Why do we assess our students?
Most of us would say we do it to find out whether or not our students have learned something that we’ve taught them. We might ask a child a question, or give them a short test, or an exam past paper. But whatever form the test takes, the reason for doing it is always the same: to find out what they know.
So if it’s this simple, why do we make it so hard? Perhaps it’s because simple never seems enough. Maybe we have been trained to think that everything has to be clever and complicated for it to be ‘outstanding’. But it’s often the simplest solutions that provide the shortest path to the best outcome. For example, cats eyes in the road started out as glass balls set into the road to reflect the light. Pretty simple solution eh? Well perhaps assessments should be equally simple, short, sharp solutions that ‘reflect the learning’.
In a nutshell, a good assessment follows a bit of teaching and the process should look a bit like this:
1. Teach the kids something and give them sufficient time to learn it.
2. Test them in as simple and straightforward a way as possible.
3. Give feedback that tells the child what they got right and what they got wrong.
4. Give students time to try again and improve on the things they got wrong.
Remember that there can be no higher order thinking without knowledge. Or to put it another way, knowledge comes first… always.
I’ll be writing more about setting assessments in a later post but for now I want you to think about something that is dear to my heart… you just can’t beat a good question asked face-to-face in an informal way. Every time you ask a child a question about their learning you are assessing them. So make sure you ask the right question because the right question will give you some valuable insight into whether or not a child is learning. This is formative informal assessment. Formative because you are going to give the child feedback to help them improve afterwards and informal because it’s not done under exam conditions. People often undervalue the importance of a teacher asking a child a question. For example, if you were able to ask the same questions to every child in your class every lesson how much more would you know about their learning?
Think about it. How often do we question every child in a lesson. Is it even possible? Here comes the Maths:
45 secs of questioning x 30 children = 22.5 minutes
CHALLENGE Give it a try for a week. Start by asking every child the same question. Test the kid’s knowledge and understanding of something you’ve taught them recently and give them quick bit of verbal feedback. Be prepared to follow up your question if you’re not satisfied with the answer but keep an eye on the time and make sure you get round everybody. You’ll either love it or hate it but the impact on the learning in your class will be significant. Give it a try and let me know how it goes!