Demonstrations of Learning
To support the diverse learners in my classroom, I provide students with a variety of ways that they can demonstrate their learning across all subject areas. Some students prefer showing their learning on standardized or curriculum content assessments. Some students love written responses, while others enjoy engaging in discussions and debates or building models and presenting their learning to an audience. While I believe in helping all students meet daily learning objectives and meet or exceed 4th grade expectations, I do not believe that this looks the same for all 25 of my students. I strive to provide daily opportunities for every student to show what they are learning, learn from mistakes, and make connections to previous learning or life experiences.
Our beginning of the year district and school professional development trainings included many resources for student demonstrations of learning. I have also discovered new ways students can demonstrate their learning from my Western Colorado University MA in Education course materials and texts including Instruction for All Students (2015) and Why Didn’t I Learn This in College (2009) by Paula Rutherford, and Schools That Learn (2012) by Peter Senge. In addition to formal professional development, I have learned and implemented strategies from educators and administrators who often share ideas over casual conversations or in brief hallway requests for help during the day.
While I have many resources at my disposal, it is often challenging to remember to include opportunities for varied demonstrations of learning when our curriculum demonstrations of learning mostly include practice questions and pencil and paper assessments. As part of my weekly and daily lesson planning, I consider alternative ways for students to show me their academic growth. For example, in my book club I provide students with a choice of final projects for our novels including Google slides book reports, iMovie trailers, comics, a redesign of the novel’s cover, original skits, or a review and recommendation for peers. For varied demonstrations of learning in mathematics, I supplement our Everyday Mathematics curriculum (McGraw-Hill Education, 2018) with YouCubed challenges (YouCubed, 2018), 3 Act Tasks (Flecher, 2019), and Would You Rather questions (Stevens, n.d). These alternative tasks allow students to demonstrate their mathematical learning in ways other than their math journal practice problems and curriculum assessments that are part of Everyday Mathematics (McGraw-Hill Education, 2018). (Artifact 1)
Artifact 1: Picture from YouCubed Lesson
In “Penny Collection” students applied their understanding of multiples and factors to determine how many pennies were in a given collection given specific constraints. Students used counters, hundreds grids and multiplication charts as tools to solve this challenge.
I was encouraged to see that some of the students who were the most successful and engaged in this task were the same students who were unable to independently list factors on a recent curriculum assessment. This finding validates using alternative tasks to allow all students to show their mathematical thinking and growth.
Through our project based learning units, students are provided with opportunities to demonstrate their learning in many different ways. For example, our 4th grade teaching team, with the support of our Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) teacher and elementary librarian, decided to revamp our Colorado Ghost Town project last year to allow for more cross-curricular learning and student choice. Students collaborated with peers to create an interactive exhibit highlighting a ghost town of Colorado. Our local museum invited us to walk over and learn how to create an exhibit and our STEM teacher taught students how Makey Makey (2018) programming and green screen technology could be incorporated into an interactive exhibit. A team of students recruited parent helpers to build a mining tunnel as the museum entrance while another team of students built a railroad track connecting the ghost towns of our state. A third team worked on visitor invitations while a fourth team came up with a plan to manage the museum entrance and gather visitor feedback. All exhibits in Colorado Ghost Towns: An Interactive Museum were unique and highlighted student learning in a wide variety of ways. (Artifacts 2 and 3) These varied demonstrations of learning and the ghost town cross curricular project are evidence of the Colorado Department of Education Quality Standard I, element B, “Teachers develop and implement lessons that connect to a variety of content areas/disciplines and emphasize literacy and mathematical practices”, level 5 practice where students “draw real-world connections to other content area(s)” (Colorado Department of Education, 2019).
Artifact 3: Ghost Town Rubric
Artifact 2: Ghost Town Reflection
The group of three students collaborated to create their interactive exhibit. The reflection shows student choice and enthusiasm for learning. Student A explains how he “poured his knowledge” into the Google slides presentation and created the Google forms quiz to draw museum visitors into his exhibit.
Student A acknowledges that all student contributions were unique and valuable. He focused more on the digital components of the exhibit while Student B worked on physical models and Student C generated the non-fiction writing pieces of the exhibit. Together, they were able to give museum visitors a complete understanding of their ghost towns and, individually, they were able to demonstrate their learning in three different ways.
