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When we wrote our book Mindful Assessment our mission was to provide educators the world over with a singular understanding—that it is the learner, and not the teacher, who creates learning.
As teachers, it's our responsibility to learn how to guide that learning by responding proactively to student performance. We do this by being present for our students and aware of what's happening with them, and using the best assessment practices possible.
The student brain is a complex mystery we may never fully understand. The best assessment practices we can use give us glimpses into that complexity. In doing so, we reach all students better.
Teachers are always looking for ways to check for understanding, which we practice through applying mindful assessment. Mindful assessment tools come in many shapes and sizes. They can be quick and light or more in-depth. In the end, assessment can happen anytime in any classroom.
The following 7 mindful assessment tools and best practices are quick and easy applications for anytime/anywhere assessment.
7 Mindful Assessment Tools
Quick Summaries: Students can be asked to summarize important lessons or concepts. You can even add a summary challenge using social media. For example, have them Tweet their summaries; the challenge there is that the limit is 140 characters. Students must be concise and brief with their entries.
Open-Ended Questions: These are content questions that really get students thinking about what they've learned. They can chat about or write their responses. You should try to avoid closed questions like, "Did this make sense to you?" Instead, give students a chance to really think about the learning that took place. Use the Essential Questions Guide to help you form the right questions.
Student Interviews: This is similar to Think-Pair-Share and happens at the end of the class. Groups of 2 or 3 students take a few minutes at the end of class to discuss what they've learned. Next, each student takes a turn interviewing the other. You can give them guiding questions like:
- What was the most useful thing you learned?
- What did you struggle most with?
- What will you ask for help with next class?
- What can you do to help somebody else learn better?
- What's your learning goal for next class?
Daily Learning Journals: This is a daily brief reflection exercise that lets students privatize their experiences in their own words on a personal level. As far as assessment tools go, this is one that some students may resist since some may not enjoy writing daily reflections. If so, offer up some alternatives.
For instance, they could do it using screencasting or simple audio recording if they wish. Younger students can create vision boards or collages, relating imagery to what they've learned. They may also choose to share their excerpts on a class blog or web page. This is a great classroom community-building exercise.
Peer Teaching: Assessment tools used by other students are a great way to check for understanding. You know students have truly learned a concept when they can teach it to other students. This can be done in groups of 2 or 3, but that's a recommended limit. Bigger groups require the kind of attention-wrangling skills students don't yet possess.
Quick-Draw Showdown: This one is a fun competitive exercise. Square two students off against each other, and have them quickly write down a sentence or draw a quick sketch of a learning concept. It works better if they are both using the same thing. When you say "Go!" the fun begins. The first one to finish wins the quick draw.
Self-Grading: Students can use this one to grade their own progress. Have them give themselves a grade on the material covered. Afterward, they must explain why they feel they've earned that grade.
7 Best Assessment Practices
1. Transform the Test: The most common feedback we give students is usually a number. Unfortunately this is a summative practice that does not identify strengths and weaknesses or provide feedback for learning and development. An example of how to change this is to shift our approach to quizzing and make it a rich and collaborative learning opportunity:
- The students mark the quizzes themselves and then individually undertake the learning activity that reinforces the identified area of weakness.
- The students mark the quizzes and identify which activities are needed, and then form learning groups to complete the activities identified.
- Instead of a quiz, the teacher presents the questions one at a time, and the students attempt the answer. The students then break into groups and work collaboratively on the activity to reduce the gap, supported by their peers.
2. Consider Where You're Starting: There are several pieces of information that are critical when starting a journey, the most obvious being our destination. It’s important to identify each learner’s starting point rather than make assumptions about their prior knowledge and experience. In doing so, we avoid missed learning opportunities and time spent focusing on activities that they already understand and have accomplished.
3. Make a Diagnosis: Diagnostic assessment is a tool for use during class to quickly gain information about the students’ understanding of the concept they are examining and how we as classroom practitioners are facilitating learning. Each question we write or task we develop must be deliberate and purposeful. For each and every question or part of the diagnostic task, we must ask the following questions:
- What does this question or task examine?
- Does it accurately identify existing knowledge?
- Can it help differentiate the different depths of knowledge, skills, or processes?
- What is the correct answer?
- How can I use it to improve learning?
- Is it suitable for the audience?
- Is it suitable for the purpose?
4. Master Multiple Choice: Here are some guidelines for writing effective multiple-choice questions to diagnose prior learning of concepts or theory:
- Keep it simple by removing extra reading which may be confusing or distract from the questions.
- Avoid using negatives like "not" in the questions.
- Organize your questions alphabetically, in increasing size (numerical), or in time sequence. Present your answers vertically as this is easier to read than horizontally.
5. Hold Up a Mirror: Teachers should encourage students to self-question and self-verbalize their performance. Self-questioning and self-verbalizing are metacognitive strategies in which the student creates appropriate questions, then predicts the answers, validates these answers, and then summarizes them. Steve Dinham’s research regarding powerful teacher feedback notes that, in our best assessment practices, mindful educators and students ask and answer three key questions:
- What can I do?
- What can’t I do?
- How can I do better?
6. Give Great Feedback: Feedback can be a hard pill to swallow; we all struggle to accept critique and find it uncomfortable. A positive, affirming, and honest relationship between both parties is necessary to enable this dialogue. Similarly, feedback from peers requires trust and understanding as well as clear ground rules for behavior, process, and so on. Use these feedback best practices to guide you.
7. Powerful Portfolios: Many think of an artist’s portfolio as a collection of his or her best works. But such a collection would really be more of an exhibition than a portfolio. The truth is that a proper portfolio is a record of the development of one’s thinking and ideas that provides background to the finished product. This not only allows for formative assessment but also clearly demonstrates the formation of ideas and understandings that are hard to measure any other way.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in 2017 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.
Originally published Mar 11, 2021, updated September 29, 2021