In the culture of standardized testing, it’s difficult to escape into meaningful assessment—usually because of lack of time, not lack of desire. But as we think about assessing, we need to remember that it is central to our teaching and planning. How will we know what and how to teach if we don’t keep tabs on where the students are?
Assessment gives us a lot of insight into the teaching and learning that happens in our classrooms, including:
- What misconceptions students have
- How well students can apply their knowledge and skills
- The depth of student understanding (as opposed to just knowledge)
- What we DON’T need to spend time on
- What we need to go back and re-teach or approach differently
The ongoing assessment you do in a classroom—formative assessment—can come in many forms (a whole topic in itself, which I’ll address another time). Giving this timely and constructive feedback, concurrent with learning engagements, informs both teachers and students, resulting in better learning and a healthier learning environment.
With formative feedback, we can:
- Help students to have more ownership of their learning, because of the transparency of the learning process.
- Encourage metacognition as the students think about their successes in learning.
- Keep track of how effective our teaching is and adjust it before it is too late. (Summative assessment doesn’t help with this.)
- Engage students in their own learning process, boosting their confidence and showing them that our classroom is a safe environment in which to take risks and make mistakes.
Perhaps the most important place to start is with the understanding that assessment is not just for the teacher. Its purpose should be to help students to monitor and adapt their own learning. Encourage the students to self-assess regularly and set personal goals for their learning. If you have made the learning goals clear from the start, and you are sitting beside your students along the way, they will develop their capacity for metacognition, and we will be inspiring lifelong learners!