10 ways to assess learning without tests…

A tweet by @wmchamberlain which caught my eye the other day,  was the catalyst for this 10 ways post.

Today’s #edchat discussion about the arts got me thinking further (as always).  The arts can be integrated across other disciplines and can add another powerful layer to learning, be it history, maths, literature or bible! (but that can be another post). For now, why not replace some traditional testing with opportunities for creative expression? I’ve included some such options in my list of alternative assessments.

Every one of these tasks includes natural differentiation for different levels of ability. They are written in general terms and can be adapted and applied as required. Use the ideas individually or combine aspects of different ones.

1. Create a cartoon.

Use the online cartoon creator, ToonDoo, to create a cartoon (or toonbook) which demonstrates your knowledge, explains your thinking about a topic or illustrates your understanding of a concept.

2. Produce a play.

Work with your group to produce and present a play which demonstrates what you have learnt. Make sure to include your own interpretation and analysis. Show how your new knowledge can be applied in other contexts.

3. Make a video.

Make a video to demonstrate your learning. Your video can include acting or singing. You might create an animation or a documentary. Show what your have understood and add your own interpretation.

4. Create a slideshow.

Select a series of images that relate to your learning. Take your own photographs to include in your slideshow. Include your own paintings. Make connections between the images and what you have learned. Add text that explains why you have chosen (or created) these particular images.

5. Thinking routines.

Create a headline that shows your understanding of the topic. Choose a colour, symbol and image to represent the essence of what you have learned. Explain how your thinking has developed using the ‘I used to think, now I think’ routine. (More options at PZ Visible Thinking )

6. Write a blog post.

Write a blog post that shows your learning, or clarifies your thinking. You might choose to express yourself  through poetry or narrative, or any genre of your choice. Remember you are writing for an authentic audience who might respond and ask questions. Add appropriate images. Include a reflection on your learning.

7. Compose a song.

Compose a song that expresses your learning, understanding or opinions. Compose your own music or write new lyrics that can be sung to the melody of an existing song. Collaborate with other musicians to compose and present your piece.

8. Solve a problem.

Use your skills and knowledge to provide a solution (or solutions) to a real life problem posed by your teacher. Show how you can apply your learning in a different context. Or create your own problem. Exchange with a peer and solve each others’.

9. Concept mapping.

Show your understanding of how the different parts of your learning are connected using a graphic organizer. Use a thinking map from Exploratree, one provided by your teacheror create one of your own.  Show the development of your ideas by creating a concept map in Spicynodes.

10. Student choice.

Best of all. Present your understandings/ learning/ findings/analysis… in any way you like.

I know this post is an over-simplification. It depends on what you’re assessing. It might depend on who you’re assessing. And the purpose of the assessment. But irrespective of the age or ability of your students, whether you’re assessing skills, knowledge, understanding, technique or application of knowledge to other contexts… all of the above are valid, more engaging, more meaningful alternative to tests.

More posts in the ’10 ways’ series


27 thoughts on “10 ways to assess learning without tests…

  1. Great post for other forms of assessment – I like Comic Life for cartoons and Bubbl.us for concept maps too. I have also used Pivot (stick figure animations) for assessment in science and video/audio recordings as ‘exit slips’ – describe what you learnt in science today, what you did well, what could be improved and what you would like to know more about.


  2. As usual, your posts are good food for thought. I’ve shared this one with our teachers, today, both as a resource and as a pat on the back, a recognition of what we are already doing in many classes. We are a candidate school, with much learning and change of perspective happening. Thank you for your ongoing good words!


  3. Hello, im from Dominican Republic, so please excuse my english… as a teacher im always worried in getting good rubrics to evaluate those forms of assessments, it is important to have clear indicators to value the proyect correctly.
    Do you recomend any?


  4. Ed,
    I absolutely adore the way you articulate such thought provoking topics. My district has just begun yet another round on tests (these are diagnostic and will give very specific information on reading levels, and math understandings), and yet one of my schools will still assess 2 content areas every Friday. I already put my foot in my mouth that this was wasting instructional time, but the end of the year scores are solid, so how can administrators who are being held accountable by this one lousy measure buy into anything other than kill and drill? In the meantime, there is little to no communication going on by students. They can choose a right answer but they cannot articulate their thoughts on specific subjects.
    The frustrations of the teachers is palpable, and we are all stressed only 2 weeks into our new school year.
    I love this list and will share with some of my teachers. Thanks for all you do.


  5. Excellent alternatives Edna. We need to offer multiple avenues for students to express what they have learned and show what they know. In most cases, assessment alternatives help us as teachers get a better understanding of what students really know as a result of their learning.


  6. Ed,

    Thanks for all the great information on ways to asses students without testing. I visited all these sites and must say I passed them on to some former colleuges. I believe that especially with ELL stiudents there needs to be new ways to assess their learning other than standardized tests.
    Thanks again!


  7. Wow, this is exactly what I have been working on for the past 8 years as a teacher. I knew that there was far more going on within my class than could be reflected in test results. Because of this I have been working on my own assessment system independently that allows evidence of real learning to be captured and then linked to formal learning criteria.

    The following clip shows how this can be applied to primary science…


  8. Hi Edna,

    Was at yeasterday’s Reform Symposium panel discussion on assessment where someone posted a link to this great blog article of yours.

    Have just linked to it on the TeachingEnglish facebook page if you’d like to check for comments.

    Please feel free to post there when you have anything you think is relevant to ELT teachers and would like to share.




  9. As you know, I’m with you all the way on this Edna. The more we encourage young people to express what they have learned in ways appropriate to their needs … and challenge and support them in trying new ways, the more rounded, flexible and adaptable individuals they will become.

    You can sense a ‘but’ coming already can’t you? Whilst these media do indeed allow students to show their learning, I’d suggest they don’t perform the ‘assessment’ part of the post title. One way of defining assessment is when someone else judges the content presented against a set of predetermined criteria. Here are what I feel are the two tricky bits:
    The ‘predetermined criteria’ – well OK, that’s not too bad. By choosing our criteria carefully and linking them with our intended learning outcomes, it shouldn’t be too big a deal to apply them across the different products from the students. Which brings us to …
    ‘The judgement’ – the majority of teachers are comfortable with (if not exactly delighted by) assessing more traditional forms of product. The tough bit for them would be juggling the different media “You mean I’ve got to read some stuff online, listen to some songs AND watch some videos?!”
    I think this might be what Jackie is referring to in her comment.

    However as I’m sure you’d reply if I didn’t mention it first, who says the teacher has to perform the assessment. Maybe this kind of activity is an ideal candidate for self-assessment? How much more powerful would the learning then become?


  10. Unfortunately testing is the only thing the government cares about and the only way they evaluate your success as a teacher. I do think that these options can be used to get better scores.


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