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Assessment for Learning: Elementary

Assessment for learning is at the heart of differentiation. We know that the students in our classrooms are at different places in their learning and we differentiate instruction in order to meet their needs. To do this we must know our students: where they are, what they understand, and how they learn.



We gather evidence of understanding on a daily basis, while the students are in the process of learning. This information about student learning guides our decisions about what we will do next in order to fill in gaps, clarify misconceptions and provide the kind of feedback that will help students get back on track and move forward.

What do my students understand?

Where are the gaps?

How can I help?


What is Assessment for Learning?

Assessment for Learning IS
  • built in to the daily teaching and learning process
  • non-judgmental
  • generally a quick gathering of information about student understanding
  • used to adapt our teaching to meet student needs
  • a way of better understanding student’s thinking
  • what you do with the feedback you get from a variety of instructional strategies and techniques
  • done with students to engage them in their own learning



Gathering Evidence of Student Learning

When teachers build assessment for learning into their daily classroom practice, they plan discussions, tasks and activities that will provide evidence of learning. There are many simple, quick and effective ways to make assessment for learning an integral part of your day.

The following examples highlight some of the ways that elementary teachers, and students, use assessment for learning in the course of their day in order to adjust teaching and learning.

Observations and Conversations :


Cycle One teacher, Catherine Goodwin observes her students during writing workshop. As she walks around the classroom, she takes note of what is happening. She stops beside a little boy who has his pencil in his hand but is not writing and asks him what he is going to write about. He tells her he wants to write about his mom but doesn’t know how to start.

She asks him to tell her about his mom and he shares several things he loves about her. Catherine says, "This is what I heard you say about your mom. You said your mom is pretty. You said your mom is kind, and that she always helps you when you need her." She asks him if he is ready to write.

By observing her students and asking questions to elicit more information, Catherine is able to adjust to her students needs. By feeding back what she has heard, she unblocks her student and helps him move forward.


Asking Questions:

When doing assessments that support learning we want to find out as much as we can about what and how students are thinking. Asking open-ended and higher-order questions can be useful in exploring students’ understandings and will reveal important information about their learning.


In Maureen Bowers Cycle 2 classroom, students work together in pairs and small groups. She listens in on discussions and asks questions that help her find out more about the degree and depth of their understanding. These kinds of daily interactions can provide opportunities for immediate feedback that extends understanding.

  • Can you tell me more...?
  • Why do you think that...?
  • What would happen if...?

When combined with effective questioning, the following ideas are easy ways to find out if your students are learning what you think they are. They encourage greater participation and help students develop deeper, more thoughtful responses to questions.

Wait Time

No Hands Up
Think-Pair-Share Exit Cards


Providing Effective Feedback


EMSB teacher, Sabrina Carbone, has a conversation with her Cycle 3 student about a piece of writing he is working on. Her feedback is timely and descriptive. She gives him a clear understanding of what he is doing well, and what he needs to work on next.

For example: Your second paragraph is clear and makes sense to me. You have added details that really help me see what is going on. Do you remember when we looked at the way authors draw their readers in right from the opening paragraph? I wonder if you could find a better way to hook your reader in your first paragraph?

You can read more about feedback strategies and their purposes in the following article by Susan M. Brookhart.


Record Keeping

  Cycle 3 teacher at SWLSB, Teresa Oppedisano, keeps anecdotal records and checklists of student learning. With these notes she is able to record student thinking and track progress over time. Teresa uses the information she gathers to give students feedback and adjust teaching strategies to meet the needs of her students.


Graphic Organizers and Mind Maps


Many elementary teachers like to have students use graphic organizers such as RAN or create KWL charts and Mind Maps at different times during the learning process. 

Graphic Organizers can be used as an assessment for learning because teachers can easily tell what students know or do not know about a concept or topic. They provide a wealth of information that teachers can use to scaffold learning.


Building Criteria


An important part of assessment for learning is the involvement of students in the process. Susan Brisson makes sure that her Cycle 3 students know what they are expected to learn by having them explore and articulate criteria during the immersion phase of any learning activity or project. As students explore examples of the kinds of texts they will be producing, they are developing an understanding of quality. The criteria become part of the assessment rubric. 

As students work toward a final product, they have a clear understanding of where they are going.

Read more about one of Susan’s projects here.

Susan also encourages her students to take responsibility for their learning through reflection and by monitoring their own progress as they move toward specific goals. Learning logs, maintaining a portfolio, and Student-Teacher Conferences are examples of ways to help students become more reflective learners.


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Additional Resources

You can find more information about assessment for learning at the following sites.

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