Five Ways to Increase Learning and Growth While Assessing Students


{taken from the book The Master Teacher’s Secrets For Deepening Learning For All Students}

Most of us have been taught to think of assessment as something we do when we are finished teaching or at least as an activity that competes with instruction and student learning. We may stop instruction when it’s time to assess, even if we plan to use the assessment results to adjust our future instruction to better meet student learning needs.

Yet, it’s not true that teaching and learning must stop to allow assessment to occur. In fact, it is not only possible to have students learn during or even from assessment activities, but it is something we should be encouraged to strive for. Time for learning is so precious; we shouldn’t interrupt it if we don’t have to. Let’s explore five ways you can build student learning even while assessing what students are learning and have yet to learn.

Assessment and
instruction do not have to
compete in your classroom.

One of the best ways to assess student learning is to have students describe in their own words what they have just learned about key concepts, skills, and applications to classmates. For students to build a foundation for college and career-readiness, they must have ample opportunities to take part in a variety of conversations. This step gives us immediate assessment information regarding what students understand and what needs clarification, reinforcement, or re-teaching. This process gives students an
opportunity to begin synthesizing what they have learned, to bring coherence to their understanding, and to begin to store the new learning in their memory. All three are important activities to support learning and growth. From an instructional perspective, you have not stopped your instruction but simply shifted the focus by providing students opportunities to recount key ideas and details from a text read aloud or information presented through other media.

A second assessment approach that can build learning is to ask students to formulate a question based on what they have just learned and to present the question to another student. {Tweet this} This approach gives you a quick check on what students know—whether the student is formulating the question or attempting to answer it.

Ask students to communicate
what they have learned in
ways other than narrative form.

Yet another way to build student learning while assessing is to have students draw a picture or diagram. When we ask students to take in, organize, and communicate what they’re learning—especially in ways other than narrative form—we tap less traveled learning paths and reinforce key characteristics, including the processes related to student learning. Universal Design for Learning explains in Principle II how students must be provided multiple means of expressing what they know. This process can tell us much about how students think, what they’re absorbing, and the clarity of their learning.

A fourth approach is a twist on the age-old pop quiz. In this context, rather than developing a question set for students to answer, develop a series of increasingly complex or higher-order questions around the topic. Then begin by asking the first question and engaging students in their responses. Follow by leading a dialogue regarding the best answers to build deeper understanding. Then move to the next question in order of complexity or hierarchy. This increases students’ access into increasing levels of complex text. You may be amazed at the level of engagement and the amount of high-quality learning that occurs when the pressure of a traditional quiz is removed and you carefully scaffold dialogue and learning while assessing in real time what students understand and still need to learn.

Fifth, when you present students with assessment activities, be sure to give them ample opportunities to engage in recall of the experiences associated with their learning as well as what they have learned. When students are asked to recall experiences and learning from the past, they become better at recalling those memories in the future. As a result, what they have learned becomes more accessible to them. This approach helps learners strengthen their recall and ground their memories in ways that will serve them well in the future.

The Master Teacher employs careful
planning to ensure that assessment and
instruction are complementary activities.

The Master Teacher understands that assessment and instruction do not have to compete for time in our classroom. He or she employs careful planning to ensure that assessment and instruction are complementary activities in support of student learning.

The Master Teacher constantly searches for information that shows what students are learning and how well they are progressing. {Tweet this} The Master Teacher also employs strategies to generate formative assessment information while simultaneously continuing to support learning. The result is richer and deeper learning.

To Learn More:

Karpicke, J. D., & Blunt, J. R. (2011). Retrieval practice produces more learning than elaborative studying with concept mapping. Science, 331(6018), 772-775.
Newmann, F. M., Bryk, A. S., & Nagaoka, J. (2001). Authentic intellectual work and standardized tests: Conflict or coexistence? Chicago, IL: Consortium on Chicago School Research. Online:

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Have assessment troubles of your own this year? Tell us in the comment section below…

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