Assessing Learning – A Guest Post

This week, I am thrilled to feature my first ever guest post! One of the teachers on our staff, Justin Wendorf, recently wrote our weekly staff S’More blog on the topic of alternative ways to assess students. As we strive to move beyond traditional paper/pencil assignments, my principal and I are finding teacher-leaders who are knowledgeable in this area and who can help teachers step outside comfort zones, challenge thinking, and lead our campus in transformation. There are many agents of change on our staff. Today I am honored to share one with you, and thankful that he allowed me to reprint it here for all of you…

Different Ways To Assess Learning – Testing With A Twist
by Justin Wendorf, Elementary Educator

Image from Texas Tribune

“This test was supposed to be easy!” exclaimed the teacher as he wrote another failing grade in the top, right corner of the paper. This is the tenth one, and from what I’ve previewed, I’m sure there’ll be more, he thought. All that the students had to do was choose the best answer. It was simply a multiple-choice test, no short answer. Not even an essay! “I wouldn’t dare do that to them,” the teacher joked to himself.

Why not? – One of my favorite songs, “Bored of Education” by Propaganda, says this: “Remember when we were in kindergarten, and you had to learn about worms, yeah, you went outside and you played with worms, what a novel idea!” Education has changed over the last 20 years and I don’t believe that you could find anyone that would argue against this point. But we need to ask ourselves, “What about education has changed?” If you were to single out the processes, then yes, they’ve changed drastically. But the purpose has not.

Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way they should go; even when they are old they will not depart from it.” Aside from the biblical implications, there is functional truth to this. We, as educators, are called to “train” our students. That is our purpose, our drive. If a teacher loses sight of this mission, this next part is made almost insurmountable.

Alternative assessments are those in which the students create something as a response to their learning. It is not merely choosing a given response. One forces higher-level thinking, the other tests memorization skills. Some examples of alternative assessments are:

· Essay answers
· Oral presentations and/or demonstrations and exhibitions
· Performance assessment (social skills: assessed on the process)

Now, if we are purpose-driven teachers, then we will do anything possible to ensure that our students learn. That is the passion of teaching. This means possibly allowing our students to choose how they would like to prove their learning, or knowledge, to us. Give options (determined ahead of time) so that students can use their strengths. Allow our “talkative” students to hold a formal discussion with criteria (this is where our grade comes from), or our artistic students to create an iMovie or stop motion film to show us their understanding of a story we’re reading. Let a group of students create a lesson, including an assessment, to teach the rest of the class about a math topic (group performance assessment).

This will take original effort on our end, but for the passionate teacher, this is part of the fun. The joy of teaching comes as a result of seeing our students succeed in their own right.

You can reach out to Justin via email at Justin.Wendorf@gmail.com I know he would love the conversation and would greatly appreciate your feedback!


4 Ideas For Finding Inspiration



“When we love, we always strive to become better than we are. When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better too.”  – Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

The tagline on my Twitter profile reads, “In fearless pursuit of inspiring and being inspired“.  I chose pursuit for a reason. Inspiration can be found just about anywhere. Ask ten people what inspires them and you are liable to get ten different answers. But the thing about inspiration is, even though it can be found in so many different forms, we have to be open to finding it . And sometimes, we have to purposefully go in pursuit of it. Because the truth is, so many times we overlook it. When we get busy just trying to get everything done each day. When we experience frustrations and bad choices or let downs….We can miss all the inspirational moments that punctuate our life.  Sometimes for a day, sometimes longer…

Here are a few things that I have found to be helpful in the pursuit of inspiration:

1.  Try Something New. This is a great way to find some inspiration! When we start exploring new things, we become more “tuned in” to what we are doing, and our creativeness starts stirring within us, and this can lead to all kinds of inspired. Trying new things causes us to leave our comfort zones, to think and tinker and imagine.  All excellent places in which to find inspiration. That lesson you always teach the same way year after year, change it up! That presentation software you always tend to use… a simple change in routine can really have a big impact on you.

2. Spend Time Around Those You Admire.  I admire teachers. I admire those who get fired up about their lessons, who show up each and every day for kids. Often times, all it takes to find a shot of inspiration is a trip down the hall and into a classroom. I always leave feeling totally inspired!  There is something about being in the presence of greatness that just kind of sets my soul alight.  I admire kids. I admire the learning process. You can’t find these things by staying in your office. You have to go out in search of it.  And how awesome is it, that finding inspiration can be as simple as heading down the hall!

3. Listen. Speaking of greatness, our librarian came in to visit with me yesterday. She dropped in toward the end of the day to say goodbye, like she often does, and mentioned an activity she had coming up for our kids when they visit the library. As I listened, I asked questions like, “How did you think of that” and “What do you hope the outcome will be”, rather than just saying, “Oh that sounds great!”.  And as I asked those questions, she had the opportunity to share the “back story” with me. This is where the inspiration for that great idea really comes from, and by listening, I gave her the chance to share a little inspiration with me.  Powerful for us both.

4. Slow Down.  Easier said than done, right? But this is a biggie for me.  My days are pretty busy. So busy that sometimes I feel like I am just moving from one thing to another with little time to notice things. Or people. Or circumstances.. When we slow down, we are more observant. We allow ourselves the opportunity to invest in what is around us. We find opportunities for problem solving, for praising, for expressing gratitude….for simply enjoying the joy that comes in the simple things. Some things that inspire me are music, sunsets, art…all of which simply cannot be enjoyed fully unless I slow down.

If you want some more ideas for finding inspiration, here is a great blog with lots more ideas.   Where do you find inspiration? Is it in nature? In books? In your past experiences? I’d love to hear your story!