Teachers for Teachers | Redefining Assessment
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Redefining Assessment

People often ask us when we think we should begin assessing students in the beginning of the year.  Our first response is, “The minute we meet them!”  Now this response has caused some strong feelings until we ask, “Well … how do you define assessment?”

The picture we all have in our minds when we hear the word assessment is concerning.  If we use Lucy Calkins’ definition, “Assessment is the thinking teacher’s mind work.  The intelligence that guides our every moment as a teacher,” then all of us would agree we begin assessing our students the minute we meet them.  Think about all we can learn about a child in those first few days or weeks of school.

  • Who cries at drop-off?
  • Who cannot find her lunchbox?
  • Who gets lost on the way into class from the bus line?
  • Who has already memorized all the names in the class?
  • Who is trying to organize the lunch chart?
  • Who is correcting the mistake you made on the morning message?
  • What makes them laugh?
  • Which book do they want you to read again?
  • Who says “OHHHHHH” when you say it is time to stop reading or writing?
  • Who does not make eye contact?


This is assessment.


  • What stories do they tell you about their family?
  • What news is bursting when they arrive in the morning?
  • Who gives you that extra hug?
  • Who has not spoken in whole group yet?
  • Who is alone on the playground?
  • What book are they all dying to read?
  • How do they view school?


This is assessment.


  • What do they like about school?
  • What are they excited to learn?
  • What are their hopes and fears for this school year?
  • What is important to them?
  • What are they thinking about when they are looking out the window?
  • What do they hope we do not know about them?
  • What do they wish we knew?


This is assessment.


A wise professor, Betty Noldon Allen, taught us that we cannot teach a child that we do not know.  The first step is to understand who they are then you can figure out how to teach them.  We are pushing ourselves to remember that we have the power to “re-define” assessment.  We hope we all take these beginning days to slow down and assess our students – to get to know them, to enjoy them, to make connections with them and to engage them.  When we consider a broader definition of assessment we find more opportunities to understand and teach them.

  • Avatar
    Karen Szymusiak
    Posted at 11:52h, 07 September Reply

    Great post! Our most important job at the beginning of the school year is getting to know our students. Until then, we can not make wise decisions as teachers.

  • Avatar
    Dana Murphy
    Posted at 17:50h, 13 September Reply

    So true. It’s a big shift to switch from thinking about “traditional” assessment to this rich, authentic assessment that you’re defining. I’m learning to use the word “describe” instead of “assess” to help me make this shift. When do I begin describing students? Yep, from the moment I meet them.

    Thanks for the great post.

  • Avatar
    Loralee Druart
    Posted at 13:21h, 31 May Reply

    Oh my! This is so good…

  • #SOL15: YAY! Writing Assessments! | Resource - Full
    Posted at 11:29h, 27 January Reply

    […] are planning?  Clare and Tammy at Teachers for Teachers have this thought-provoking post, “Redefining Assessment” as they use Lucy Calkins definition “Assessment is the thinking teacher’s mind […]

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