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How to effectively and accurately measure student learning is an ongoing conversation held among educators. It’s one thing for students to learn about South America, Hamlet, and World War II in class. Some may even nod their heads as they take in the information. But how can teachers measure their students’ learning and know for sure that they are truly engaging in the learning process and gaining a deep understanding of the lessons?

Of course, it’s easy for teachers to hand out tests and quizzes over a given topic or lesson. Not to mention, state and curriculum testing has never been more prevalent than it is now. While tests and quizzes can be effective in measuring a student’s learning and retention, it’s important to remember that they are just one way to assess progress. There are a variety of other methods that teachers can utilize to measure students’ knowledge in a subject area.

Measure Learning Visual Assessment

Sometimes, figuring out what is inside each student’s head is half the battle when it comes to understanding what they’ve learned. Many teachers, especially at the elementary and middle school levels, use a “learning board” in the classroom. For example, if students were studying the solar system, each student could write something new they discovered about the solar system on a note card and hang it on the learning board. This exercise allows students to process and analyze what they’ve learned, and share that with their classmates. The teacher then has the opportunity to clearly see what information students are grasping well, and what needs to be taught further and reinforced.

When it comes to high school students, there’s probably a higher chance the note cards will be made into paper airplanes than hung on a learning board, but there are other methods to assess high school students that aren’t as elementary. Portfolios, for example, can be an effective tool for high schoolers. Over the course of a semester or school year, students can keep track of projects, assignments, quizzes, tests, and other materials in their portfolios. They can look back on information, instead of just throwing it away, to review and measure what they understand well, and where their knowledge can be deepened.

Ask Open-Ended Questions

It’s an old cliché that there’s no such thing as a dumb question, but then there’s the third grade classroom where teachers are asked daily, “How many tiles are on the ceiling?” or “Why isn’t the sun out today?” and “Why is the moon called the moon?” Not that these questions are dumb, but it proves that students, starting at an early age, love to question everything. Questions lead to knowledge, which leads to understanding.

It’s important to note that closed questions only ask learners to recall information, and don’t necessarily allow for critical thinking and communication. When teachers strategically ask open-ended questions, it helps them identify and correct gaps in knowledge and comprehension. Open-ended questions are an effective way to measure student learning because students’ answers tell us what they know, understand, and are capable of doing. For example, students can know Martin Luther King, Jr. is an important historical figure, but it’s important for them to understand why he’s a notable person. Students who can explain the impact he made, who he influenced, and the depth of his legacy shows that they are able to think critically and analytically, and truly engage in subject matter.

Provide Meaningful Feedback

When it comes to feedback, students often fear the worst. In fact, there are few things more intimidating than a teacher’s red pen highlighting comments and corrections throughout a test or assignment. Feedback does not have to be such a scary thing for students, though. In fact, it can prove to be incredibly valuable. Studies have shown that the best feedback is oriented toward a specific goal. In other words, for any given assignment, project, or test, present students with ways they can progress towards achieving their goal—whether it be gaining at least a C average on every assignment, raising their grade ten points, or maintaining an A in the class. If students are presented with productive feedback in a timely manner that helps meet their goals, they are more apt to learn from that and be more motivated to show evidence of that learning progress moving forward.

What techniques and strategies do you employ in the classroom to measure student learning? Share in the comments below. We’d love to know!

Looking for a way to inspire and motivate your students to do their best? This article, “How to Give An ‘A’” just might be what you need!

The original version of this article was first published on Sycamore School.

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