TC² @ 25
Focus for This Month
Success Stories
Next Steps
Media Release
TC² @ 25
Focus for This Month
Success Stories
Next Steps
Media Release

August: Assessment-Rich Learning: The Gold Standard


Are schools missing out on opportunities to support and promote deep learning through effective use of assessment? At The Critical Thinking Consortium (TC²), we believe that educators can best realize the true potential for assessment when they embrace four key strategies:

  • focus assessments on quality thinking
  • use assessment tools to create engaging invitations for learning
  • focus assessment practices on providing guidance to students
  • help students make effective use of the five intellectual tools for quality thinking:

    -background knowledge
    -criteria for judgment
    -critical thinking vocabulary
    -thinking strategies
    -habits of mind

Evolving toward assessment-rich learning

For the past quarter of a century, TC² has had the good fortune to work with passionate educators across Canada and around the world. Over this time our thinking about the power of assessment has evolved and deepened. We have come to embrace the power of assessment as a key learning tool and have developed the concept of assessment-rich learning.

Assessment-rich learning focuses attention on the use of student and teacher assessment as an integral, continuous, and genuinely helpful aspect of all student learning.

  • By integral, we mean that assessment becomes a seamless and essential aspect of instruction.
  • By continuous, we mean that it happens throughout the lesson.
  • By genuinely helpful, we mean that students welcome assessment as an opportunity to inform and advance their learning.

How can weak assessment strategies fail us?

When assessment is not treated as an integral part of the instruction, students will find it unhelpful at best. Many students dread assessment when they view it as a stress-inducing occasion during which they must endure the judgments of their peers and teachers. Consequently, many students resist or avoid seeking feedback, and the assessment fails to support learning.

Assessment can be even more unhelpful if it ends up making the student feel punished, cajoled, or intimidated. Despite an overwhelming body of evidence showing that fear and intimidation shuts down learning, assessment is too often grounded in how a student will be punished for lack of compliance. This approach fails to seize on the true potential of assessment to support student learning.


Eight practices that promote assessment-rich learning

Used thoughtfully, assessment can inspire and empower students and greatly improve their learning. This requires that assessment be viewed with a different mindset, one that it is embedded seamlessly into classroom routines.

The following eight teaching practices can help your students gain a positive mindset about assessment that will lead to greater self awareness and an internalized desire to learn.

  1. Cultivate a climate in which thoughtful reflection is valued: Initiate learning with a rich assessment task, so that students see guidance as a genuine opportunity to revise and improve work rather than an occasion for their work to be judged.
  2. Provide guidance that helps to advance student learning: When offering guidance, take care to avoid directing required changes. Instead, ask helpful questions and offer alternatives for students to consider, thereby helping them reach their own conclusions on how to move forward.
  3. Use an appreciative approach: In addition to suggesting strategies for improvement, be sure to highlight the strengths of students’ work.
  4. Focus learning on rich and meaningful tasks that engage thinking: Students’ true potential is realized in their responses to assessment tasks that they find both valuable and meaningful.
  5. Encourage the use of productive peer critiques: Coach students in providing useful peer critiques that are warranted, respectful, specific, and constructive.
  6. Ensure that guidance is continuous and timely: Communicate your observations and engage in conversations at key points during a task. Further, encourage students to engage in continuous self-assessment through the use of “Thoughtbooks,” a form of journal in which students can “muck about” with their thinking.
  7. Ensure that students understand the key attributes (criteria) for quality work: At the outset of a task, either co-construct criteria for quality work or co-construct understanding of criteria that you present. The criteria should give students a clear understanding of what constitutes high quality work without imposing constraints that limit creativity.
  8. Recast setbacks as opportunities to “fail forward”: Help students to see learning as an iterative process. Help them view guidance or suggestions from you or their peers as an opportunity for further learning.
Assessment practices have the power to engage, inspire, and support students in reaching their fullest potential—in short, used effectively, assessment can help to ensure that teaching and learning is a transformative experience.


—Garfield Gini-Newman
Senior Consultant, TC²

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