Everything is an assessment…

What would happen if we didn’t have numbers?

Rubi poses this question to her Year 5 class, as a provocation,  generating wonderful ideas and discussion…

  • We couldn’t build houses because we’d have no units of measurement.
  • No price tags. Everything would be free.
  • You wouldn’t know your age.
  • There wouldn’t be computer technology if there were no binary numbers.


One student declares ‘We wouldn’t have time’ to which another responds ‘There would still be time, just no way to record it’…and they are on their way to a deeper conceptual understanding.

As Rubi shares the conversation with me, we are excited, not just by the kinds of things the children have thought about, but by the power of a simple open-ended question to  provoke thinking and inspire discussion.

She tells me she had planned to give a Maths pre-test during that lesson but, swept along by the comments, questions and conversation, had forgotten all about it. I point out that everything is an assessment. She agrees that she has gathered a broad range of data via this discussion, not just in terms of their understanding of the content, but about her students as learners. She can tell:

  • What they know about numbers.
  • Who understands the difference between time and the recording of time.
  • Their understanding of the application of numbers.
  • Which learners think in a complex way, beyond what’s on the surface.
  • How open each learner is to debate and ideas that challenge their thinking.
  • Which students are already engaging with higher order thinking and which might need support.
  • Who is naturally curious and eager to learn.
  • Which children think they are not interested in Maths and are turned off by talk of numbers.
  • Who is ready to take ownership of their learning and run with their own inquiries.
  • Who will need another provocation that engage them further…

Our school goal for the year is to use data to inform teaching and improve learning. While many think of data as the formal, numerical kind, it’s interesting how much informal data can be gleaned from careful observation and really listening to the learning. This is how good inquiry teachers decide where to go next.

Plan in response to learning, not in advance…

16 thoughts on “Everything is an assessment…

  1. Hooray! My pet hate is educators who talk about data and mean numbers and test scores. Qualitative data is an essential and sorely missing component of the complete picture. Go you!


  2. Our legislature is currently reevaluating statewide assessments, and in the course of social media discussion, a parent who dislikes the less “concrete” data asked, “How am I to know where [my son] needs to work on improving if the tests are all based on someone else opinions[?]” Even though there are so many incredible alternatives to numbers to record data, we are facing this kind of lack of faith in teachers’ “opinions” over here. Which makes me wonder which they’re more afraid of: trusting teachers’ anecdotal data, or simply letting go of the comfort of statistics?


  3. This was an awesome provocation for our Year Fives. 100 students have been totally engaged in this ‘simple’ question. Some students started to problem solve e.g. How might we tell the time of day (as accurately as possible) without numbers? Inquiry at its best – when students choose to challenge themselves ‘off their own bat.’ Students grouped themselves – great to see a range of ability groups collaborating with such excitement.


  4. I wonder if an over reliance of numbers also comes from a lack of confidence in maths. Knowing the right question to ask before computation just as important as computation. However we get tend spend a lot of time on the latter without worrying about the former.


  5. All those sticky notes stuck to the wall… that is data.

    Ask the students to organize them into a continuum…. more data.

    Ask the students to write a short story about a world where one of them is true…. more data.

    Ask the students to “measure” a series of items without numbers…. more data.

    Ask the students to compare their measurements…. more data.

    Ask the students to develop a language based system of measurement… more data.

    Ask the students to apply their new system of “language numbers” to a project … more data.

    Ask another group to do the same project with traditional units and numbers … more data.

    Ask the students to compare the two projects …. more data.

    All of these ideas produce data, and assessment. Depends on how you look at “data”.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Amazing ideas. It gave such an amazing understanding about a child’s learner profile. I could immediately observe who are open minded and ready for challenges.


  6. This sounds like a great activity for young learners. It shows just how important sharing ideas is. This sticky note activity is like having a group discussion, but instead of having to come up with a response immediately, a student can have more time to process their reply. I love that the administrator of the activity can see watch the students communicate their well thought over ideas without having to pressure any of them to reply since they take initiative themselves. In this way the teacher can also watch the development of individual thinking and assist kids who might need more help.


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