Friday, April 8, 2011


There's a question that has always seemed, to me, to lie at the heart of a lot of the disagreements about assessments: who are we assessing - the children, or ourselves?

I myself grew up very much afraid of assessments, and my stress over them has meant that I have not been the best performer on tests. 

I realized, however, that stressing over tests is a learned response, not a natural one. My students don't know that they "should" stress over assessments, and they don't even know they're being assessed, especially as the assessments can take so many different forms at this age and stage in life.

From my point of view, what's useful about assessment is that it allows me to learn what lessons I have taught effectively to each child. The assessments help me to identify what I need to do differently for the remainder of the year, not just in general, but with each individual child. 

So, I see the assessment as being an assessment of what I have done, not an assessment of the children as students. I am the grownup, and it is up to me to communicate to the child - it is not the child's job to figure me out. And, for the child, where is the benefit in having them think of themselves as "not a good student"? 

I'm not Pollyanna: I realize that the children are different, and I realize that as they get older they will have to learn techniques that will allow them to assess well. However, I believe that all the children should - and can - learn all the material I teach; whatever their level of ability and maturity, it is up to me to find a way to make the material accessible to them - and this is why I find differentiation so valuable and important. 

Still, at some point the kids are going to figure out that they're being assessed, and how they react to it will depend on how they think about the answer to that question I asked: am I assessing their performance, or mine?

So, in my classroom, once in a while I tell the children, "today, please don't talk among yourselves (I usually encourage collaboration) as you do this activity, because I want to know if I have been able to teach you properly. If I didn't, I will try to find a better way to teach it to you." No surprise, the children are very eager to help me out! I've even had children tell me things like, "Miss Marra, I am not so sure about the hexagon - I think you will have to teach me about that again!" 

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