How do you know that you know something? How do you really know? Is it because you were able to pronounce the words in a textbook, or watch a video about it? Even if you don’t think about your own learning very often, the thought may come around every now and again. When it does, what do you look for to determine that the knowledge you have isn’t just a footnote in your life?
I am assuming you assess yourself in some way. I don’t mean you pull out a piece of paper and create a multiple choice test for yourself, but you may observe how you use the information you’ve absorbed. That observation is a type of assessment, as it provides you a way to check your progress and do something about it. How can you become better at something if you don’t know how? How can students become better at something if they don’t know what they need to work on; for that matter, how can teachers help students become better without knowing what their struggles are? We need to assess, but we need to do it in a formative way more often than in a summative way.
Formative assessments that don’t fit the traditional assessment mold (i.e. quizzes) can be called alternative assessments, according to Todd Finley in his article Dipsticks: Efficient Ways to Check for Understanding. These alternative assessments serve as learning dipsticks to check for the level of understanding and learning that is taking place about a subject. I agree with Todd in his liking simple alternative assessments. The simpler it is, the less confusing it will be for students to complete and for you to assess. Students won’t be as likely to get in their own way by misinterpreting instructions. Todd references the 60 second paper as an example of a simple form of alternative assessment. In 60 seconds, you could have an indication as to whether your students understand a concept and what insights about that concept they may have.
Dipsticks quickly and easily give us information about the health of our car. Learning dipsticks, or alternative assessments, can quickly and easily give us information about the health of students understanding and learning. We use them in our own lives. Why not use them in the classroom?