Milica Vukadin - Differentiating Assessment - Because One Size Does Not Fit All

Assessment represents a grey area for all teachers - we constantly fear that we haven't fulfilled the learning objectives, and we ponder on the things we could have done differently. If we take a step back and think about it, we will conclude that we have to individualize the assessment and create a differentiated classroom.

Milica Vukadin, B.Ed.

If we take a step back and think about it, we will conclude that we have to individualize the assessment and create a differentiated classroom.

Research has proven that by differentiating our classroom, students learn more, and they can achieve a greater learner autonomy. However, this is easier said than done, because, to apply a differentiated assessment and ''break the rules'', we need to learn the rules by heart. That means that we have to know how to develop our curriculum by ourselves, and we need to use many different instructional designs.

We can differentiate our classroom in these areas:

  • Differentiating content;
  • Differentiating formative assessment tools;
  • Differentiating performance tasks;
  • Differentiating instructional designs.

When differentiating the assessment, I follow these steps:

  1. I start with the diagnostic assessment, and then I explore the student's aptitudes by applying the Multiple Intelligence Theory.
  2. I make sure that the assessment is personalized and task-oriented.
  3. And last, but not least, most of the assessment I conduct is formative.

The examples in this article come from my online classroom, and the ideas for differentiating assessment can be modified, and used in any online or offline classroom. They are conducted in large groups, as well as individual lessons.

1. Ages 8 and 10 - a girl and a boy from Poland - A. and B. are brother and sister, and they both had issues with communicating in the beginning. They performed well on the grammar diagnostic tests, so I began exploring other reasons for their poor communication skills. The problem was that they were not motivated when we followed my curriculum. I suggested that they make a list of topics they like, and based on that I created TBI units, which the children loved.

Types of assessment included recording a video game tutorial and narrating using present simple and present continuous. A. created a collection of photos of her best friends, and we revised a lot of vocabulary and functional phrases by describing her best friends and their relationship. Additional types of assessment included creating a comic book and a rap song since the boy loves rap music.

2. Ph.D. student, an adolescent from Turkey - B. is a Ph.D. student, and her greatest problem is stuttering when she speaks, even in her native language. 
Her stutter is not easily detected, and it sounds as if she is using a lot of crutch words. She didn't share this information with me, and she was trying to improve her speaking by herself. 
When I realized this, I changed the methods of assessment. We are now using Edmodo (an online platform for students and teachers), and all my students are part of an asynchronous learning group, where they collaboratively discuss and compare the topics we cover in lessons by text, audio, and video. 
B. is an engraving artist, and she started writing blog posts, and recording vlogs about the events she attends, as well as sharing her personal life and talking about the engraving process. This is the best way for her to be assessed since she has time to meaningfully prepare the posts and vlogs, while also recycling the language structures we learned.

3. 280 students in an IELTS preparation course- Besides giving individual online English lessons, I also collaborate with an IELTS preparation center from Nigeria as a lecturer and IELTS course facilitator. We currently have a group of 280 students, and surprisingly, assessing their knowledge does not represent an issue. I developed an online interactive course, which allows the students to get an automatic grade for listening and reading tests. Before starting, they all completed a diagnostic level test to determine their learning gaps. 
We have weekly lectures and collaborative activities which consist of discussion, oral and written presentations, summaries, reflections, and surveys. They are giving oral and written summaries regularly, and other students are peer-teachers - they help me correct their mistakes. We are using Google Docs for the writing practice, and students can see and correct all the essays collaboratively. In every lesson, they share their reflection about their progress and practice speaking at the same time. They also submit audio recordings of their speaking section, and we analyze them together and comment. Individual assessment and progress are shown on the platform, including the hours they logged while practicing.

Being a preschool teacher and an online ESL teacher, I must say that differentiating assessment comes naturally in my classroom environment, simply because I am not required to grade students traditionally, using summative assessment. I am not very keen on standardized tests, and my professional opinion is that they are obsolete - they do not prepare the students for the 21st century life, and they do not develop the necessary 21st century skills in students. To properly assess our students, we must remember just one thing - one size truly does not fit all.


Milica Vukadin, B.Ed.

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