How To Use Engaging Instructionally-Embedded Assessments

Are you considering implementing instructionally-embedded assessments in your classroom? This post shares tips for success and downloadable products for middle school!

Last time, we talked about transforming traditional performance tasks to up the ante in terms of fun and engagement.  Now, we’re going to look at instructional-embedded assessments as a way to assess student learning as you are moving them through the learning process.

What Is An Instructionally-Embedded Assessment?

First, let’s discuss what exactly is an instructionally-embedded assessment? Simply put, it is a type of assessment that is woven into the unit, rather than being presented for the first time at the end of instruction. In some ways, this assessment style is similar to a Project Based Learning approach.

Instructionally-embedded assessments often introduce the unit. Then, they are interspersed throughout the unit so that by the end, students have completed all of the pieces necessary to carry out the assessment task. It’s just a matter of putting it all together.

If you’d like to do a deep dive into instructionally-embedded assessments, as well as see some examples, Stanford NGSS Assessment Project has some great resources available.

Using Mysteries As Assessments

Mystery-based projects are great for both summative assessments and instructional-embedded assessment. My downloadable assessment activity – Ecology Mystery: The Case of the Silent Night – can work both ways!

For the purposes of this post, I’m going to describe for you how it may be used as an instructional-embedded assessment.

To explore science mysteries more in-depth, be sure to read my post, Making Detectives in Middle School: Engaging Students In A Science Mystery.

Ecology Mystery: The Case of the Silent Night

So the premise of the assessment is that the tree frog population in a fictional Florida town has just plummeted. And your students are the detectives that have to figure out why! 

In this activity, students will identify possible causes for the “silent nights” Mayberry is now experiencing as the tree frog population has plummeted. While there is no one right answer, students can and should find evidence to support their theories from the clues provided.

Students will learn about the different aspects of ecology — ecosystem basics, interactions, food webs, invasive species, human impacts, so on and so forth. Clues address all of these different components.

How to Use Instructionally-Embedded Assessments

First, give them the scenario at the beginning: The tree frog population in Mayberry plummeted. What happened?

Then, reveal one clue (or set of clues) at a time, and have your students investigate how that clue (maybe it was the pesticide sale at Gardens R Us or the construction work over at Mayberry Wetland) could have impacted the tree frog population.  The clues should drive student learning through the unit.

In the end, ask your students to examine all of the clues to make their argument for which factor was most likely to be responsible for the decline of the tree frog population in Mayberry. They should have all the clues at this point, as well as all of their work from the unit activities that branched from the initial clue.

Extend The Learning

To take it one step further, ask your students to design a solution.  They’ve explained what they believe is the primary cause of the decline. Now, ask them, “What do we do about it?” 

We won’t get too far into that, though, because that ties into our topic for next time – project-based (or problem-based) learning assessments!

Use mystery-based projects for instructionally-embedded assessments.

Tips for Incorporating Instructionally-Embedded Assessments

One easy way to start with instructionally-embedded assessments is to incorporate a challenge of some sort – often an engineering challenge can do the job.  This adds immediate engagement and relevancy, because students have a tangible task they need to accomplish at the end of the unit, and they can work toward that challenge or problem throughout the unit. 

Another option is the simple challenge of solving a mystery. It is often enough to spark curiosity and drive the learning of students in my classroom.  I use this method in my Ecology Mystery. 

Solving the puzzle is enough to keep engagement high. So whatever approach you take, consider how you can make it a challenge — whether it is an engineering challenge, an intellectual challenge (like a mystery or a puzzle), or potentially even a social challenge through the incorporation of a competition of some kind.

Additional Tips 

Pro Tip: whatever your final task is, break it into parts. These are the parts students will need to complete throughout the unit, and these are going to guide your learning activities as well.  

Students will need to engage in activities to learn information and skills pertinent to that smaller task, which they will eventually tie to the larger task. 

In my example, it meant understanding all sorts of different factors that can impact populations.  Students engaged in learning activities to help them discover those factors, and in the end, they evaluated which factor was most likely at play in the Mayberry tree frog scenario.

Use Science Notebooks to Review, Revisit, and Reflect

Lastly, in order for instructionally-embedded assessments to be successful, students need to be consistently reviewing their learning, revisiting prior learning, and reflecting on how new information fits and/or changes old understandings.  Science notebooks are a great strategy to both engage students in these activities, as well as keep their work organized and useful. You can learn more about science notebooking and access a free workshop recording at this post!

If you are interested in using mysteries in your science class, check out both the Ecology Mystery: Case Of The Silent Night and the Weather Mystery: Case Of The Desert Tornado on TeachersPayTeachers. 

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