Informal Assessments, and how I use them in my classroom

by Dr Davis on October 8, 2008

For the class I am taking, I had to bring in an example of informal assessments. There was no discussion of this in the reading or on the boards, so I was not sure what the facilitator was actually looking for. I went online, surfing for possible explanations and found a great introduction to informal assessments, both structured and unstructured. (Note: While I have not been able to find the original for a while, I did find it. Directions for how to find it are at the end of the post.)

Writing samples – When students write anything on specific topics, their products can be scored by using one of the techniques described in Table 3. Other creative writing samples that can be used to assess student progress include newspapers, newsletters, collages, graffiti walls, scripts for a play, and language experience stories.

Homework – Any written work students do alone, either in class or in the home, can be gathered and used to assess student progress. With teacher guidance, students can participate in diagnosing and remediating their own errors. In addition, students’ interests, abilities, and efforts can be monitored across time.

Logs or journals - An individual method of writing. Teachers can review on a daily, weekly, or quarterly basis to determine how students are perceiving their learning processes as well as shaping their ideas and strengths for more formal writing which occurs in other activities.

These are, I think, the most commonly used in English classes.

I have multiple papers, homework, and journal assignments. Most of the homework is graded from a “did all,” “did most,” “did some,” “did none” point of view. But the journal assignments range from very particular grading of grammar and content and following directions to a general “turned in” 100.

These are not, according to the class leader, informal assessments because they are graded. So I am not sure what that means for me or for my class.

The only writing samples I don’t grade in some form or fashion are for one freshman writing course at SLAC. There the first class period is a writing topic so that you can ascertain whether the student should be in that course or needs to move into remedial English.

Other than those, I grade everything because I liked having grades when I was in college.

Games - Games can provide students with a challenging method for increasing their skills in various areas such as math, spelling, naming categories of objects/people, and so on.

Debates - Students’ oral work can be evaluated informally in debates by assessing their oral presentation skills in terms of their ability to understand concepts and present them to others in an orderly fashion.

Brainstorming – This technique can be used successfully with all ages of children to determine what may already be known about a particular topic. Students often feel free to participate because there is no criticism or judgment.

These are things I use less often in class, but I don’t grade them or they are only a participation grade.

I am working on a Jeopardy game for grammar. Someone else has one and I want to work on it.

One of my sets of classes is going to have a debate over a controversial issue as part of the preparation for their writing. The good thing about that is that they will hear other people’s points of view. The bad point of that is all the writing will be on the same topic.

Brainstorming is something I use to get my students started thinking. Yesterday, for example, we spent most of the class time doing prewriting. I asked a question “list things you know about” and then I put my own on the board (to give them suggestions) while they wrote their own down. These included TV shows I watch, movies I love, books I read, and music I listen to. Then I said, “list friends, family, restaurants, meals, dates.” I was trying to get them to think of a lot of different ways to think of things which they could use for a compare/contrast paper. We spent the whole class period writing and they came up with two pages of ideas.

Story retelling - This technique can be used in either oral or written formats. It provides information on a wide range of language-based abilities. Recall is part of retelling, but teachers can use it to determine whether children understood the point of the story and what problems children have in organizing the elements of the story into a coherent whole. This also can be used to share cultural heritage when children are asked to retell a story in class that is part of their family heritage.

Anecdotal- This method can be used by teachers to record behaviors and students’ progress. These comments can include behavioral, emotional, and academic information. For instance, “Jaime sat for five minutes before beginning his assignment.” These should be written carefully, avoiding judgmental words.

Naturalistic – Related to anecdotal records, this type of observation may take the form of notes written at the end of the day by a teacher. They may record what occurred on the playground, in the classroom, among students, or may just reflect the general classroom atmosphere.

Story retelling in my classroom is the narrative paper. We do some verbal discussions, too, to get ready for the writing. (The students get in triads and tell short versions of the story they are going to write.)

The other two assessments are only used when there is a problem in the classroom or with a student.

Checklists – Checklists specify student behaviors or products expected during progression through the curriculum. The items on the checklist may be content area objectives. A checklist is considered to be a type of observational technique. Because observers check only the presence or absence of the behavior or product, checklists generally are reliable and relatively easy to use. Used over time, checklists can document students’ rate and degree of accomplishment within the curriculum.

Cloze tests - Cloze tests are composed of text from which words have been deleted randomly. Students fill in the blanks based on their comprehension of the context of the passage. The procedure is intended to provide a measure of reading comprehension.

Criterion-referenced tests - Criterion-referenced tests are sometimes included as a type of informal assessment. This type of test is tied directly to instructional objectives, measures progress through the curriculum and can be used for specific instructional planning. In order for the test to reflect a particular curriculum, criterion-referenced tests often are developed locally by teachers or a school district. Student performance is evaluated relative to mastery of the objectives, with a minimum performance level being used to define mastery.

I use checklists with my students for peer review projects.

I have used cloze tests in my high school biology classroom, but have not used it in my English classroom. However, I am considering re-writing an exam for my Brit Lit I course and this is a possibility for that.

I don’t do the criterion tests. My assignments match the criteria and so I don’t feel the need for that.

Rating scales – This is an assessment technique often associated with observation of student work or behaviors. Rather than recording the “presence” or “absence” of a behavior or skill, the observer subjectively rates each item according to some dimension of interest. For example, students might be rated on how proficient they are on different elements of an oral presentation to the class. Each element may be rated on a 1 to 5 scale, with 5 representing the highest level of proficiency.

Questionnaires – A questionnaire is a self-report assessment device on which students can provide information about areas of interest to the teacher…. For a questionnaire to provide accurate information, students must be able to read the items, have the information to respond to the items, and have the writing skills to respond.

I have occasionally used rating scales to identify potential problem areas. It’s more like a list of things they need to be doing in the class (attendance, prompt arrival, on-time homework, etc) and a rating scale there.

I don’t know that I have ever used questionnaires before, but I may do so this semester to elicit a kind of pretest body of information.

The original article, Informal Assessment in Educational Evaluation (written by Cecilia Navarete, Judith Wilde, Chris Nelson, Robert Martinez, and Gary Hargett) has a lot more information including:
Scoring Assessments for Unstructured Activities
Combining Assessments for Evaluation (with a very detailed discussion of portfolios)
and others… The article focuses on bilingual education, but it made a lot of sense to me for English education in general.

Update: The original article is no longer available on the same page. It is, however, available from NCELA as a PDF. The original article is the first link.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Arlene Elliott 11.18.08 at 6:04 pm

thanks I am adding this to favorites this helped me see the differences regarding types of assessments

2 Jen 06.09.09 at 11:28 pm

I am taking a class about Assessment and this website gave me some great ideas! THANKS!

3 Lisa Randall 06.16.09 at 2:20 pm

I just took a class on assessments myself and it would’ve been great to have more time to review informal assessments, as you did here. Now I’m working on gathering student perceptions of assessments in online composition classes in case you come across/garner any student feedback in that arena.

4 Cathy 03.14.10 at 9:34 am

Helped with a class in Reading that I have to compare and contrast informal and formal testing for children. Thanks for you web site.

5 isabel dopson 03.16.10 at 5:07 am

I love the picture! the information is also very good, you sound like a good teacher that cares about her students,Thanks

6 Cristianne Junqueira 02.28.11 at 2:30 pm

Thank you.

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