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For Teachers

Advice on Using Authentic Assessment in Teaching

By The Room 241 Team October 31, 2012

Authentic assessments attempt to demonstrate what a student actually learns in class rather than the student’s ability to do well on traditional tests and quizzes. Many have claimed this type of assessment an excellent means of evaluating a student’s knowledge of subject matter.

Authentic assessment in action

Educators define authentic assessment as an approach to measure student performance in a direct, relevant way to see if the learning objectives were met. Educators might use projects such as reports, journals, speeches, videos and interviews with the students to measure their understanding of the subject material.

For example, an authentic assessment on the expedition of Lewis and Clark would grade students on journals they wrote imagining themselves as the explorers, or have them draw a map showing the route which Lewis and Clark traveled.

The goal of authentic assessment is to enhance the learning process and help students gain knowledge while completing tasks that are beneficial to their “real-world” experiences. Unlike taking an exam, students work on the authentic assessment over a period of time and they are not limited to filling in bubbles on scannable test papers to demonstrate what they know. Authentic assessments let students show what they are really capable of without the pressure of having to perform well on a traditional test, so they are great options for students who suffer from test anxiety.

Why should educators use authentic assessments?

Authentic assessments help students analyze what they’ve learned and apply it their own experience. They don’t have to memorize facts for a test, so they can use their creativity to show what they’ve learned. For older students who can use a combination of writing and speaking, authentic assessment helps them refine their writing and oral presentation skills. Authentic assessment works great for groups, so students can get experience collaborating on projects with their peers.

Tips for using authentic assessments

Do it often: While it takes time and effort to plan and carry out authentic assessments, they are very rewarding for both the student and the teacher. When teachers first begin using them with a new class, they should expect some challenges and work through them as best they can. With repeated use of authentic assessment, teachers and students will become more comfortable with the process and come to enjoy the satisfaction that comes from completing holistic projects.

Break it down: Many students get overwhelmed easily, so teachers should help them out by breaking down the project into many small steps. For younger students, steps should be assigned to a time line, while students in middle school and above can schedule the tasks on their own and learn about self-discipline at the same time.

Don’t dwell on rules: When creating authentic tasks, educators must remember that there is no one right way to do them. They should approach it with the same creativity with which they expect their students to complete the work.

Go backwards: As teachers set out to design the lessons, they should first start with the assessment and what they want the students to demonstrate at the end. By knowing which objectives they want to see students meet, they can design their lessons accordingly.

Cater to students’ interests: Teachers should try to match the assessments to the interests of the students. This won’t work in every situation, but think of how students will really jump into their work when tech-savvy kids get to create a video or a website showing what they’ve learned or music-minded youngsters can share their knowledge via lyrics.

Never underestimate the power of reflection: Have students reflect on the project and assessment once it’s completed. This will help them to further synthesize what they have learned and it will give teachers an inside look into what the children thought of the project. Additionally, students will feel glad to know that the teacher cares about their opinions.

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