When it comes to assessment it isn’t up to students to show teachers what they know, it is for teachers to allow students to show what they know. Think about your favorite song for a minute. What is it that makes it enjoyable, melody, tempo, instruments? No one has ever described a great song because its lyrics look good on paper. Differentiated assessment is the essence of authentic assessment and an approach to teaching that fosters critical thinking. It allows students to take ideas and express them using their strengths. When confronted with traditional tests, many students read over the chapters covered in class and memorize important facts, but when September comes, why do teachers have to spend so much time reviewing previously introduced concepts? When students are given the opportunity to demonstrate in their own way what they know, it not only connects them to the curriculum, but it opens up new doors of discovery. There is no need to fear how this type of assessment can be graded, because learning is a process. Whatever method students choose, they are always being given descriptive feedback and in doing so more emphasis is put on the process rather than final result.

Several years ago a struggling grade eight student painted a large mural that depicted the changing role of women from pre World War I to the end of the World War II. There wasn’t a word to be found but the images used depicted many of the major changes and contributions made by women to the development of Canada during this time period. Creating a piece of this nature obviously required the student to have a strong grasp of the topic. Could this level of understanding have been achieved through an essay for a student who struggled at writing?

When work is created it can’t be wrong. Of course there may be ideas that can be improved upon, but this form of assessment allows students to take more risks and try new approaches to learning.

By Michael Miles

Michael Miles is a free thinking Bob Dylan quoting intermediate teacher with the Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB). He has taught and written professional development manuals on the topics of differentiated assessment and visual literacy. Connect with Michael on Twitter: @milesfromwhere.

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