Open-ended Journal Assessments – How can they
help your children?
by Renée Heiss
Standardized testing is the most widely used method of assessing a child’s mastery of a particular concept. While those multiple-choice questions test for memory, they do little to test creativity and problem-solving ability. Which skills do you want your children to develop? I much prefer seeing a child creatively working through the solution of a problem, whether that problem involves an academic subject or an ethical dilemma. Open-ended journal assessments provided through guided journal entries offer an interactive method to help your children boost their learning.
The use of a journal as an open-ended assessment has two advantages:
a) It helps a child to develop verbal skills. When a child writes a response to a journal prompt, he must formulate the idea in his head and transfer that idea into a coherent statement on paper. He must include proper spelling, punctuation, and grammar. And, he practices the disappearing art of penmanship.
b) It allows parents to respond directly to the children’s answers in their journals, forming a parent/child dialogue of sorts. In doing so, the child learns the parent’s opinion of the journal entry, and can immediately see corrections to incorrect assumptions. You might even add a new question for your child to answer before proceeding to the next journal topic. Additionally, you can learn from your child about potential problems in her life when you read between the lines to find a deeper meaning and interpretation.
There are many ways to encourage open-ended responses. You might ask the child to tell everything she knows about (_______). You might ask her to pull one word from a page she is reading and expand on that word as it relates to the book. You might provide a picture prompt related to your topic. Or perhaps you can ask your child to develop her own open-ended question!
Open-ended questioning shows children that all their answers are valid. Even if you find an incorrect assumption from a journal prompt, you can still provide feedback without having the child feel that her response is wrong. It’s all in the way you word the correction – gently and with educational input rather than with judgment and disrespect.
Open-ended questions eliminate competition from the educational equation. Children won’t be able to compare number grades. Instead, each receives a completion grade and an assessment of in-depth reasoning.
Some people might argue that open-ended questions don’t assess all children in the same way and on the same topics. However, that argument fails the validity test – is it necessary to have all children learn the same thing all the time? Of course not! Each child is an individual and needs to learn at his own speed using his own interests.
So, to answer the question posed by the subject of this blog – are open-ended questions valid or weak? The answer is a resounding valid because they foster creativity, individuality, language skills, and interaction with parents. What will you do to prepare for your next open-ended assessment?
Renée Heiss is the author of the SHINE! series of themed learning modules based on the books published by Entelechy Education, LLC. Each module includes an open-ended journal-prompt assessment based on the theme. She is an award-winning retired educator and author of the books that feature The EnteleTrons, a unique trio of characters who teach STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics), character education, and language literacy.
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