Given the opportunity, students will seek out ways to show what they have learned. Through a fortunate event, I was given access to a wave buoy from Scripps Institution of Oceanography (Scripps Institution of Oceanography, 2017). My students learned about the buoy’s mission and components through a Skype conference with a Scripps engineer. Students then generated a list of what they would like do to learn about the buoy and wave analysis. About one fourth of my class elected to create and present wave models to the class. About half of my class embarked on data analysis through the buoy tracking website we were given access to. The rest of my class decided to write a creative blog from the buoy’s perspective. They used personification to bring the buoy to life and told the tale of the buoy’s adventures through first-person comedic narrative. While the buoy project was a happenstance opportunity and does not directly correlate with our 4th grade Colorado Department of Education science standards, the learning directly relates to our reading, writing and mathematics standards (Colorado Department of Education, 2018). (Artifacts 4 and 5) This demonstration of creative and original thinking across subject areas is evidence of the Colorado Department of Education, Quality Standard 1, element C, level 5 practice where students “synthesize concepts to create original thinking within and across disciplines” (Colorado Department of Education, 2019).
Artifact 4 Student Wave Data Analysis
While some students were working on interpreting graphs and reading data, some students were blogging and others were creating physical models of our buoy.
Students logged into the Scripps Oceanography site and found our buoy in the Pacific Ocean. Students noticed minimum and maximum wave height, wave speed and any other intriguing data. Students added a creative touch by naming our buoy Jeremiah (based on a class vote) and imagining what he might say as he rode the waves they were seeing on the graphs.
Artifact 5: Student Blog https://cbcs4th.blogspot.com/
Student bloggers have been imagining Jeremiah the Wave Buoy's journey in the Pacific Ocean.
Students who were more enthusiastic about blogging than data analysis chose to apply their typing and creative writing skills as they brought Jeremiah to life. Blogging has been a motivator for several reluctant writers who have been blogging for extra homework without any teacher or parent prompting. Only portions of student blogs are posted online. Other blog posts and creative ideas are housed in students’ Google accounts.
One challenge with providing students with a variety of ways to demonstrate their learning is the question of how to be equitable with assessment. How do I hold all students accountable for meeting unit objectives and state standards when they are showing their learning in different ways? Evaluation rubrics have helped me communicate learning expectations to students and helped students ensure that they are showing me that they have achieved or surpassed these expectations. (Artifacts 3 and 6)
A critical component of effective and individualized demonstrations of learning is teacher reflection. For example, in a PBL unit during March of 2018, I noted that not all students demonstrated expository nonfiction writing expectations. In a PBL unit during May of 2018, I noted again that not all students demonstrated grade level nonfiction writing expectations. Through these reflections, I realized that I needed to schedule more writing time for these units, work harder to align this writing with our Being a Writer expository nonfiction unit, and provide students with more time for supported revision and editing of their project writing (Center for the Collaborative Classroom, 2014). (Artifact 7) This reflection allowed me to be better prepared for our PBL units this spring while continuing to allow students to create their own unique projects and show their learning in the way that is best for them.
Artifact 6: Energy Project Rubric
Artifact 7: Lesson Plans for Ghost Town Unit
Buck Institute for Education. (2013). Project Based Teaching Rubric. Retrieved February 12, 2019, from
Center for the Collaborative Classroom (2014). Being a writer: Second edition. Grade 4. Alameda, CA: Center for the
Colorado Department of Education. (2018). Colorado Standards - Academic Standards. Retrieved February 12, 2019, from
Colorado Department of Education. (2019). RANDA - Colorado state model performance management system.
Retrieved March 16, 2019, from https://copms.randasolutions.com/
Fletcher, G. (2019, February 11). 3-Acts lessons. Retrieved February 11, 2019, from https://gfletchy.com/3-act-lessons/
Makey Makey. (2018). Retrieved February 12, 2019, from https://makeymakey.com/
McGraw-Hill Education (2018). Everyday mathematics grade 4. Teacher's edition. New York City, NY, USA: McGraw-Hill.
ReadWorks. (2019). Retrieved February 12, 2019, from https://www.readworks.org/
Rutherford, P. (2015). Instruction for all students. Alexandria, VA: Just ASK.
Rutherford, P. (2009). Why didn’t I learn this in college?: Teaching & learning in the 21st century. Alexandria, VA: Just ASK
Publications & Professional Development.
Scripps Institution of Oceanography. (n.d.). Coastal observing research and development center. Retrieved February 12,
Scripps Institution of Oceanography. (2017, May 04). Projects and labs. Retrieved from
Senge, P. M. (2012). Schools that learn: A fifth discipline fieldbook for educators, parents, and everyone who cares about
education. New York: Crown Business.
Stevens, J. (n.d.). Would you rather...? Retrieved February 11, 2019, from http://www.wouldyourathermath.com/
YouCubed at Stanford University. (2018). Inspiring students to math success and a growth mindset. Retrieved February 12,