Assessment Briefs: Guidelines for Keeping It Short and Stylish

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Assessment Briefs: Guidelines for Keeping It Short and Stylish


Brief “tests” embedded throughout learning are the only way to use traditional selected choice measures such as true/false, multiple choice, and matching. The average attention span is 10 minutes, meaning that about 10 questions into a multiple choice test students’ brains begin to wander or are distracted by their surroundings.

Your brain is already deciding whether to continue reading this. A 2015 study by Microsoft reported that since 2001, the average attention span dropped from 12 seconds to eight seconds. (Additional research is at the end of this article.)

In the classroom, you can activate and engage brains with movement.

Before a test, awaken student’s attention with a version of Simon Says: Pick up your pencil, wave it like Bernoulli’s Lemniscate, look down at your feet, up towards el techo, think of a vocabulary word, shout it out, turn to a neighbor and say “Good Job” or “I love tests.”

Teach and assess in ten-minute chunks, especially when learning is primarily auditory and visual. Incorporate breaks during learning, for example, pause for a two-question quiz or a hands-on task such as illustrate what you saw or heard.

Options and Opportunities for 10-minute measures

  • Routine Summaries: Use Exit slips after each part of learning to summarize, paraphrase, or explain new learning. Alternatively, diagram/illustrate the concept or create a Haiku or Cinquain.
  • Make it relevant: Design a strategy for selling the concept to others or explaining how it works in the real world.
  • Thinking Beyond: Explain an alternative answer, perspective, or outcome
  • Keep it Engaging:
    • Explicitly incorporate 3 to 5 vocabulary words in a brief paragraph. Seek peer feedback
    • Incorporate check-ins such as a quickie quiz or signaling to show understanding.
    • Have students write review questions and the answers
  • Rely on response technologies such as Socrative, Quizziz, or Kahoot and/or individual whiteboards
  • Brainstorm descriptive words and similar concepts to put into a word cloud or Tagxedo
  • Give students a choice in the modality for showing learning perhaps by comparing two diverse viewpoints, or collaborating with partners on a visual summary. (May take more than 10 minutes)
  • Appropriately include humor or the unexpected.

It’s easy as 1,2,3: Whatever methods are best in your setting, always be sure that the assessments are:
1. Aligned with the instructional intentions and learning actions.
2. Students understand and are involved in the process and outcomes of assessment.
3. Assessment and feedback are fair for all learners in support of further learning.

Three Research Studies on Children’s Attention Span

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