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assessment, common core, differentiation assessment, mathematics

Why Students Should Explain Their Thinking

We know that knowledge can be demonstrated in multiple ways such as verbal explanation, demonstration, illustration, and writing.

The notion of multiple representation brings forth a whole new way of assessing students knowledge and gives credence to the idea that students need to have many opportunities to express their thinking and in a variety of representations.  I love the idea of having multiple measures because it honors ALL kids and brings forth the belief that one type of assessment is not an accurate measure of a child’s understanding.

For example a student who is an English language learner may fair better with an assessment that is rooted in demonstration or illustration than one that requires explanation and writing.  That is not to say that an English language learner should not partake in an assessment that requires explaining and speaking, I would argue that this type of assessment would be of great benefit as all children should develop these skills.

So when it comes to why students should explain their thinking there is great value beyond informing the teacher’s practice.  Children need to learn how to express their thinking, connect ideas, and justify their response. When a child can explain what they think this will also develop their confidence in the subject matter, efficacy “aha I did learn something”, and ability in thinking.  Metacognition, (thinking about thinking) is not something that comes naturally to children,  but can be developed by explaining their thinking.

Using Web tools in the classroom can provide the teacher with  a means for all students to develop their thinking and share their understanding . In this video a first grader shares how he uses base ten to decompose numbers and subtract with regrouping.  As you will notice the student does not talk about “regrouping”, ‘borrowing” or “base ten” rather he thinks of an analogy of buying donuts and an ipod to justify how he can get more money to purchase these items.  When an assessment is authentic and asks students to explain their thinking without the restrictions of working in a box and given explicit instructions they can be quiet successful.


About Dr. Dickenson

I am an assistant professor of Teacher Education at National University in San Jose.


4 thoughts on “Why Students Should Explain Their Thinking

  1. Great post. I really appreciate the perspective presented here. It’s a new way of looking at differentiation. Education literature tends to emphasizes the teacher coming up with the methods of differentiated activities for teaching, but leaving assessments open to allowing students to choose how to express their thinking about a topic is a welcomed insight. I wonder how grading looks for this, though. Teachers might find it difficult to manage grades for differentiated modes of expressing knowledge, especially if this means a big step away from right/wrong true/false tests. More rubrics and less answer keys perhaps? More real time on the spot evaluation rather than a test taken at the same time and graded at the same time perhaps?

    Liked by 1 person

    Posted by Crystal | November 24, 2015, 2:19 am
    • HI Crystal, I am hopeful with the authorization of ESAA we might think about a whole new way of designing new systems for assessment. Current assessment models such as the SBAC DO NOT take into account two important stakeholders the student and the teacher. Innovative ways of assessment are happening around the country such as student developed portfolios that are selected by the student and assessed by the teacher. This is happening in NYC and the students must defend their perspective. Long term results suggested better achievement gains and greater retention in college. I will be posting about this issue soon!


      Posted by Dr. Dickenson | December 6, 2015, 7:39 pm
  2. I have found technology to be a great tool in assessing students’ learning. I certainly do not have an answer for summative assessments, but it is a great formative assessment tool. As a Geometry teacher, I have found great programs online that work for triangle congruence to work with constructing triangles. Often times online apps do not lead to an actual assessment to gauge a student’s level of understanding. I am sure there are other programs out there, but I personally use Formative (www.goformative.com) to have my students use their Chrome Book laptops to take screen shots of triangle construction or other app (transformation of shapes for example) to then post on Formative. The app allows me to have students upload screenshots, then type out an answer or draw on their answer sheet (virtually). All in a live setting I can see all of their work populate. I then zoom in on a random student’s work (after cold-calling) to have them explain their thinking.

    Liked by 1 person

    Posted by Shawn S | December 6, 2015, 7:50 am
    • H Shawn,
      Thanks for sharing GOFormative. I think this tool would be extremely beneficial for teachers who are using blended learning to capture student progress. I agree with your stance that there is a gap in online tools and assessment. This can be problematic as we want to capture whether what we are doing actually works. Also what we try and measure does not always transfer on paper and pencil tasks. As a math teacher I recommend using more qualitative assessment measures and asking students questions about their attitude and efficacy. This is just as important because if students like what they doing and enjoy the task this will result in greater achievement over time.


      Posted by Dr. Dickenson | December 6, 2015, 8:24 pm

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