6 Tips for More Transparent Teaching

Over the many decades, I’ve been a teacher, I have always had the belief that teaching is mostly a calling and definitely a lifestyle. As part of my lifestyle, I often find myself in ‘teaching conversations” well outside of my teaching role.

To this end, I had an interesting conversation while running with a friend yesterday, that reminded me of a section we wrote in “Don’t Ditch that Tech: Differentiation in a Digital World.” In the chapter “Teaching with Transparency” our author team recommended varied instructional technologies to employ to improve the transparency of your teaching and expectations with students.

My buddy lamented that her daughter, a first-year college student, was very disappointed in the grade she earned on a first course paper.

She said “Mom, I just don’t know what to do differently; I felt like I had no idea how this would be graded.

Being a great mom she is, she advised her to talk with older students about the teacher’s expectations. And, although I appreciated the advice, it reminded me that we need to take the guesswork out of the evaluation of student work by teaching with greater transparency.

Student effort needs to be expended in learning, not in guessing.

This lesson of transparency has been reinforced to me this semester whilst teaching a new course in the absence of my colleague who’s on sabbatical. Suddenly, in mid-life I am a neophyte, a first year teacher. I find myself not only creating a course, and all the lesson plans, but also trying to make the assessment criteria not only transparent to myself, but also to my students! And, it has been a great deal of work!

This experience prompted me to create some tips on…

How To Teach With More Transparency:

1. Revisit your lesson/unit objectives and goals. Start there. These should be the foundation of your evaluation or assessment criteria, whether it’s a checklist a rubric or another evaluation set-up ( because I can’t think of a third). If you don’t have these, read this document, created by one of my colleagues.

2. Check your assessment with the above. Are you actually assessing what you expect students to know and be able to do at the close of your lessons/unit? Carol Ann Tomlinson calls these “KUDS,” Knowings, Understandings, and Demonstrations. If not, you have created a journey for the students that has an inaccurate or unclear destination.

3. As you create your assessment and accompanying criteria, put yourself in the shoes of your students. What questions, clarifications and issues might arise as the students prepare for this assessment. Where might they drift off-course? I know that no matter how many times I review assessments with my students before they begin a project or paper, there are always inevitable questions. Predict these. Document those in your assessment and accompanying rubric and checklist to keep students directed toward your intended destination.

4. Prepare or share quality samples. Each semester, I ask students if I can share their work (names and dates removed) as quality samples with subsequent classes. They often feel proud to be chosen. If not, I create a sample, although this is a great deal more work.

5. Analyze your post-assessment data: What questions, clarifications and issues arose as the students prepared for this assessment. Where did they drift off-course? Did the assessment provide the data that you needed on your lesson/unit objectives? Why or why not? Did it measure what you intended it to do? Did you rubric or checklist provide the forum for giving students meaningful feedback related to the objectives, something much more helpful than just a grade!

6. Last, check for user-friendliness. Was this assessment friendly for both student-created results and also for teacher use? I remember the first time I taught an educational psychology course and assigned huge field notebooks that were due the week before Christmas. After I spent over three straight days grading these and really learning less than I would have with a more graduated assessment, I revised the entire assignment for the following semester.

It’s my hope, and your students’ too, that these six simple tips can provide you with an easier assessment lifestyle!

Happy teaching! -- Angie