As frequently as a chef needs to check a sauce for taste, teachers should check for understanding.
These can be formal–formative or summative assessment, multiple-choice, short answer, essay, matching, and related iconic ‘test’ forms. But they can also be informal–conversations, gallery walks, sketches, and more.
We recently shared the Inconvenient Truths of Assessment, and one of the takeaways from that post by Terry Heick could be that rather focusing on the design of assessment, we could instead focus on a climate of assessment–a classroom where snapshots of understanding are taken frequently and naturally, without the stress of performance for the student, or the burden of huge, unmanageable data results for the teachers.
So what about assessment as a matter of tone and purpose? If an assessment is non-traditional and non-threatening (or even less traditional and less threatening), how might that impact what it reveals? Does the tone of an assessment matter?
Is informal assessment a ‘lesser’ form altogether?
The Primary Benefit Of Informal Assessment
More than anything else, non-threatening, informal assessment can disarm the process of checking for understanding. The less formal the form, the less guarded or anxious the student might become. Stress and worry can quickly shut down the student’s ability to think, which yields misleading results–a poor “grade” which implies that a student understands a lot less than they actually do.
In that way, Levy County Schools in Florida’s Kim Lambert compilation of 60 Tools for Formative Assessment and Processing Activities can be useful to you as you collect data from all students, from the polished little academics to students for whom the classroom might be a less-than-comfortable place.