Assessment that Sparks Learning

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Assessment that Sparks Learning

sparkler-839831_960_720Assessment originates from the Latin assistere meaning to assist and from assidere meaning to sit beside. In this way assessment is an intentional process that improves learning by relying on the skilled and knowledgeable guidance of others. A test is only one a type of assessment: It provides merely a partial picture of student learning. Assessment has the potential to be a catalyst for learning. In the classroom, assessment can engage learners and spark learning by making it participatory, personal, and purposeful.


Filling in a bubble sheet, even if it is on a computer screen is not engaging. When students are actively engaged in assessment they use their own words to explain the learning objectives, monitor progress by comparing their work to exemplars, and document proficiency on learning trackers. In doing so, students not only take possession of learning but also take responsibility for the outcomes. Whether Javier decides to create a poster or Mackenzie makes a video they both rely on consistent, high-quality learning intentions. For example, a rubric that includes: Reliance on 3 authenticated resources, accurate and comprehensive timeline, and inclusion of alternative perspectives on the topic. Mackenzie uses EdPuzzle to incorporate questions directly within her video on the contributions of Leonardo da Vinci. Javier asks classmates to identify steps that were out of sequence on his poster. Students can ask others to help them improve their learning through feedback and formative assessments


The aims, strategies, and evidence from standardized testing is impersonal. Personalizing assessment means building on student’s strengths, addressing challenges, and helping each one achieve their best. Personalized assessments engage and empower learners by offering opportunities for success along with scaffolds for support. Consider these ideas:

  • Students show what they know and can do in ways that are meaningful to them. When a math question asks about apples, let students decide what to count or calculate: perhaps goldfish, or jumping jacks. Then can also write questions for others to answer.
  • Provide empty outlines and let students select words from leveled vocabulary lists. For, example, Amir works on this sentence: The character says he can’t sleep because his neighborhood is 1. Caring, 2. Noisy, or 3. Peaceful. Ravella uses the same sentence but chooses from these words: 1. Compassionate, 2. Raucous, or 3. Tranquil.

When assessment is personalized, students have options for showing their learning. For historic events, they may summarize an individuals’ roles and beliefs, or illustrate important events and their significance, or write an editorial on what should/could have been done differently. Scoring is based on common standards such as depth of information, reliability of source material, and alignment with specified writing standards.


Ask a teacher why he is giving a specific assessment. Responses may explain that it is mandated by the district, selected by the team leader, came with the textbook, or one he used in the past. These are not good ideas unless they support the learning intentions and align with success criteria. Substantiate this by matching the verbs in the questions with the verbs at various levels of a learning taxonomy. If you want to stretch beyond traditional taxonomies, consider augmenting learning through the Ruben Puentedura’s SAMR model for technology integration such as shown in this table

Stretching Beyond the Taxonomy

Levels of Learning: Bloom’s Webb’s DOK, CELT, or SOLO The 4 levels of SAMR Assessment
Remembering: define and use in context, these 3 vocabulary words 1. Substitution: Technology performs the same task as before. Students complete a worksheet: Paper or electronic
Analyzing: categorize food groups or chemical elements 2. Augmentation: Technology is a tool for purposeful improvement. Students take a test that is self-correcting and gives them immediate feedback.
Evaluating: Self-assess written work against specified scoring criteria 3. Modification: Making the classroom more personalized by modifying learning through reliance on and inclusion of technology. Writing progress and process is monitored and strengthened through computer mediation and guidance.
Creating/Producing: Design an original video on a topic 4. Redefinition: Tasks that were not previously possible or actionable. Digital documentary where each student contributes to, edits, and presents the final product for an online peer review

Not long ago, I received this response from an aspiring teacher to a question about which taxonomy of learning was best. Her response was “IDM.” When asked about her cryptic answer, she explained that “it doesn’t matter.” Then went on to say that “They all have relevance and value and can all serve to deepen student learning. It just depends on your purpose and how you use them.” I encouraged her next time, to include this type of explanation in her response to the question. She added that she now understands how low-quality measures hurt learners and the many ways in which high-quality assessment can raise them up.  Students continually inspire me! Use assessment to ignite your student’s learning.

1 Comment

Engaging Our Children in Daily Assignment Assessments – GenParenting

September 29, 2020at 10:01 am

[…] path for learning. Anticipate the need for flexibility and support. i.e., Incorporate a “Learning Tracker.” (Italics indicate […]

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