Assess like a parent, not a teacher.

For those of you that are parents, have you ever given your child a multiple choice test over life lessons?  Have you ever given them a true/false quiz on how to treat other people?   Ever give them a constructed response question on how to do the laundry?  Of course not, but how could you possibly know if they are learning without a stream of data to analyze.

You talk to them.

Remember the movie Dr. Doolittle, yeah the original from 1967.  He is so excited when he realizes he can talk to the animals.  He can't wait for all the conversations and things he can learn from them and about them.  Why don't we do this more in our classes?  Have the kids explain everything.  They can present to the class or present to each other.  Have them present to you through a conversation one-on-one.  When you walk away from a student you should know exactly where they stand.  Not to mention all these conversations are building a better relationship with each kid.  This will immediately strengthen your class.

The first thing you have to do is flip the teacher, not flip your class.  As teachers, it was common to take home papers and grade them, doing the assessment outside of class.  That has to be flipped.   Justin and I do the majority of our assessing in class.  And outside of class, we are searching for new project ideas and setups for future activities.  Almost every assessment we do has a conversation piece where we talk back and forth with the student about what they learned and the outcomes of the project.

I was working in the garden with my 6 year old, Sydney, and she popped open a pea and started eating the peas out of the pod.  I asked her what she was doing and she said the dark green peas need to be popped out and the lighter ones are better left in the pod.  I asked her how she figured this out and she said the dark peas weren't sweet enough and she wondered why.  I learned more from her and about her knowledge of peas in that two minute conversation than I ever could have from the way we currently assess our students in school.

In our fast changing classrooms where there are huge pushes for 1:1 with technology, project based learning, web tools, 21st century skills, and all of the other new ideas- the one that will make the biggest change in your classroom culture and your kids is to assess through conversations.  Flip the teacher and assess your students the way parents raise their kids and take Dr. Doolittle's advice and "talk to the animals."


  1. This method of assessment seems to go hand in glove with the upcoming implementation of Common Core Standards. I never thought about the fact that I never ask my children about what/how they've learned something in the same way that I seek to assess my students. Something that makes me hesitant to adapt these questioning strats is the time that will be involved. Our school day seems so short and full as it is. Any tips for handling this Joey?

    1. Hello,
      Thank you for your thoughtful comment. Timing is an issue. We layer our assignment/curriculum so that there is alway something else to do for students who finish early. I have students make a digital portfolio on a Google Site, Joey has students keep track of everything they have learned in a LiveBinder. We may also challenge students to go above and beyond or go around the room and help others if they finish early.

      So, as the first students finish you "grade out" with them and they go off to other tasks. As the rest of the class finishes, you grade out with them one by one. For the students that work more slowly you can grade out before/after school, during lunch, or virtually online with Google Doc sharing and commenting. As far as building time into your curriculum, think of all the time it takes to review for tests, take tests, go over the test when students are finished, etc.

      Will you have to build in extra time? Maybe. Is it worth it? Yes. I have a real whole-child grasp of what my students know. As the year goes on, you will streamline the process and if the students are working independently and you are floating around the room while they are working, you are formatively assessing, making the final grade-out much easier. I use a clipboard and paper rosters to keep track of all my formative and summative conversations. I use a simple system of icons/symbols to remind me who I have talked to and how they were doing. Another resource for this is Mark Barnes's ROLE model. You can also research Oral Defense models of assessment. I hope you give it a try!

    2. Hi,
      Good question, I am just going to add to Justin's good points. To take on this method you have to flip the teacher and layer your class.

      To flip the teacher means to assess your kids in class not out of class as we have done for years. Instead of taking papers home and grading them 95% is done during the school day in conversation or online as Justin has eluded to. Then at home or during your prep I am creating projects/class activities to work on. For my 7th grade math class I have dropped tests and the day before review. Testing stats are for administrators and newspapers. Also, I don't give worksheet homework so those two things are how I have exchanged the time.

      I layer my class by doing Math Journals (Math Journals are my favorite days in class blog) and projects (We need a serious math revolution part III blog). When the kids finish one Math Journal they start the next which is given to them on my website in a library format. With group projects the kids have multiple parts and move on as they are ready so I use this time as they are busy to walk around and talk to the kids about what they are doing and why, help them if they are stuck by talking it out together, or assessing what they are learning and what they have learned.

      I know it sounds drastic and your administrator might not be open to trying this new method. Don't feel like you have to scrap everything at once. Ease into it and try one conversation assessment before the first mid term. You will be amazed how much better a conversation is then a piece of paper with their name on it.

      Good luck and let us know if there is anything else we can do to help,


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