences objectivity, is known as “halo error.” A conflict of personalities can also distort an opinion. If an assessment is to be objective, it must be honest; it must be based on the performance as it was, not as it could have been.
The instructor must evaluate the entire performance of a student in the context in which it is accomplished. Sometimes a good student turns in a poor performance, and a poor student turns in a good one. A friendly student may suddenly become hostile, or a hostile student may suddenly become friendly and cooperative. The instructor must fit the tone, technique, and content of the assessment to the occasion, as well as to the student. An assessment should be designed and executed so that the instructor can allow for variables. The ongoing challenge for the instructor is deciding what to say, what to omit, what to stress, and what to minimize at the proper moment.
The student must accept the instructor in order to accept his or her assessment willingly. Students must have confidence in the instructor’s qualifications, teaching ability, sincerity, competence, and authority. Usually, instructors have the opportunity to establish themselves with students before the formal assessment arises. If not, however, the instructor’s manner, attitude, and familiarity with the subject at hand must serve this purpose. Assessments must be presented fairly, with authority, conviction, sincerity, and from a position of recognizable competence. Instructors must never rely on their position to make an assessment more acceptable to students.
A comprehensive assessment is not necessarily a long one, nor must it treat every aspect of the performance in detail. The instructor must decide whether the greater benefit comes from a discussion of a few major points or a number of minor points. The instructor might assess what most needs improvement, or only what the student can reasonably be expected to improve. An effective assessment covers strengths as well as weaknesses. The instructor’s task is to determine how to balance the two.
An assessment is pointless unless the student benefits from it. Praise for its own sake is of no value, but praise can be very effective in reinforcing and capitalizing on things that are done well, in order to inspire the student to improve in areas of lesser accomplishment. When identifying a mistake or weakness, the instructor must give positive guidance for correction. Negative comments that do not point toward improvement or a higher level of performance should be omitted from an assessment altogether.
An assessment must be organized. Almost any pattern is acceptable, as long as it is logical and makes sense to the student. An effective organizational pattern might be the sequence of the performance itself. Sometimes an assessment can profitably begin at the point at which a demonstration failed, and work backward through the steps that led to the failure. A success can be analyzed in similar fashion. Alternatively, a glaring deficiency can serve as the core of an assessment. Breaking the whole into parts, or building the parts into a whole, is another possible organizational approach.
An effective assessment reflects the instructor’s thoughtfulness toward the student’s need for self-esteem, recognition, and approval. The instructor must not minimize the inherent dignity and importance of the individual. Ridicule, anger, or fun at the expense of the student never has a place in assessment. While being straightforward and honest, the instructor should always respect the student’s personal feelings. For example, the instructor should try to deliver criticism in private.
The instructor’s comments and recommendations should be specific. Students cannot act on recommendations unless they know specifically what the recommendations are. A statement such as, “Your second weld wasn’t as good as your first,” has little constructive value. Instead, the instructor should say why it was not as good, and offer suggestions on how to improve the weld. If the instructor has a clear, well-founded, and supportable idea in mind, it should be expressed with firmness and authority, and in terms that cannot be misunderstood. At the conclusion of an assessment, students should have no doubt about what they did well and what they did poorly and, most importantly, specifically how they can improve.