Assessments: Part of the learning process

Do you have advice on assessments that would be helpful for sharing with my mentee, a new teacher?
—Shirley, Lexington, Kentucky
Assessing student learning can (and should) include more than final tests. The process has components before, during, and at the end of the unit of instruction. You might find my archived posts with questions on assessments helpful:
Assessment at the beginning of a unit—Finding out what students know (or don’t know)

  • Overcoming misconceptions Every year my students come to class with the idea that it’s colder in the winter because the earth is farther away from the sun. Where did they get this idea?
  • What do students already know?  Last year, I started giving pretests at the beginning of each unit. The students were upset because they didn’t know many of the answers, even though I explained I didn’t expect them to know everything and the pretest wouldn’t count as a grade. Are there other ways to find out what students know about a topic?

Assessment during the unit –- Helping students monitor their own learning, in addition to formative assessments

  • Asking for help  During class, students seem to understand the concepts. However, they don’t do well on the tests. I offer extra help before and after school and at lunch, but few students take advantage of it. I’m a first-year biology teacher, so I’d appreciate some suggestions on how to encourage students to ask questions or seek help when they need it.
  • Student self-evaluation: How am I doing?   My middle school students frequently ask me “Is this right?” or “What should I do now?” How can I help them become more self-reliant?

Assessment at the end of a unit—Going beyond multiple-choice questions

  • Using essay questions   I want to use more essay-type questions on my unit assessments, but with 150 students I feel swamped trying to grade all of the papers and provide feedback. Any suggestions for making this a good learning process?
  • Rubrics   I’m trying to use more projects and open-ended assessments this year, but I’m getting bogged down with grading them. I know I should use rubrics, but it’s hard to create them for every assignment. Any suggestions for streamlining this process?

And providing meaningful feedback to students is another component of assessment. Our department chair is encouraging us to add comments to student writing assignments. This sounds time-consuming; I have more than 100 students in my Earth science classes. Would students even read my comments on lab reports or term papers?
Above all, I’d emphasize to your mentee that assessment is more than coming up with numbers to average into a grade. Using a variety of assessment strategies can help both the students and the teacher determine to what extent the learning goals are being met.

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1 Response to Assessments: Part of the learning process

  1. Brett Pinckard says:

    I enjoyed reading your past post on multiple assessments. I am always trying to find new ways to assess my students understanding because I feel more and more that formative assessments are not always a true evaluation of where my students stand. One thing that I have begun to do with my students on a more regular basis is one on one conferencing. This typically takes place when students are doing independent seat work and I am able to circulate and ask questions on an individual level. I have also found oral quizzes taken one on one to be very informative because the students truly tell you what they know.

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