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Four Assessment Strategies to Try in Your Classroom

Assessment is a challenging issue in today's classrooms, and also one of the most powerful tools we have to impact student learning. Instruction is effective only when paired with active assessment, so what can teachers do to ensure they are assessing students in a way that impacts learning? When crafting your classroom assessment, consider these four strategies. 


1. Integrate Movement

Take a moment to recall a PD session you found particularly dull. Were you sitting for most of the time? Most likely you were, and most likely that contributed to your troubles paying attention. Do you remember what you learned? Have you implemented those strategies into your teaching? Again, it’s likely you did not.

The same difficulty to sit still and pay attention occurs in students. Students who are active and engaged learn at higher rates, but unfortunately educators often think of classroom movement more for younger students. The learning benefits of movement are crucial for students of all ages, and there are easy ways you can incorporate movement into your classroom and into your formative assessment, too!

Try out this classic strategy for some active formative assessment: Four Corners. The teacher provides a prompt, posts potential answers in each corner of the room, and then asks to students to move to the corner that best represents the answer. One problem with Four Corners is that it offers students the opportunity to “follow the crowd,” so be sure to choose prompts that don’t have “right” answers, but instead require critical thinking. For example, for a World Languages teacher, a possible prompt might be: If you won a free vacation to anywhere in the world, which Spanish-speaking country would you visit? Be ready to justify your answer with examples of history, arts, food, and other cultural aspects.

It is critical to formative assessment that the teacher doesn’t simply observe where the students stand but listens to the explanations behind their answers and uses that information to reteach or adjust their own methods as necessary. 


2. Increase the Rigor of Your Summative Assessments

Summative assessments are traditionally used at the end of a unit to assess student understanding. Traditional summative assessments such as true or false, multiple choice, fill in the blank, short answer, and essay questions are valuable, but teachers should be careful not to overuse or misuse these methods, which may result in limiting student learning to memorization or low-level understanding.

There are dangers to traditional summative assessment, but teachers can minimize them by increasing the rigor of the questions. Try focusing on the short answer format— this is simpler to assess than the longer-form essay question but it still requires students to create their own response. Short answer is inherently more rigorous than multiple choice or true or false.

To write better short-answer questions, focus on clarity. Be certain the question makes expectations clear and keep the reading level low, avoiding all specialized vocabulary, so that reading the question is not an obstacle to answering the question. Structure the questions so that it requires a unique response, not just fact memorization and recall. Check out the examples below:

  • Less Rigorous Example

What are two ways in which the vast desert regions of Southwest and Central Asia affect the lives of the people who live there?

  • More Rigorous Example

Which of the two deserts, the Gobi or the Karakum, is easier for surviving for those who might live there and why?



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In "Infusing Rigor Into Formative Assessment: Four Simple Strategies," you will explore four examples of formative assessment and how to infuse rigor into each one with bestselling rigor author Barbara Blackburn. 

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3. Try Running Records for Math

It can be difficult to build strong math programs based on evidence the same way that we do with literacy programs. Where’s the evidence? What does assessment look like beyond the infamous timed test?

One strategy to address this difficulty is Math Running Records. Running records are one type of formal note taking during observation: the teacher keeps a record of a student’s activities running continually through a lesson or task. Like a GPS, Math Running Records pinpoint exactly where students are in their understanding of basic math facts and then outline the next steps toward comprehensive fluency.

Each of the three core sections of the Math Running Record tells the teacher something important about the student’s fluency level—assessing their instant recall and accuracy, what strategies they are using (finger counting, using derived facts, etc.), and finally the student’s mathematical disposition (how does the student feel about themselves as a mathematician?). 


4. Match Your Data to an Intervention 

Have you already performed your formative analysis? Do you have a ton of great data about your students, but you’re not sure what to do next?

Great data means nothing if you don’t know how to use it, so make sure you’re using data to identify students’ foundational needs and then matching students to an intervention. Try literacy leaders Jill Dunlap Brown and Jana Schmidt’s easy-to-use data analysis tool: The Columns.

The Columns offer teachers at all levels a tool to make sense of classroom data for elementary readers. Based on the five components of reading—phonological awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension—this tool aims to help teachers identify which components are strong and which are weak for each individual student, and then take the appropriate next steps to help them become successful. What is great about this tool is that you add the interventions that you already have available in your school!

Most importantly, remember that professional development should never be finished in this area. Take the time out of your busy schedule to refine your knowledge of why students may be having difficulties—we have been studying learning for decades, and we are always finding there is more to learn. 

This article was adapted from the featured books below.

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Infusing Rigor into Formative Assessment

Infusing Rigor into Formative Assessment Bestselling author Barbara Blackburn examines four examples of formative assessments and how to infuse rigor into each one. 

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