Worksheets is a part of education for generations of teachers. We use worksheets as diagnostics, exit tickets, and practice work. While worksheets can be practical, they aren't always the best choice when assessing what students know about a topic or subject. There are several techniques and activities you can use in your classroom to assess without a worksheet.
Why Ditch the Worksheet
We must first determine our goal when assessing. We can all agree that assessment aims to determine what students understand about a skill or topic. We then take that working knowledge and make decisions for what to teach next.
Worksheets are tools used by teachers to measure a student's progress. However, worksheets don't always show you where students may be falling behind. Worksheets can't help us see what is going on inside the brain of our students.
If you use metacognition in your classroom, you can not only assess students but see where they're thriving and where they are simply staying afloat. Metacognition is the act of “thinking about thinking,” according to an article by Rachelle Dene Poth. Poth goes on to discuss that metacognition is an “essential skill for learner success.” What metacognition asks us to do is think about the whole learning process. To do this in the classroom, you have to find ways to eliminate self-doubt and fear of being wrong. There are a few ways to help tackle this problem and replace the worksheet with something new.
Creating a Relationship with Learning
When you put a worksheet in front of a student, what happens? Well, typically, they start working, but if they get stuck, they ask several questions. Because worksheets tell students there is a right and a wrong answer, they can become fearful of being wrong. To combat this, you can create an environment in which students know we value their thinking.
You can do this by having students talk through their thought process on a video, a screencast, or audio tool. By having students walk through their learning, you can see what they understand and don't. In addition, you can hear the thought process and assess and reflect on your teaching. By assessing without the worksheet in this way, you are considering the process instead of the result. If the process is correct, the work should improve as well.
Assess without the Worksheet with Open Dialogue
One of the hardest things for students to do in the classroom is to answer aloud. Why? Because what happens if they are wrong? Being wrong in our society is seen as something completely taboo. Because of this, we see students losing self-confidence as they struggle through complex concepts. One way to help with this and to assess without a worksheet is to use a think-aloud method, also known as a think-pair-share activity. In a think-pair-share, students have an allotted amount of time to think about the question themselves, then they share their thoughts with a partner, and finally, you have a class discussion about the topic. Think-pair-share takes away the fear of being “wrong” by giving students a chance to discuss their ideas in a low-stakes environment.
You can also use a graphic organizer for students to map out their thoughts and their conversations. Using a graphic organizer can be provided digitally through Google Slides or Jamboard. Allow students opportunities to complete the organizer and add comments or questions if they are confused, like in the example below.
Give Your Students the Chance to be Different
Worksheets ask everyone to do the work in the same way. However, there are several different ways to get to the result. Allowing students to solve a problem and then share their process does so much. First and foremost, it empowers a student. When you ask them to use the strategy that works for them, they feel confident and sure of themselves when they are sharing. How do students get to this point? First, the teacher must give students the learning strategies that are available to them. Then, if a student can't determine their learning style, the teacher can help them find what works best.
In this example, students could choose how they wanted to show what they knew about our study on penguins. This particular student wanted to create a book in Book Creator.
Use Free Resources to Promote Metacognition
Assessing without the worksheet can take some time and some ingenuity. One way to make sure your students evaluate their metacognition skills (and the effectiveness of not having as many worksheets) is to use SMART goals, weekly exit slips, and video reflection tools. A SMART goal is specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely. Students can make a SMART goal and then reflect using Google Forms, Flipgrid, SeeSaw, and other online tools to assess how far they have come in achieving that goal.
Seeing Your Thoughts
When you use Flipgrid, SeeSaw, and other technology resources, you can see the thought process students are going through. Beyond these resources, you can also use sentence frames like, “I used to think ____, but now I think ____.” By looking at the thought process, students can measure their growth, and you can assess without a worksheet getting in the way.
Worksheets are not the worst thing a teacher can use. However, assessing without a worksheet can help with student growth and understanding. When we try to “grade” students, we don't always need to grade what is right or wrong. Sometimes, we need to grade how much they have grown within a subject, making all the difference in the world.
If you'd like alternative ways to assess your students without a worksheet, check out my FREE Jamboard templates. These formative assessments are great for evaluating and informing instruction.