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Manage Your Time - Assess Smarter

The end of the term creeps up before we have time to say ‘I love teaching’ and it is time to write reports again.  Like many teachers (or perhaps it is just me) you feel like you know your students and have assessed them completely but then…that feeling of dread comes over you – do I have enough evidence?  Have I given enough opportunities for the students to show me what they know and can do?  

If you are a teacher who never ever has these thoughts or a moment of doubt and is ready to write their reports, then perhaps this article is not for you.  In fact, perhaps you should be the one writing it. 

We start the term with the best intentions.  We have spent the whole holidays planning and none of them sleeping in and sun baking.  We have our learning programs set out and planned and our assessment pieces ready to print as soon as all the learning has taken place.  We are THE most organised teacher in the world. Yes, we have all had the feeling and it’s a wonderful thing.

But then the term begins… week 1 turns into week 2 and then week 5 comes around. Students are away or sick or sick and away. And you are sick of them being away sick. The sports carnival has been rescheduled three times and your wonderful planning is out the window (the same window the bird flew into during quiet writing time in week 3). 

One student went on a three-week holiday to the snow (and no one invited you) and then the student you know can do amazing things was away for the whole week you were setting assessments.  

Reporting time looms, your marks book looks like the matrix and you have more post it notes than you know what to do with.  If just reading this is causing you to have heart palpitations then fear not… I might have the answer or at least a good solution. 

Assess on the go.  

Assess as you teach.  Use the incredible evidence that is being demonstrated in the classroom throughout every lesson.  Take photos.  Take anecdotal records and notes on each student’s work. Take photos of work samples as you go rather than waiting until the eleventh hour to make sure you have enough evidence to justify your report. You are already probably doing this informally as you observe, so capture it, record it and take the pressure off. 

Just recently I experienced the frustration of this.  I was teaching my students poetry. They were doing so well – lyrical gangsters, if you will.  I was impressed.  Then when it came to the final piece of assessment we had one of those days I like to call a blowout.  If you are unfamiliar with a ‘blowout’, it’s an automotive term that describes a car tyre bursting at speed. One minute you’re cruising along nicely, enjoying the scenery, feeling pretty good about things… the next minute, ‘bang’ you’re sent into a violent spin that doesn’t end well. Teaching can be much like this.

This particular ‘poetry assessment blowout’ saw one of my students away due to a family emergency with his cat.  Another was sick (student, not cat).  Another got glue stuck in his hair during STEM and of course he had to go home (he never returned the glue stick). This, not a joke, all happened in one day.  The very same day I had highlighted ‘poetry assessment’ in my teacher diary. As I said… a blowout. 

It is not a good feeling. Despite our best efforts, there is never a perfect formula that ensures everything falls nicely in place at the end of a term. It is stressful for teachers. It can be stressful for our students too, when we panic test them to get report grades.

Fortunately, we don’t have to wait until ‘assessment time’ to really see the quality learning and understanding that is happening within our classrooms.  The evidence is there – in every discussion, in every mind map, in every cut and paste activity – it is all there, just waiting to be captured as evidence that they really are learning what we teach. Assess faster, assess smarter and take the pressure off during that crazy ‘oh my gosh reports are due soon and I’ve got no marks’ time.