About assessment

As I transition this week from the topic of Plants to Sounds, I want to blog a bit about assessment.  Why assess? Why not just present lots of high quality activities and materials and let every child learn what they will?

Good teachers use assessment as a sort of GPS system. It helps to guide the instruction. How are my strategies working? Are children learning what I want them to learn? How can I extend this child’s understanding? What do I want him to learn next and in which direction should we head? What didn’t work well? How can I change it to be more effective next time? Assessment answers these questions.

I am sometimes reluctant to use the word “assessment” as it conjures up angst in some folks. When assessing, I am not testing to see how successful the child was, but rather how successful my method of instruction was. At times, assessment sheds light on a misconception. This week one of my students was admiring her bean plant. Yours is really growing well, I commented. I know, she responded, and when it’s all grown up it’s going to be seaweed. It’s going to be seaweed? I repeated. Yes, because it really will look good in the sea.  This dialogue revealed that I need to present more information about seed genetics yielding the same plant as the parent seed!

Children reveal their thinking through conversation and that is how I collect most of my information. We talk a lot about what we wondered about, what we did in order to find out, and what we think now. Children reveal their theories through predictions. For example, I asked one child, What do you think will happen to the seed without water? The child answered, It will dry up because it will be thirsty. I asked, Will it grow? The child responded, No, it will just lay there all dried up.

Besides using language, children can demonstrate their learning in a variety of ways. Drawings are one way that discloses important information about acquired knowledge.

Reviewing photographs and pointing to specific phenomena or gesturing to show how something happened, or using props in a demonstration, all reveal the level of learning.

I feel satisfied when children take new knowledge and make connections to their world. I recall a conversation during our colors topic. The child had been mixing shades and tints by adding white and black paint to colored paint. It’s just like the cereal, he said. How is the paint like the cereal? I asked. When you put in milk, it turns light green!

In my classroom you will often hear me repeat a child’s words back to them. Sometimes this is done to give them the chance to hear it again, validate it, or decide to change it. When they change their idea or form a new question, I know they are developing their inquiry skills.

I get such a kick from hearing the children use our target vocabulary in context with their peers. There is a big difference between quizzing them (What’s this? What’s this?) and hearing them use the scientific language naturally. Then I really know that they own the words!

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