Teaching Coding Tips: Student Assessments

Assessments are an important part of a teacher’s job, giving them the opportunity to gauge how well their students have understood lessons and provide useful feedback for them to learn and grow from. However, it can often be tricky to get it right – especially when it comes to coding assessments.

It’s often tempting to fall into the trap of getting bogged down in assessing a student’s code line-by-line to make sure everything is correct. This can quickly become extremely time-consuming, which isn’t ideal when you have 20, 30, or even more students to assess at once (and possibly several classes worth of students). 

To avoid this, it’s better to find ways to assess coding that go beyond traditional tests and assignments and take in the bigger picture of your students’ learning. Coding isn’t just about the code itself – it’s also about the process, and the skills your students develop such as problem-solving, resilience, and creativity.

To help you assess your students more effectively (and in less time-consuming ways), check out this collection of coding assessment tips and techniques from coding experts that focus on reaching goals that will prepare students for their future careers vs. just making busy work for you.

Tips For Teacher Assessments In Coding

Use Assessment Criteria Charts

While the traditional approach to assessing, marking, and grading a student’s work isn’t always the best, sometimes it is necessary. As such, you should find ways to make this process as efficient as possible so that you don’t find yourself getting lost in minor details when marking each student’s work.

This is where assessment criteria charts come in. These charts can help you to streamline your grading process while also providing students with more guidance in terms of what you’re looking for from them. 

The idea is simple: create a chart with different criteria on one axis and a score on the other. In each box, write what you’d expect the student to do to gain the relevant score in that category. For example, if you had a score range of zero to five and a category of Functionality, you might write the following in some of those boxes:

  • 5 – Code works flawlessly to complete the assigned task.
  • 3 – Code works well to complete the assigned task, but with a few minor bugs
  • 0 – The code does not work, or does not fulfill the assigned task.

This gives you an easy reference for when you’re marking students’ projects, enabling you to quickly assess their work and map it to a particular score. This also makes students’ grades much easier for them to understand as they can look at feedback in various categories. 

What’s more, you may find they perform their tasks more efficiently if you provide them with the marking criteria beforehand – by seeing what exactly you expect from them, they’ll have a clearer idea of what they need to work towards when completing projects.

Tips For Teacher Assessments In Coding

Peer Review & Self-Reflection

It’s easy to assume that as the teacher, you’re responsible for assessing all of your students’ work all the time. But that doesn’t have to be the case – in fact, it’s often helpful to get your students to help you out. Peer review and self-reflection are two techniques you can use to help students think critically about their classmates’ work and their own work. 

Peer review involves getting students to swap their work with a partner to assess each others’ work and give feedback (possibly using an assessment criteria chart). This can be beneficial for students to see what other approaches they could have taken to a task, helping each other fix mistakes and debug, and strengthen their own understanding of concepts by explaining them to others.

If you ask students to perform a written peer review, this also gives you a helpful tool for informing your own marking and grading. Peer reviews can flag up particular elements of a student’s work for you to give feedback on without you needing to scour every detail yourself.

Self-reflection, meanwhile, allows students time to think critically about their own work as they review their projects. By asking them to complete a self-reflection report, you can get your students to assess whether they met the project’s criteria and emphasize the ability to learn from their mistakes and experiences as a core aspect of coding.

Self-reflection reports also allow you to better understand how confident students feel with different concepts and tasks, allowing you to give more useful feedback and provide additional assistance when necessary in the classroom. The report can also be used as part of their overall assessment grade, as it can help you to grade the student’s soft skills (like problem-solving, resilience, and collaboration) alongside hard coding skills.

Use Online Resources

It can be tricky to plan an entire curriculum of projects and assessments yourself, so it may be helpful to look elsewhere to find inspiration. Luckily, the internet is a treasure trove of teaching ideas, lesson plans, and potential assessments and projects.

For example, you could try using online courses from platforms such as Zenva Schools to make both teaching and assessing students easier. Each of Zenva’s courses comes with engaging, informative video lessons and a number of different projects to complete. Zenva Schools also provides in-platform reporting, so you can easily make sure your students stay on track with the courses and goals you set for them.

You can, therefore, use Zenva Schools to provide assessment projects for your class to work on with clear instructions and guides for them to refer to even when they aren’t in the classroom. These projects can then form the backbone of your assessments and grading. 

