Letting Students Choose How to Demonstrate Their Learning

As teachers we need to assess the learning of our students. This can take many forms including multiple choice tests, short answer questions, essays, projects, presentations, and labs. All of these have their strengths and weaknesses and can be effective in showing student learning and growth, but what happens when one or two of them become the only forms of assessment in our classes? Students may become robots, constantly regurgitating information on a bubble sheets. They may also develop a strong aversion to school if they are not able to demonstrate their learning on a specific type of test. I am not suggesting that we completely do away with any type of assessment, but that we consistently reflect on our practices to make sure that we are giving students various opportunities to demonstrate their learning.

Laura Rivers is a Spanish teacher at Mounds View High School who wanted to experiment with making her assessments more innovative and creative.

How Does It Work?

Laura wanted students to be able to demonstrate what they know and could do, but was ready to try something different than her traditional quiz. Her students were mostly seniors who were a few months from graduation, and a new type of assessment might be something that would help them continue to engage in their learning.

Students were given three choices for an assessment. All of the options met the learning targets and Laura worked hard to make sure that no choice was the “easy way out”.

  • Choice #1 – Take a “traditional” quiz.
  • Choice #2 – Create a children’s book that includes vocabulary and important dishes from the Spanish speaking world. Use Google Slides or a format of your choice.
  • Choice #3 – Research 3 recipes from the vocabulary list and explain in your own words how to make each dish (including ingredients) on a Flipgrid.

The due date for options #2 and #3 was set and the traditional quiz would take place on that due date. Any student who had not completed a Flipgrid or children’s book would take the traditional quiz.


50% of the class chose to take the traditional quiz. Many of them were comfortable with the format and chose to do it, others intended to complete an alternative option but didn’t get around to doing it. Laura noted that while half chose to take the traditional quiz, no one complained since they were given other opportunities to show their learning.

Of the remaining half, most chose the children’s book and a few chose to do the Flipgrid. Students appreciated that they were given the ability to control their performance on the assessment. They didn’t have to wait for a traditional quiz to tell them if they had achieved the learning target but were instead able to demonstrate proficiency on their own terms.

As far as learning target mastery, students who took the traditional quiz scored much the same as on previous quizzes. Those who chose the children’s book or Flipgrid outperformed, on average, those students who took the traditional quiz.

Final Thoughts

Challenge to Teachers

Laura would challenge teachers who are trying to make assessment more innovative to start with one assessment. Focus on making one assessment more creative and see how it goes. In many PLCs, if every member committed to improving one assessment per semester, the collective effort could give the course a whole new look and feel.

Know Your Audience

What works for Laura in her 12th grade Spanish 5 class may not work in her freshman Spanish classes, let alone a different content area. Find out what others are doing and then adjust it to fit your own courses.

Get Feedback from Students

We strive to do what is best for students on a daily basis and part of that should include feedback from students. Their insight can lead us to think about things in ways that may not have occurred to us. After all, we have never been a student in our own classroom and cannot possibly know how it feels unless we ask our students.

Don’t Be Afraid of Failure

We rarely get it perfect on the first try. This applies to everything from riding a bike to raising children, so why wouldn’t it apply to implementing new strategies in the classroom? We’ve all had a lesson that fell on its face, but we gave ourselves permission to admit failure and make it better for next time. Creative and innovative assessments are no different.

One thought on “Letting Students Choose How to Demonstrate Their Learning

  1. Good example of providing options for students. Interestingly, I had a situation where after I gave options for one assessment I had a student who was really disappointed I did not offer options for the second assessment. His main argument was that he preferred writing papers than doing a flipgrid or presentation. (He did not say it, but I got the impression he felt like the paper would take him less time than the flipgrid). I told him I understood this, but I wanted to assess his ability to express his understanding verbally, not just by writing. I explained that I gave the option last time because I wanted to measure the content, and to me it did not matter how it was measured, orally or written. But in the case of the second assessment I also, albeit to a small extent, wanted to measure students ability to discuss with others their ideas and thoughts. So it was both content, and the ability to share these ideas and to build on others ideas that I was aiming to assess. Needless to say, he was not satisfied and essentially said he was not going to do the flipgrid. Now, what should I have done at this point?

    I think this raises a good question. When should options be given and when should they not? In the case of Laura’s example it seems like the quiz is measuring a different skill than flip grid. The quiz was measuring reading and writing skills of Spanish and the flipgrid oral or spoken skills. For Laura it seemed like what she wanted to measure in both cases was not either of these, but the skill of the student’s ability to understand Spanish words, phrases, etc. Now, if Laura wanted to measure oral speaking skills as her primary goal, then it would seem she would not offer a written quiz as an option. In this case students would have to maybe do the flipgrid.

    When options are given or not given, we need to make sure to give an explanation to students why certain options are available and some are not. And when those options are given make sure they are all able to fairly measure the same skill. I can remember in the past where I have given options just for “options sake,” and, to be honest, the options did not have the same rigor and many times did not measure the same thing (which is not good because then they are not equally valid measures of students understanding.) Taking the time to consider this, when I do offer options, has helped a lot in making sure the rigor of the all the options are the same, and when options are not offered, for students to understand why they “had” to do something that was maybe an option before.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s