Coaching Children to Success Using Positive Learning Assessments

By | June 4, 2023

So have you been thinking about the purpose and value of learning assessments? I thought that I would allow some time for our ideas to percolate before continuing the discussion that I began in a previous article. I have been contemplating this topic a lot, especially this past week as I prepared report cards for some of my students.

In educational circles these days, we often hear the terms assessment of learning and assessment for learning. The first few times I heard these terms, I thought that they were just educational jargon–mumbo jumbo that had little meaning. I was wrong.

Assessment of learning is what most of us do when we mark someone’s work. We “correct” it, looking for errors. We circle and cross things out, draw arrows, make some asterisks or exclamation marks and scratch a solid red x beside each mistake. We total the number of correct answers and calculate a percentage or a letter grade. We may write comments such as, “Sloppy, try harder, you can do better or show your work!” Occasionally we might write, “Good work, good try or better luck next time!” We might even slap a sticker or a star on the paper before handing it back to the student.

Then we record the mark in our book and next week we do it all over again. Is there any wonder that kids get discouraged? You really have to ask yourself, “What is the purpose of such learning assessments?” All they really accomplish is to label the child as a winner or a loser.

We justify this process by telling ourselves that we need to point out children’s errors so as to help them improve, but studies have shown that marking work in such a way has no positive impact on learning. In other words, pointing out one’s errors does nothing to motivate that person to improve. The only kids who love having their work marked this way are the keeners who are almost guaranteed to have few errors. For them, getting their work back is a great ego trip. For the kid whose paper looks as if it has been dipped in a vat of red ink, there is nothing positive or motivating about it.

Studies prove that if a person receives a piece of work back containing a grade and comments, that the comments are completely ignored. The only thing grabbing the person’s attention is the mark. So we can stop wasting our time drawing lines and arrows and making comments about how the child can improve. The only thing that will be noticed will be the grade and that does nothing to help anyone improve. Case closed. The grade tells children how they rank and that’s all.

Assessment for learning is a different kettle of fish. The purpose of these learning assessments is to give positive feedback to guide and coach children to success. This is when we might say, “I love your title! It’s so expressive and it draws in the reader. Now let’s see if we can work on making the first sentence just as exciting! What do you think is missing?” Assessment for learning means pointing children in the right direction while giving them credit for having come as far as they have already.

Do you see the difference? One builds up; the other tears down. When you come right down to it, assessment of learning is not assessing the child at all. It is assessing the teacher. If the child does not understand the material and does not know how to answer the questions correctly or write the piece adequately, the buck stops with us. It’s up to us to coach kids to success.

Ah, success! How do we define it? That’s the topic of another discussion. Next time. Until then, try limiting your assessment of learning and instead begin assessing for learning. Transform yourself from a judge and critic to a coach and cheerleader. It will make a world of difference in your homeschool.