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Applying Practical and Pre-Assessment Practices

March 14, 2019 - 3 minute read

taking an assessment

Teachers seek a wide variety of information about their students in the first few weeks of the school year. This information relates to student characteristics such as content knowledge, cultural and linguistic background, social, emotional and physical development, interests, and overall health. Information about these and other characteristics may come from a variety of resources or practices such as surveys, observations, conferences, prior teachers and other assessments. The role of pre-assessment whether formal or informal to gain an understanding of what your students know, understand, and are able to do, is crucial in preparing for instruction. It enables teachers to modify learning activities based on differences and special needs of students. Pre-assessment practices set the stage for how well students will behave, attend, and learn throughout the school year.

Pre-Assessment Practices

Imagine it is two weeks before school starts and you have just received a class list with the names of your students. What do you want to know about them? What questions do you have? How will you find out? Sizing-up assessments focus on students and their characteristics. Providing a few simple sizing up strategies to collect student information can assist a teacher in determining an appropriate timeline for instruction. These strategies are typically informal pre-assessment practices presented as fun activities and games. Examples may include classroom bingo, all about me posters, scavenger hunts, etc. During these sizing up activities, the teacher can collect information about their students to enhance learning and instruction. The activities support ongoing student growth and provide direction for improvement. These informal assessments are snapshots within the classroom to determine what students know or need to know to determine the general mastery of level content, skills and processes.

Practical Practice: Z is for Zoom

Zoom by Istvan Banyai is a wordless book that “zooms” in and out of its pages predicting a particular order. The pictures on the pages appear close up and then get farther away. Not knowing the page order, students engage in a sizing up activity rearranging the mixed up pages in Zoom. The teacher copies and enlarges the Zoom pages and scatters them on a table out of order. In silence, students work in teams to accomplish the task of putting the pages in the correct order according to Zoom. Students gather at the end of the task to reflect and respond to the challenges of this activity: What strategies did you use to communicate your thinking? What barriers arose because you could not talk? What were the benefits of not using words? How did having this leaderless activity make you feel? What are you able to take away from this activity? The reflection questions and discussion should reflect what the teacher wants to know about their students and the readiness of their students working together.

Students report that their experience with this strategy is confusing and challenging. Not being able to talk, ask questions, or verbally give directions to teammates caused students to take a different approach in accomplishing a task within a group. Through silent observation, hand gestures and a little patience, students begin to produce a rhythm of production. Some students take the initiative to move the pictures in a sequence that seems to make sense to the illustrations, designs and patterns.

The activity of Zoom taps into many of the categories and characteristics that teachers look for when learning about their students through pre-assessment practices. These skills may differ depending upon the time of year the assessment is done or how well the students know each other. Student characteristics during this kind of activity can influence academic planning and set the tone within the classroom environment.


  • Actively gather information on student learning process
  • Modify learning activities based on differences and needs of students
  • Support ongoing student growth
  • Inform students about their learning progress and provide direction for improvement

Lori Jaeger is an assistant professor in the School of Education, serving in the credentialing program. Prior to joining the Concordia faculty, Lori spent thirty years teaching in elementary school classrooms. Lori has experiences with planning and assessment, implementing innovative teaching methods and developing curriculum. Lori is committed to the teaching profession and cultivating lifelong learners.

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