I Want to Get Better at... Assessment

June 15, 2018 / by Lisa Hollenbach

Planning a lesson and designing instruction can be an exciting process. Delivering that lesson and interacting with students as they make your abstract ideas come to life is energizing. Assessment is a different story, often weighed down by myths and misunderstandings.

We know that assessment is critical in order to effectively plan lessons, set meaningful learning goals for students, improve your teaching practice, and make informed decisions for your classroom or district. However, strategically planning student assessment and then digging into the data can be a tedious and time-consuming process -- but it doesn’t have to be.

If you take a little time to study the purpose, types, and methods of assessment, you’ll soon know exactly what you want your students to learn and how to design the path to get them there. Start with these ideas:

Move Forward by Planning Backwards

It’s best practice to begin with the end in mind when designing instruction. Start with your objective, and then ask yourself what success looks like. What will serve as evidence of understanding (what students know) and mastery (what students can do)? Once you know where you’re going and what to look for, you can plan the teaching moves that will get you there.

  • In this videoTch Laureate Sean McComb uses explicit success criteria to help students be more self-directed in their learning, while making progress towards the standards. Using a workshop model, Sean moves students through the learning process based on personal interest, curiosity, and individual needs. Notice how his goals and objectives inform the structure he designs for his classroom.

VIDEO: Making Learning Personalized & Customized 

VIDEO: Making Learning Personalized & Customized 

Frequent Formative Assessment

Formative assessment strategies are some of the most important tools in a teacher’s toolbox because they move learning forward. The more frequently you assess student progress and use that data to improve your instruction, the greater impact these techniques will have on student learning.

If you teach “littles,” there are some great strategies that work well for assessing young learners.

  • In this videoTch Laureate Marion Ivey makes success criteria accessible to young learners so they can give targeted feedback to their peers.

VIDEO: Targeting Learning with Success Criteria

VIDEO: Targeting Learning with Success Criteria

Writing can be a powerful tool for assessing content learning in any subject area. When you read student writing, you see what students know and where their misconceptions may be.

  • In this video, watch how Kris Carey uses a strategy called My Thinking Logs to assess written language skills and content knowledge simultaneously.
  • Students can also write out their thinking in the moment, even on their desks. Watch how Chris Maldonado uses his classroom tables for writing during collaborative work.

Exit slips are another great strategy for formative assessment at the end of a lesson.

  • If you have older students and you’re ready to move on to the real thing, consider having your students move to Twitter and tweet to share their learning.

VIDEO: Tweet to Share Your Learning

VIDEO: Tweet to Share Your Learning

Make Feedback Meaningful

Students often skip over teacher comments and questions to focus on the almighty grade. That makes sense when the feedback is focused on an assignment that’s already been graded and it’s no longer possible for the student to improve. The key to great feedback, however, is to weigh in early in the process -- when it’s still possible to adjust course -- with development and improvement in mind.

  • In Making Feedback Meaningful, Tch Laureate Sean McComb employs small group instruction to give specific, targeted feedback to students who are all struggling with the same skill. Simultaneously, students who have mastered the skill are making progress as well, because Sean set them up with feedback prior to the lesson in the form of voice notes, color-coded highlights, and thoughtful, intentional comments in the margins of their work.

VIDEO: Making Feedback Meaningful

VIDEO: Making Feedback Meaningful

  • Students can have some pretty insightful opinions and you can learn a lot from them about what works in your classroom and what you need to work on — just ask! If you didn’t gather student feedback this year, consider how you might do it next year. And if you really want to work out the glitches in your instruction, try dogfooding!

Authentic Assessment for Deeper Learning

An authentic assessment requires students to apply what they’ve learned to a new, real-world problem or situation. This type of assessment is realistic, complex, and creative. It allows for opportunities to practice, consult resources, receive feedback, and refine and revise performances or products. An authentic assessment may include an authentic audience as well.

  • Watch Yvonne reflect on her growth as a learner and successfully defend a portfolio of her best work, dissertation style, in front of an audience of educators, peers, and community members.

VIDEO: Student Profile: Portfolio Defense 

VIDEO: Student Profile: Portfolio Defense 

  • Check out this Tch Talks podcast to learn how creative assessment, with intention and some constraints, has the potential to turn ideas into action and push your students toward deeper learning and meaningful understanding.
  • Find out how digital portfolios can shift your assessment focus.
  • Discover how to give your students the benefits of authentic accountability and assessment through Share Your Learning.
  • Learn how to integrate assessment best practices into your projects to help you uphold rigor and student engagement.

Topics: Professional Learning, Assessment, Coaching, Lesson Planning, Growth Mindset, Summer Learning

Lisa Hollenbach

Written by Lisa Hollenbach

Lisa Hollenbach is a former high school Social Studies teacher and Department Chair, an adjunct professor, working with pre-service social studies teachers and behavioral science students, and serves as a mentor for the Teacher Leadership program at Mt. Holyoke College. Lisa is passionate about storytelling, teacher voice and leadership, collaboration, innovative instruction, social learning, and redefining professional development. Lisa is a member of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Teacher Advisory Council, several ECET2 Steering Committees, and is a Co-Founder, Director, and Writing Coach for the National Blogging Collaborative, a non-profit organization that cultivates and supports the capacity of all educators to use their unique voice to elevate the craft of teaching and learning. Lisa leads the Collaborative in engagement and social media storytelling. Connect with Lisa on Teaching Channel, on her blog, or on Twitter: @lisa_hollenbach.

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