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The word “assessment” has been known to cause a racing heart, cold sweats, and nervous breakdowns for teachers and students alike. Traditionally, the word “test” conjures thoughts of pen-and-paper, multiple-choice, or short-answer tests in a quiet environment. As preservice teachers, we are introduced to a plethora of assessment terminology: criterion-based, norm-referenced, cumulative, backward design, standards-based, and end-of-year testing, just to name a few. Assessment drives instruction, but it doesn’t always have to be negative for teachers or a dreaded nightmare for students.

Assessments can and should be a truer reflection of ongoing learning that can be used to guide further instruction. Such forms of assessment also lend themselves as a frequent tool for communicating progress to students and parents. Information gathered from nontraditional assessments can identify misunderstandings and can aid teachers in developing reteaching plans. Nontraditional forms of assessment require students to think outside the box and are more authentic in nature, moving beyond the “knowledge” and “comprehension” levels on Bloom’s Taxonomy that only require a simple regurgitation of facts. By using nontraditional assessments, teachers require students to exhibit mastery by applying, analyzing, and synthesizing information.

Since students sing these songs at home and in the car, why not sing about what they’re learning in the classroom?

But be forewarned — nontraditional forms of assessment do require more time and planning on the behalf of the teacher. However, it’s well worth it in the long run. As teachers, we know that all students don’t come to us with the same learning styles. We have some students who are linguistic learners, while others are kinesthetic, musical, spatial, mathematical, or interpersonal learners. It’s our job to find out how our students learn best and vary our instructional styles to reach all of them. It only makes sense that our assessment style should vary as well. Below are examples of a few nontraditional forms of assessment that I’ve used with great success in my 5th-grade classroom in rural South Carolina.

Gallery Walk

One of my favorite nontraditional assessments combining primary sources and learning is the Gallery Walk.

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