Teaching Opinion

Going ‘Off Script': Authentic Elementary Assessment

By Starr Sackstein — March 26, 2017 4 min read
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Guest post by Rayna Freedman

Living in a Cage

At the elementary level, we are often stuck with caged programs that offer a scripted delivery in the content area. It can get super exhausting super fast. Reading groups consist of guided reading, accessing the same story multiple times in a week.

Students have workbooks for phonics, grammar, and comprehension. A weekly fill in the bubble test is given to see how students learned skills and strategies, followed by a benchmark test at the end of a unit which assesses comprehension, vocabulary, and grammar via a multiple choice and short answer test format.

During math a skill is taught, students complete practice problems, and a test is given at the end of each topic. In some schools, videos have replaced the teacher in the direct instruction portion of the lesson.

Science and social studies is much of the same with information being fed to students, and then they are asked to show what they know on a test. A percentage grade is given, and we move on.

Is this what is really best for kids? Do we really understand their deep level of understanding of concepts this way? Are we building passionate lifelong learners?

Joining the Wild

Ditching spelling, grammar, and weekly reading tests is the first thing to let go of. I can hear audible gasps from across the country.

Going gradeless can be scary but the reward far outweighs the risk of not doing it! Spelling can be taught but should be assessed in student writing. This means elementary students need to be expressing their thoughts in writing across the content areas.

Students could have interactive science notebooks, write math problems, create poetry and songs about social studies concepts, discuss books through reading letters with their teacher, or jot down a reflection as an exit slip to show learning. These artifacts can be used to assess spelling, grammar, and understanding all in one!

At the elementary level students writing can be assessed in blog posts, created on paper or online. Students can write about topics of interest, things they are studying in school, or concepts they want to learn more about.

It gives them an authentic voice in the universe as they can be shared on classroom social media platforms. They are empowered to write. These can be done independently, collaboratively, or whole class. Offer feedback along the way to help students build and strengthen their posts. The running conversations with students about their work means more to them than a 95% on the top of a paper.

Giving direct feedback to students about what they did well and what they need to work on elevates learning. Don’t allow students to resolve comments unless they are printing it out, as the conversation becomes evidence of learning. Tell a student they have a run on or compound sentence. If he or she does not know what it is they should Google it. Teach like Google exists!

Learners can delve into the research process in monthly discovery quests, choosing a topic off a list or of choice to study and teach the class. They can create a presentation, teach the class how to do something, conduct a science experiment, or make an interactive activity for the class.

They build public speaking, communication, organization, and critical thinking skills! Videoing students throughout the process and having them reflect on their work is critical for students to take ownership of their own growth.

This can done through tools such as Flipgrid, Google Forms, Screencastify, or SnagIt. These tools could also be used for other forms of assessment in which students capture what they know, showing evidence and explaining their thinking.

They can work on a hyperdoc, showing their content, process, and digital literacy skills. Creating hyperdocs in the content areas allows for the integration of learning with digital literacy skills. Students benefit from opportunities to explore, explain, collaborate, create, and reflect on one document!

Students can create math games to show understanding of topics or write fraction raps to show knowledge of numerators and denominators. Students can make Google Form assessments for classmates, create a movie in BrainPOP, or design a book trailer using an app.

Designing a Piktochart or using Padlet are other great tools to assess students at the elementary level. View thepadlet done by students doing the Global Read Aloud to see how students reflected on universal truths. Students then met with their teacher, summarizing themes they noticed. Mystery Science offers great guided hands on activities with “think sheets” that can be placed a student’s portfolio.

Ask students how they can show what they know, their answers might be surprising and offer new pedagogical tools. Not one parent ever asks for a grade. Rather they ask about growth and development, so giving our youngest students these experiences builds a foundation for them to be part of authentic learning.

Students who are in charge of their learning can discuss their report card with their teachers, coming to an agreement on grades:

  • Set the expectation to back up their thinking with evidence from their work.

  • Use tools like Google Keep or post it notes helps keep students organized

  • Everything can be linked and shared if using an online platform.

  • Have a conversation with each child

  • Discuss opinions on how they assessed themselves showing evidence

These conversations become the basis of a student-led conference, where the student is in charge of discussing his or her learning with his or her support team (parents, teachers, invited guests, etc.).

The most important thing is to trust students’ instincts. Try new ways to see what students know! Take risks with assessment! There are no rules in the jungle.

What are some ways you hack assessment at the elementary level? What is something you might be willing to try? What is one thing you could let go of? Please share

Rayna Freedman is in her 17th year teaching 5th grade at the Jordan/Jackson Elementary School in Mansfield, MA. She has been hacking assessment since her first year, seeking ways to engage and empower learners. She is on the MassCUE board of directors, presented at ISTE, EdTech Teacher Innovation Summit, MassCUE fall and spring conference, and Tech and Learning Live Boston. She runs creativity workshops for the Reynold's Center, and is studying for her doctoral degree through Northeastern University, is a BrainPOP certified educator, and advocate for teaching digital citizenship in the classroom. She served on the DESE Digital Literacy and Computer Science Standards Panel and was the North Attleboro Chamber of Commerce Teacher of the Year in 2011. For more articles by Ms. Freedman, she is published in Early Childhood Education Today 12th and 13th edition, Building Teachers: A Constructivist Approach to Introducing Education 2nd edition, and Fundamentals of Early Childhood Education 7th edition. She has guest blogged for Matt Miller and Alice Keeler. Rayna was also featured in Education Week discussing the power of social media in the elementary classroom. She also has her own blog- The Day in the Life of a Secret Agent.

The opinions expressed in Work in Progress are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.