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Learning Through Play - The Assessment Edition

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two kids race sitting in baskets atop skateboards wearing watermelon helmets
Learning through play

Today, I want to dive into a story from my childhood that sheds light on the world of formative and summative assessments. This story might just tickle your nostalgia and give you some fresh insights into educational concepts. Or it might successfully illustrate the type of nerd I am! Either way, I hope it encourages you to find ways to learn and assess through play.

Growing up, my brother and I were often left on our own. We had this incredible knack for turning the ordinary into the extraordinary, in our minds, anyway. Not having a lot of games, we frequently took what we did have and created our own. One we chose to play frequently was a game we called "Careers." The rules were simple yet imaginative: we each picked a career and then crafted our workspace using whatever we could find around the house. Then, once our establishments were created to our liking, we'd open our doors for our first customer. As the customer, our goal was to take advantage of all the services and see how well the other had planned for our visit. Picture this: a living room transformed into a bustling hub of creativity. Cushions and blankets morphed into office walls, while random household items and toys took on new identities as tools of various trades. It was a world where our imaginations knew no bounds.

Let me paint you a picture of one memorable day when my brother chose to be a mechanic. With cardboard and pillows, he conjured up a garage that would give any pillow fort a run for its money. He gathered all the 'tools' of his trade by raiding his toybox, the kitchen junk drawer, and even some of the kitchen utensils. He lined them up nicely in stacks of boxes. I played along, driving my 'car' up to his cozy setup. He raised the blanket that served as the garage door and I maneuvered inside. After he 'changed my tires,' I threw him a curveball - I asked for a receipt. That moment of improvisation, of figuring out how to respond, was more than just play. It was a learning process in action.

This childhood game mirrors two crucial aspects of education: formative and summative assessments. In our game, the creation of our workspaces and the ongoing interactions represented formative assessments. Much like in a classroom, these were continuous, informal checks for understanding. We were constantly gauging each other's reactions, adjusting our roles, and enhancing our setups. This mirrors the essence of formative assessment. It is a tool for educators to monitor student learning and provide ongoing feedback that can be used by instructors to improve their teaching and by students to improve their learning.

Now, let’s talk about the receipt incident. That was a classic example of a summative assessment moment. It was a definitive task, akin to a final exam or a project, challenging my brother to apply what he had learned in a new way. Summative assessments are used to evaluate student learning at the end of an instructional unit by comparing it against some standard or benchmark. The power of summative assessments is that they can, themselves, serve as a benchmark moment in a student's learning journey. I got evidence of that after my trip to the mechanic that day, because my brother never failed to produce a receipt in every other career he played thereafter.

Our game wasn’t just child's play; it was an early, organic introduction to the concepts of formative and summative assessments. The ongoing adjustments and reactions in our roles served as a formative process, while the specific tasks, like generating a receipt, acted as summative evaluations. This blend of continuous learning and final demonstrations is at the heart of effective teaching and assessment strategies.

So, next time you're knee-deep in lesson planning, remember the power of play and imagination. Sometimes, the best learning experiences come from the simplest of activities, just like a game of "Careers" turned a living room into a garage of learning. And in case you're wondering, a spatula makes an excellent crow bar for an imaginary car!


All images contained within this post are courtesy of Media from Wix.

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