February 8, 2018

By Martin Yan and Kathleen Ciolli

In recent years, there has been a lot of discussion about the amount of time that K–12 students spend taking assessments. Many educators, politicians, and parents are concerned that schools may be over-testing children.

It is possible that the question we should be asking is not, “How much time is spent assessing students?” but rather, “What is the purpose and structure of the assessments we are currently implementing?”

We believe the personalized focus and immediate feedback provided by informal assessment may be the answer to the over-assessment and lack of understanding of students’ needs in many classrooms.

Keep reading to discover the numerous benefits of informal assessment, along with examples of informal assessments you can easily implement in your classroom.

Teacher and boy on laptop

Are we using the most effective forms of assessment?

Historically, educators have spent a significant amount of time assessing student learning, and these assessments were frequently given in the form of summative evaluations to discover what students had learned in a given unit—or over the course of an entire school year. More often than not, there was little or nothing done to circle back and reteach once the test had been given.

In other words, the test was administered, grades were recorded in the grade book, and the teacher moved on to the next topic, whether the students knew the material or not.

Over the past few years, there has been a movement stressing the importance of carefully analyzing the data that educators are collecting. Much of this has been done in professional learning communities, or PLCs, where educators work in collaboration to develop common assessments for the purpose of evaluating student learning.

After they administer these assessments, teachers meet to discuss the results and brainstorm the best ways to remediate when needed.

Why the solution may be informal assessment

Ideally, the educators will also perform item analysis to figure out if there are problem areas for an individual student or group of students. Are multiple students struggling with the same skill? Do these students share a common misconception that needs to be addressed?

Once problem areas have been identified, teachers must then figure out how to respond to these educational needs. Maybe students would benefit from attending a few individualized support sessions or small-group interventions. Or, teachers may have the flexibility to group their students during a common work time to optimize their resources and allow for differentiation with their grade-level counterparts.

If groups are created, students should not be assigned to them permanently. Instead, they should be moved out of the group once they’ve mastered the skill and are ready for new material. This means teachers will need to be continuously re-evaluating their students. This re-evaluation should be done in an authentic manner and on a regular basis.

While we have traditionally relied on formal, paper-and-pencil assessments to inform decision making, more and more teachers are choosing to use informal evaluation methods to check student learning and regroup their students. Informal assessment examples include:

  • Exit slips/tickets
  • Strategic multiple choice
  • Skills checklist
  • Demonstration stations
  • Photo capture
  • Student-created quizzes
  • Individual whiteboard responses

When an informal assessment indicates that students are progressing in their understanding of a topic or standard, they can be formally assessed and, when ready, move out of the assigned group and begin to work on new content, as mentioned above.

Kids studying on tablets

7 informal assessment examples that can help you pinpoint exactly what your students need

The great thing about informal assessments is that they help us to gauge students’ understanding during the learning process instead of “after the fact.” In this way, informal assessment changes teachers’ relationship with student learning.

How so?

Through informal assessment, the teacher becomes a guide throughout the learning process, rather than the judge of the student’s final product. While committing to informal assessment school-wide can be a game-changer for your learners, it’s also important to understand that regularly checking in with kids’ learning is essential to good teaching.

We recognize that teachers are already stretched thin when it comes to classroom management and covering all of the required content. To make it easier, we encourage you to look for informal assessment practices that fit into the life of your classroom and result in data that’s easy to track and follow through on. To get you started, let’s take a deeper look at the seven informal assessment examples we mentioned above.

#1: Exit slips/tickets

As the name implies, this informal assessment is administered at the end of a lesson, before students exit the classroom. Prompts you might use on exit slips/tickets include:

  • Here are 3 things I learned today…
  • Here are 2 things I found interesting…
  • Here is 1 question I still have…
  • The most important thing I learned today was…
  • I would like to learn more about…
  • The best part of today’s class was…
  • Discuss one way today’s lesson can be used in your life.
  • Did working with a partner today make your job easier or harder? Explain why.

When using exit slips/tickets, it’s best to get kids in the habit of knowing they will be expected to fill out slips/tickets that follow the same format every time. This helps them to know what they need to be thinking about as they are learning.

If you have students learning virtually, exit slips/tickets are also important from a simple check-in standpoint. In addition to assessing students’ understanding of a particular lesson, the slips/tickets can help you to assess students’ level of engagement and social-emotional well-being.

Insights to move learning forward

Discover solutions from Renaissance to support both formal and informal assessment

Teen working in library

#2: Strategic multiple choice

Multiple-choice questions make assessments more reliable, make marking easier, and make student understanding more visible to teachers. To come up with multiple-choice questions that show what and how students are thinking, teachers need to have a good idea of ways kids might misunderstand the information. Teachers can then present one correct response with three possible misunderstandings, or “distractors.”

