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  • Writer's pictureAlex Box

6 ways to know what students know

A recent tweet caught my attention.

As someone addicted to big-picture thinking, I felt compelled to collate a list that comes at this from different angles. It's specific to maths for now, and draws on experience as a primary classroom teacher specialising in Years 1 to 4.

It's not exhaustive... Just one example of a considered approach. I'm playfully aware that different contexts provide unique possibilities. So the hope here is to provide some food for thought. And possibly a useful next action.

First, here's a small collection of ideas underpinning this list:

Play is the most powerful context in which to LEARN (a fun place to read research).

Therefore LEARNING is and should be fun and meaningful (read engaging) for students.

An appropriate approach to ASSESSMENT and LEARNING is one that deeply integrates them.

So ASSESSMENT (too!) can, and should, be fun and meaningful (read engaging) for students.

The (Current) List

For #maths, I believe an appropriate approach to assessment and learning is one that highly integrates the two, and comes in at various angles.

1) Start with (maths) play: learner-led, open-ended play in a mathematical environment. As long as you've access to resources, it's low prep, high impact & gives insight into student strengths & personalities which can inform future lessons

2) [Regular] small group talks (2-3 students): Keep mall size allows a window into current understanding while the presence of others allows collaborative learning. Responsive teaching occurs in the moment when areas for growth are revealed. Takes as little as 4 min

3. [Regular] Facilite learning journal entries. For instance, students record what they learned that week, found challenging, overcame, would like to practise or learn next. They then analyse and evaluate their reflection could then choose what interests them to learn next and why, and add this to a community 'What next' board. This gives us powerful insight and hands over responsibility, ownership and voice to students. 'What next' responses may shape teacher moves like:

  • what number talk and other maths talk visuals to use in regular 5-15 minute maths talks

  • whole class investigations

  • the focus of small group targeted instruction situation,

  • resources and activities that are made accessible to students in independent maths learning time

4. [Occasional] An open-ended or open-middle work sample / portfolio piece. Worded, real-world problems are a good choice because it requires decoding of the question together with choosing an appropriate approach that reflects the question... as well as the skills to 'do the maths'. It assesses numeracy which is what a school education should foster in all students. To learn more about this area of teaching, I recommend taking a look at this teaching approach.

5. [Occasional] 1-to-1 interviews. This is my preferred to collect data for formal data collection and reporting periods. It provides clearer and more reliable information about what a student can do than a paper test. Like all other assessment, it can be used to inform next teaching steps.

6. [Rare] The Paper Test. This is a part of life and therefore important to prepare for through some conversations and practice. But it's a terrible way of measuring what individuals know and can do in order to serve them as learners. So should not dominate the educational landscape.

What's your favourite way to learn what students know and what they can do?

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