Assessing Students

During classroom instruction, the teacher facilitates learning by providing rich tasks, asking probing questions, observing students, and scaffolding learning as appropriate. However, during classroom assessment, the classroom teacher wants to learn what a student knows and is able to do without the support typically provided during instruction.

In order to help the classroom teacher gather the best information possible from the tasks, the teacher’s role becomes that of an observer. Refraining from any coaching, prompting, or targeted questioning, the teacher only reads the assessment task to the student as many times as needed and encourages the student to solve the problem to the best of his/her ability. On occasion, a word provided in the directions may not make sense to the student and an alternative word is provided as determined by the teacher. However, the classroom teacher is very careful not to provide additional information that could cover up what the student does or doesn’t understand. The goal of assessment is to uncover student thinking so that instruction can best meet his/her needs.

As the classroom teacher carefully observes students at work, s/he is finding out as much as possible about what students are thinking and how they go about working on tasks. The teacher may take notes on student strategies and behaviors, ask clarifying questions, or restate the problem as needed. For example, do students work with confidence on the task or are there some aspects that seem more difficult? Which ones? Can you determine why and make notes for adjustments next time this happens? Oftentimes, the observation provides the most information about student thinking.

Because young children frequently know more than they can record in traditional, symbolic formats, it is important for the teacher to gather as much information about student understanding as students work on the various tasks. As the teacher circulates, s/he asks additional questions to learn as much as possible about students’ thinking. For example, the teacher might say, “Tell me more about the picture you have drawn.” or “Tell me what you are doing with the counters.” or “Tell me more about your thinking.” The teacher makes notes about students’ responses.

Consider using the following clarifying questions to help understand student thinking:
  • Tell me more about that.
  • Can you show me?
  • Why do you say that?
  • What else can you tell me?
  • How do you know?
  • Why do you think that happened?
  • Do you think this will happen every time?

The assessment tasks can be administered individually, in small groups, or as a whole class, depending on the purpose for the assessment task. Oftentimes, if a task is presented in a whole class setting, the task requires the student to provide a written response. In this situation, the teacher is unable to observe all children carefully to learn about their thinking. Therefore, if the teacher has questions about a student’s work, the teacher is encouraged to ask follow up questions, clarifying what the student wrote and gaining better insight into the student’s thinking.

When administering a task, consider the following:
  1. Prepare the materials. Gather the materials needed for the task. All Blackline masters and Student Forms are located next to the task. Additional materials from the general classroom supplies may be needed. Will you need enough for the entire class or just one or a few students?
  2. Read through the task directions. The language that the teacher is to use when administering a task is provided in italics. This ‘teacher talk’ is provided to help the classroom teacher ask questions and provide information without guiding thinking. Comments and notes to the teacher are not in italics. These comments provide prompts or reminders to the teacher as the task is administered.
  3. Read the Continuum for Understanding indicators. Much of the administration of an assessment task is spent carefully observing children as they work. Read over the indicators to know what you are looking for as the students solve the problem.
  4. Observe the students carefully. How are the students solving the problem? What are they using? Are they counting everything over and over or are they counting on? Do they know 10 more or 10 less fluently, or are they counting up or back to figure it out? Keep a clipboard, tablet, or other documentation devices to take notes as students work. Oftentimes, the observation provides the most information about student thinking.
  5. What’s Next? After a student has completed a task, will s/he head back to Math Stations? Move on to the next item on his/her contract? Get his/her snack and join the others on the carpet or on the playground? Use the limited time you have wisely and refrain from having students wait for one another by planning “what’s next”.