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.
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.