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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Chapter 4: Dynamical Assessment


The final dimension in the inclusive classroom is one of dynamical[1] assessment, the idea that the focus, nature and means of assessment will change, depending on the topic or skill to be assessed and the changes and growth in the student as learner. While the "end goal" of the course (e.g. the benchmark, final examination, or curriculum objective) remains the same, the focus and method of ongoing assessment will change.

For example, in one month a teacher's goal for a specific student might focus on in-class participation or group cooperation, while in the next month it may be the student's verbal presentation of a concept. At the same time, essay writing might be a constant, ongoing objective for all students within the class. For a depressive teenager who is withdrawn from the rest of the class, the teacher's major focus of assessment may be on how the student relates to the material and to her peers within the class, understanding the critical importance of emotions to learning. She might use the student's readiness to hand in assignments on time as one of her assessment markers. Thus, methods of assessment will change, depending on the focus of assessment and the changes in the student as learner. This "space" between what the student can do independently and what he can do with some kind of facilitation or scaffolding - what Vygotsky (1986) refers to as the zone of proximal development - is constantly evolving and it is part of the complex craftsmanship of the inclusive teacher to be sensitive to these developments.

Dynamical assessment moves between holistic assessment of student performance, e.g. the individual's profile as a student - is he meeting deadlines, participating in class, asking the questions that demonstrate comprehension of material? - and the specific, e.g. what is the next developmental step in this student's essay writing? Teachers can weave assessment into the fabric of student learning, so that a task may be both a synthesizing activity for the student while simultaneously providing the teacher with a diagnostic opportunity to evaluate student learning.

[1] The origin of this term comes from chaos theory. Please see previous note referenced to Gleick, 1987.

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