Group Assessments

Sunday, December 13, 2015 9:14 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

Over my years of teaching, the ways in which I assess students have evolved. Early in my career, my assessments were fairly traditional – individual tests with students applying their skills and concept knowledge to problems that looked similar to those done in class or on homework. Overtime, I have begun to include more varied methods. The change came about as I realized that the methods I used to assess students can say a great deal about what I value in how students learn as well as what they learn. 


Two things that cannot be accomplished by a traditional assessment are telling students that I value collaboration and engaging students in complex problem solving. Group assessments can do both of these. I don’t use group assessments as the sole means of assessing students, but I do try to have at least one group assessment per unit – sometimes it’s a group quiz, sometimes it’s a performance task, and sometimes it is one part of their unit exam.


I like to tell my students that mathematical thinking is often not a solitary affair.  What better way to demonstrate this then to ask them to work with others on something as important as a quiz or test.  I know some people will collect one paper from each group (sometimes randomly), however I like to collect one paper from each student.  This holds each accountable for the work and the write-up.  Many of their papers will look the same, but often times the write-ups are different enough that members of the same group will earn different grades.


Group assessments also allow me to give students a more complex problem to solve with less fear of a single student becoming stumped or not knowing where to go with a problem.   Testing students on their ability to problem solve is not an easy task.  Multifaceted problems are best done when students can talk to others about the solution.  Sometimes, however, groups can lose focus, straying from the task at hand and not arriving at a solution by the end of class-time.  Simply attaching the word “quiz” to a problem solving activity can bring greater attention, focus, and collaboration among any group of students.


A good group assessment can shift the emphasis from skill development to concept development.  Those students that are still struggling with particular skills, can rely on their group mates to get through those difficult aspects, and, in fact, strengthen their own skill knowledge.  More importantly, a good task frees up the worry over skills to focus on learning concepts more deeply.  The assessment turns from a “do this” activity to a “learn something activity.”  I want my students to think of everything I ask them to do as an opportunity to learn.  A well-chosen group assessment can accomplish this goal.

An earlier blog post written by Nancy Johnson includes some great resource sites for finding good assessment tasks.  Most of these are also linked on the resource page of the ATMIM website. 


How do you assess your students throughout the year?  What kind of tasks do you give them to do?  Have you tried to use group assessments in your class and what techniques do you use to make them successful?  I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas!

Steven Rattendi



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