Making Children’s Learning Assessments More Purposeful

By Angela Hansen
President and Founder
American Academy of Strategic Education

At American Academy of Strategic Education, everything we do, we do with the best interest of the child in mind. This is no different in the area of assessments. 

Conducting a proper assessment can be tricky. For example, timed assessments and scripted instructions which must be read word for word, can provide valuable information but do not offer flexibility. It is counterproductive to the building of a child’s self-esteem to demand the child to accomplish a task that we know they may not be capable of doing. If you ask a child who you know cannot read to read during an assessment, it will affect their confidence and his/her excitement for learning; too much emphasis can be put on what the child CANNOT do.

I would suggest at the younger levels, we toss aside the formal assessments and instead take a “purposeful” assessment approach.  Purposeful parent-teachers gather data that are needed to guide learning and help ensure their child grows and develops at his/her individual pace. Purposeful parent-teachers also use assessments to find a child’s strengths and to figure out which areas need to be targeted for early intervention. It is best to use a variety of methods of observation and assessment to find what young learners are able to do so that we can help them progress. 

Parents doing their own flexible assessment enables them to collect information about their child that goes beyond the scripted and formal assessments. Observing your child and keeping a running record will allow you to look at your child holistically, rather than the sum of a diluted assessment. Your informal, purposeful assessment can include all aspects of a child’s development such as a child’s preferred approach to learning, language expansion and communication, intellectual development, emotional and social growth, and health and physical development.

It is most useful to observe children throughout the day in their natural learning environment. You can take photos and videos to quickly and easily document your child’s learning. 

When assessing your children, look for additional queues about their progression. Are they familiar with holding a book, turning the pages, and knowing the difference between print and pictures? Do they look closely at the pictures on each page and use pictures to enhance the meaning of a story? Do they understand the difference between the front and back of a book, do they turn pages from left to right, and do they track left to right when looking at the text? Do they know that a period at the end of the sentence signifies a stop? These more “nuanced assessments” provided valuable information that enabled the parent to target each child’s unique needs.

Blocks of time when children are playing and making decisions are a great time to gather meaningful data about each child to observe their skills and strengths. What they choose to play with or watch will provide additional evidence, especially when children are not able to use oral language to fully demonstrate their learning.

As you are observing and interacting with your child, there are questions you can ask that will help to promote a child’s thinking and to deeper assess their learning such as, “What other ways can we do that?,” “How can we do this differently?,” “Tell me how you did that,” “Why do you think that?,” “Tell me how you figured that out,” and “You worked really hard on that. How did you come up with that idea?,” instead of something more general, like, “Nice work” or “Good job.” Asking deeper, more meaningful questions helps to focus on the process of learning—not just on your child’s finished products. 

Conclusion

These informal, on-going, flexible, purposeful assessments, allow the parent to focus on their child’s strengths and dig deeper into their child’s individual needs. 

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