As mentioned earlier, performing item analysis to determine which students chose each distractor can provide helpful insights into common misconceptions, which you can then address with individual students or in a small-group setting.

Evidence-based selected response (EBSR) questions are also an option here. EBSRs have two parts: a traditional multiple-choice question (part 1) followed by a prompt (part 2) to identify the evidence the student used to select his or her response.

#3: Skills checklists

Skills checklists help you to informally evaluate student progress based on your own observations. The checklists can easily be adapted to any subject matter you are teaching or skill you want your students to learn.

Here’s how a skills checklist works: Before teaching a unit, develop a list of all the skills each student will learn. When working with students, put either a “+” or “–” to indicate where you think each of the students is with regard to each skill. The data you collect goes into a spreadsheet or directly into an easy-to-use learning management system (LMS) to give you an overall view of your students’ progress.

Your checklist should include all the key details about the skill you are trying to assess, such as what the students should know and what level they should be at, in order to properly determine your rating of each skill.

Two boys on a tablet

#4: Demonstration stations

The use of demonstration stations is a great way for students to show what they know and to help you determine the best direction for future instruction. In this example of informal assessment, stations are set up at varying times throughout a unit where students are asked to demonstrate their learning.

At each station, there should be an iPad or laptop where students can complete an activity, making the collection of data easy and seamless.

For example, in an early elementary classroom, you could create a demonstration station that contains a mat for each student with their name on it and an assortment of Wikki Stix. By referring to a list of the sight words they are working on, the students can then each make the words on their list using the Wikki Stix.

When they complete the project, students can use the iPad to take a picture of the words they created, making it easy for you to assess their level of accuracy.

#5: Photo capture

Photo capture is another fun and easy way to informally assess student learning. Simply take photos of things that are related to what your students are currently learning. Ask the students to caption or comment on each photo based on their understanding of the subject. You can then assess the captions/comments and give each student a rating on a scale from 1 (deep understanding) to 5 (surface understanding).

In the following example, a teacher posted a photo of Henry Ford to Instagram, and she asked her students to (a) identify Ford and (b) list two things he is famous for:

Illuminate screenshot
Sample photo caption activity (Source: Nerdy, nerdy, nerdy)

This activity can be used with non-photo sources as well. For example, students can capture news articles or podcast clips that they find particularly compelling and relate them to the topic of study.

#6: Student-created quizzes

Instead of giving students a quiz, have them create their own!

Formulating questions about newly learned content is a great way to encourage students to engage in deep thinking and focus on the most essential ideas and details. For example, as you’re reading a class novel, assign different groups of students to work together to create a quiz on each of the chapters.

After reviewing the quizzes, you can gain added insight by having the groups take each other’s quizzes to assess their comprehension of individual chapters in the novel.

Girl writing on whiteboard

#7: Individual whiteboard responses

This informal assessment example is used to quickly assess students’ understanding of a concept and identify students who may need extra support. The process is easy: Students simply answer a question on their mini whiteboards and hold up their answers so the teacher can see the entire class’s answers at the same time.

You’ll need:

  • Mini whiteboards (or a piece of paper in a sheet protector)
  • Thin dry-erase markers
  • Erasers

The procedure is simple:

  1. Give each student a whiteboard, marker, and eraser.
  2. Ask a question.
  3. Students answer the question on the whiteboard.
  4. As students are answering the question, walk around the room to check for understanding.
  5. When all students are finished, ask them to raise their mini whiteboards all at once.

At a glance, you will be able to easily evaluate who understood the concept and who may need additional support.

Group of teachers

How Renaissance supports informal assessment

Renaissance’s DnA custom assessment platform is designed to meet a wide variety of district-, school-, and classroom-level testing needs. With more than 80,000 standards-aligned items in core subject areas, along with pre-built assessments and rich reporting, DnA gives you deep insight into what students know—and where they might be struggling.

DnA offers a number of item types for use in custom assessments, including:

  • Multiple choice
  • EBSR
  • Constructed response
  • Charting
  • Drag in the blank
  • Graphing
  • Hot spot
  • Inline dropdown
  • Match list
  • Multipart
  • Number line
  • Ordering

This wealth of content allows you to assess students’ understanding of a concept in multiple ways, so you can provide the right instruction and feedback to move learning forward.

Learn more

Connect with an expert today to learn more about DnA and other assessment solutions from Renaissance for K–12 learners.

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