Actionable Assessment Advice

I recently had an interview for a teaching position. I was prepared for questions on behaviour management, differentiated instruction, even the dreaded strength/weakness conundrum; turn a weakness into a strength and show ability to reflect and grow. But one area I was under-prepared to talk about that is vitally important to effective teaching was the inevitable assessment question.

As students, we remember tests. This is usually a type of summative assessment. It summarizes, hopefully, what the student has learned by the end of a unit or grade level. Summative assessment is important to education as an institution. But perhaps more important for a teacher in the classroom is the use of formative assessment. This type measures learning throughout the process. It allows students and teachers to see where strengths and weaknesses are and address them. Let’s look at some formative assessment practices that you might be able to employ in your class today.

  1. Ask questions: This one sounds like a no-brainer, but it is perhaps the most useful assessment tool in a teacher’s toolbox. Asking a student if they understand is usually met with an unequivocal “yes”. Make your questions open ended and allow students to expand their explanations, even if they are wrong. What they say can reveal inaccuracies or misconceptions.
  2. Yes/No Assessment: If you are going to ask if they understand, be sure your students feel comfortable admitting they don’t. Something as simple as a class-wide thumbs up or down with eyes closed can give you a quick sense of how many would like a bit more time on a particular subject. I have used Plickers in the class for this and a variety of other uses. The novelty hasn’t worn off yet.
  3. Instant Responses: Use mini-white boards for each student for rapid fire individual responses. Be prepared with a clipboard to quickly keep track of students who answer incorrectly. This is particularly useful in math class. Plickers can be useful here, too.
  4. Effective Grouping: Students may be more comfortable discussing topics in small groups. From simple Think-Pair-Share to in-depth Literature Circles, a change from the whole class dynamic can get a normally laconic student talking. How is this assessment? Speaking about ideas and listening to the thoughts of others allows a student to evaluate their own thinking. In short, it encourages reflective thinkers.
  5. Timely Feedback: In an ideal world, feedback would be instant. Then a student could adjust misconceptions immediately. When you are shaking your head at the common error that many of your students made on the test that morning, your students probably aren’t thinking about it at all. Without feedback, they won’t think about it again. Feedback has been a long-recognized cornerstone of education, and the sooner the better.

These are just a few things to think about or use when designing formative assessments in your class. Please share any other assessment ideas you have in the comments below.

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