Chapter 8: Assessing student knowledge – find out what your students really know and reduce your marking
“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” — Anonymous
Testing is obviously very important as it shows us what knowledge and/or skills the students have gained. However, the way we assess can have drastic consequences on the manner in which our students learn and retain information. If you simply teach for the test or assess students based solely on their ability to choose the correct multiple-choice answer, you are doing a huge disservice to your students, as many kids can’t effectively convey what they know in this way. Don’t ask your fish to explain why she’s such a great swimmer, get her to show you.
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Here’s an example of how NOT to assess
Are you ready because I know teachers who do this and you probably do as well, hopefully, you aren’t one of them. 50 multiple-choice questions, that’s it. 50 multiple-choice questions for the students to show the extent of what they’ve learned over a whole unit. I’m sure you’re saying to yourself “I don’t do that, my tests are in-depth and involve critical thinking and so on and so forth.” I hope so but if you simply test your students using traditional means (i.e. tests), things aren’t much better for your students compared to those who have to answer the 50 multiple-choice questions. Some kids are terrible test writers. Although we all know this, we still employ traditional tests and I’m no different. At the end of each unit I usually give a test. Now am I being hypocritical? Maybe, but the kicker is I do lots and lots of additional assessment as well, to the point where the tests don’t make up a significant portion of their grade. Here’s why and excuse me if I’m repeating myself. Many kids are terrible test writers. Why do they do so poorly on written tests? Some get anxious, some can’t retain information by reading a book, and some have such poor study skills that they can’t retain knowledge in the traditional way. Ok, so what do we do? Like I said, you need to expand your horizons and try something else in addition to the traditional test-taking method that has been used since the dawn of time (well not really because they didn’t have pencils or paper at the dawn of time).
Within your tests and quizzes, get the kids to show that they actually know the information and aren’t simply regurgitating what was in your notes. Utilize questions that get them to think critically about the big picture (let’s call this concept z), how does concept x relate to concept y and how do they both work to allow concept z to happen. For instance, if you are teaching social studies, why not combine elements of geography and history into the same question? I.e. Describe how the undercurrents of this war affected the long-term distribution of land and how did the characteristics of this land, shape the lives of the residents for the next hundred years? In the realm of science, I could use the example of body systems and ask my students to tell me how the digestive, respiratory and circulatory systems all work together to keep you alive. These are open-ended questions but that’s what you want. The more open the better as long as the deeper concepts are being probed.
Utilize alternative assessment practices like projects, presentations, game development, etc. For every test my students take, they need to MAKE one game, presentation, video or review activity. Oral presentations, interviews, etc. are an excellent means of determining what your students actually know without subjecting them to the dreaded pencil and paper test.
Lastly, preparing your students for that inevitable test is just as important as the other ideas I’ve mentioned. The concept of formative assessment is key here and can be used as a means of collecting marks or not. I get my kids to use Kahoot (Kahoot.com) and Plickers (plickers.com) on a regular basis to check their understanding. This shows them where they are at and also provides me with a lot of useful information. If they struggle during our Plickers game, they don’t know the content. If they bomb at Kahoot, they don’t know the content. In both cases I get immediate feedback and can review the concepts again. If you want more information on Kahoot or Plickers check out the next chapter because they are amazing games that should be used in every classroom.
The take-home messages:
1. Get your students showing you what they know in ways other than circling the correct answer or filling in a bubble sheet.
2. Prepare your students and determine where they are at using fun games like Plickers and Kahoot. Review areas in need of help, lather, rinse, repeat as needed.