Thursday, November 15, 2012


We're thinking about replacing the word “assessment” with the word “documentation.”  As one of my fellow teachers (thank you Monica!) often says... there can be good assessment and there can be bad assessment.  Assessment (as in testing) is generally one-sided: teachers give assessments to students to test understanding of specific material in order to provide data for our school grading environments.  Let's call this type of classroom culture the Assessment Culture.

Assessment Culture classrooms let students get really good at two things:
1. Figuring out what the teachers want and producing that 
2.  Memorizing algorithms and facts to spit out on tests

It's time for a new classroom culture - we should try to create a classroom that has a culture of thinking, creating, and learning.  A great place to start is by allowing time for reflection on all parts of a student's (and teacher's) learning process.  Let's call this type of classroom culture the Documentation CultureOf course, there's still room to collect data for assessment purposes through documentation.

How do we create a classroom culture that includes documentation?  To start, teachers need to have handy a variety of tools, habits, and practices that will allow all members of a classroom community to document.  (And not just documentation of finished work, but documentation of their learning from start to desired learning outcome and all the problem solving, chaos, and mistakes that happen along the way)  Students and Teachers should practice the skills that accompany documentation: observing, recording, interpreting, sharing, building explanations, growing as learners.  Think of it as visible listening.

 iPads are a great tool for documentation and not just because there are so many great apps.  The great thing about iPads is that they provide an instant and easy way to routinely document - using the camera, audio, and video.

Here are some ways to create a classroom culture of documentation.
Evernote: start by setting up a folder for each student and keeping your iPad handy.  Use Evernote to photograph, record, or take notes on your students' learning. Take photos in the middle of a lesson or record a collaborative conversation.  Allow students to record their thinking or brainstorming as they approach a project.  Think about how powerful it would be to document the earliest stages of student planning for a project - to have records of how a student might approach a challenge.  Don’t collect pictures of just their finished products.  My kindergarten students share the responsibility of documenting their work for their folders.  They are starting to recognize good thinking and ask to have it documented (and can even do the legwork for me using the camera).

Camera Roll:  The Camera Roll is one of our favorites - the unsung hero! Students take pictures of their work or of their partner’s work.  In my classroom, the students either put their name card or themselves in the photo so that I can identify it later (and perhaps add it to their Evernote folder or ask them to explain their thinking). 

Audio features: We use Book Creator, Notes (iPad 3), video camera, and Evernote so that students can articulate their thinking without the constraints of writing mechanics or reticence over sharing with a peer or the teacher. 

Reflection Journals:  Using Book Creator or Paper 53 set up a weekly time to allow students the opportunity to reflect.  Artistic expression, digital art included, is a form of reasoning called visual thinking.  These journals are a place for that thinking and reflecting to take place. To make these reflection journals something that will really push students’ thinking and advance their understanding, students shouldn't just be asked to reflect and then handed iPads while the teachers wait for the thinking to flow freely.  Teachers need to think carefully about what they want the students to reflect uponWe reflect on: Stories we either read aloud or share orally, themes or connections we make during storytime, the meaning of a poem the class had shared, a shared experience we have had as a class community. The wonderful thing about doing this on an iPad is that you can fit in the weekly reflection time without having to allow for time consuming set up.

Explain Everything:  The (not so) new champ for making thinking and learning visible is Explain Everything.  This app should be on every student iPad.  Ask students to explain a lesson or demonstrate their understanding of a topic or process.  Students can use pictures, drawings, and movement to create films which they can narrate.  They can create a film that retells a class field trip using photos and their own narrative.  A small group of students could use this app to "teach” a math challenge or to make a problem solving video.

There are many other apps and ways that documentation can be accomplished with ipads - this is just a starting point.  teachers need to think about how assessment can and should be a part of your classroom culture of thinking.  Teach your students to recognize what their own thinking looks like.  open them up to understanding/refining their own learning. 


  1. I couldn't agree more! Loved this blogpost! And thanks for sharing all these ideas! I would appreciate any feedback on a similar post I wrote:

    Thank you for sharing once again!

  2. Thank you! I really like your use of assessment for learning versus assessment of learning!