Talk as Assessment

NOVEMBER 23, 2022


As an educator I have worked hard to engage my students in their learning and give them multiple opportunities to demonstrate their understandings through Rich Talk (Vetter, 2008). Nevertheless, when it came time for assessment, I found myself locked in more traditional paper and pencil modes. This was a problem! Although most students were generally writing at or approaching grade level, the understandings, explorations, wonderings, and enthusiasms I witnessed during our conversations were often not evident in written tasks used for assessment. In addition, the struggling writers were greatly challenged by writing-based assessment tasks, even with the support of voice-to-text technology.

To facilitate balanced and equitable talk-based assessment, I created an assessment plan that was divided by the 5 days of the week. In a class of 25 students, for example, I focused on five students each day for assessment.  Once I had the plan in place, it was easy to follow. I continued to observe and monitor all students daily, while the focal students received my particular attention. The rotation chart (see below) ensured each student received my targeted attention for assessment purposes every week, but not always on the same day of the week.

Certainly, we still had plenty of opportunities for written work. Students kept science journals, wrote stories, completed assignments or projects, but for the most part, those text-based assignments served my need to assess their writing skills. Through careful questioning in classroom conversations, I was able to gain deeper insights into students’ subject or process knowledge and their understandings of a concept or theory. I was able to encourage them to think critically and to examine their own metacognitive processes in the moment, rather than through written comments in the margin of a written task.

My favourite question was “How do you know?” … a perfect way to confirm that surface understandings were based on accurate information. I encouraged wondering aloud to encourage students to dig deeper into the learning.

To ensure that I had a broad and balanced understanding of student progress, I continued to undertake some traditional methods of assessment. I also facilitated a combination of talk and visual representation of understandings (graphics, charts, plans or jot notes) to assist those students whose developing oral skills required a prompt to support extended talk.

My experience with using classroom talk as assessment allowed me to build stronger professional relationships with my students.  Another benefit was that my paper-grading load decreased as my confidence grew in implementing talk-based daily assessments. Students realized their voices were valued in our classroom, giving them confidence, and giving me the opportunity to learn so much from them.  They articulated their understandings of curriculum, and of society, life, technology and so much more. I fondly recall the Grade 3 student who struggled to write in his science journal, yet his articulate conversation with me on how to plant and maintain a garden still resonates as I putter around in the yard. Many an “ah ha” moment came out of listening to students share their passions for and challenges with learning, their wonderings about the world and their opinions on everything under (and beyond) the sun.

Ensure your assessment groups are not the same as the students’ working groups. This facilitates your movement around the classroom, allowing you to monitor and/or respond to all students throughout the day. 

Sample Rotation Chart

Wonderings about talk as assessment

Prompts to facilitate talk-based assessment of student-learning

Diane Vetter is an author and educator. She has published numerous articles and her book, co-written with Lana Parker, Mentoring Each Other is available through Steinhouse Publishers.


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