What’s more, Zenva School’s varied catalog of courses includes coding courses using game development, which can help to make assessments more interesting and fun for students so that they engage more with their work. As such, they’re likely to put more effort into these projects than other, less compelling coding projects.

There are a number of other sites you can use to find fun coding projects that can be adapted for use as assessments; for example, Code.org has a huge library of hour-long coding projects that would work well as micro-assessments. Like Zenva Schools, many of these projects revolve around game design, making them perfect for keeping students engaged.

Someone's hands typing code at a laptop

Formative Assessments

Assessing your students isn’t always about big final projects and graded assignments; it’s also important to assess and monitor their learning during each lesson. One way to ensure this is to implement formative assessments into your lessons roughly every 10-15 minutes. 

Formative assessments are short tasks designed to reinforce the knowledge or skills you’re teaching in the lesson. Ideally, they involve an unambiguous correct answer or solution, allowing you to check the whole class has understood the concepts or techniques you’ve just covered. Examples of effective formative assessments include:

  • Answering a multiple-choice questionnaire
  • Writing a few lines of relevant code
  • Predicting what effect a new piece of code will have on a program
  • Contributing the next line of code 
  • Labeling diagrams 

Not only will formative assessments allow you to make sure all your students are following the lesson and understanding it, but they also help to keep students more engaged. Simply talking at them all through the lesson might get boring, so formative assessments keep students on their toes to ensure they listen and engage.

You can also use formative assessments at the start of a lesson as a tool to remind students of important concepts they covered in previous lessons. This helps to signal that these concepts will be important in the coming lesson, and allows students to refresh their memory to help them process the lesson more effectively.

All in all, formative assessments are a vital tool to keep track of your whole class’ understanding of what you teach them. This means you can assess their learning and progression on a more regular basis rather than leaving it until periodical formal assessments to realize they have issues with their understanding.

Tips For Teacher Assessments In Coding

Code-Modifying Exercises

Often, coding assessments rely on students being given a project to work on from start to finish to test their ability to put certain coding techniques and concepts into action. However, it can sometimes be helpful to mix up this formula by giving students a completed program or piece of code and asking them to modify it for a new purpose or to improve its function.

This approach to assessment allows you to assess students’ problem-solving skills and creativity at the same time as their coding abilities. It can also be a useful exercise in debugging if the program you give them to modify has some intentional bugs or errors within its coding.

Moreover, code-modifying exercises can take students out of their comfort zones whilst also giving them a taste of what it’s like to code as part of a team. Coding isn’t just about working on your own projects from start to finish – it also means being willing to work on projects that other people have started to provide assistance and make improvements.

Have Students Make Presentations

Another way to vary your assessments beyond simply setting different projects for your students to complete is to have them make presentations to accompany particular coding projects. The presentation is an opportunity for students to explain the thought process behind different decisions they made, allowing you to assess the way they go about a project instead of just looking at their finished products. 

You can choose to tie a student’s grade into their presentation by setting grading criteria for it, or use it as an opportunity to provide more informal feedback through post-presentation Q&As. Presentations can also help to share knowledge between students by showing them different solutions and approaches to the project at hand.

Allowing students to go into detail about their project can also help to increase enthusiasm in the classroom. Showcasing a range of perspectives and ideas can help to keep students engaged in their own work and interested in that of their peers, as well as exposing them to new ideas they can use in the future.

Overall, presentations offer a great way of varying your assessment types whilst also enhancing your students’ understanding of different coding approaches. However, if you have students who don’t feel comfortable presenting to the class, it might be helpful to offer alternatives such as a one-to-one presentation with you or a written report instead.

Tips For Teacher Assessments In Coding

Work Towards A Portfolio

A final way to improve your coding assessments is to tie all of your students’ projects together into a final portfolio. This serves a variety of useful purposes, but chief among them is the fact that it allows students to play to their strengths.

Rather than looking at individual projects for an assessment grade, a portfolio allows you to look at a student’s broader body of work to see where their strengths and weaknesses lie. If you allow students to pick which projects they include in their portfolio, this also gives them the opportunity to focus on areas where they excel rather than letting isolated examples of sub-par work drag their overall grade down.

Working on a portfolio as an end-of-year assessment can also be extremely motivational for students. Having them reflect on their work over the year and see how far they’ve progressed can help to motivate them to keep growing and learning.

The portfolio assessment could also be combined with a presentation to enable students to show off the work they’re most proud of and to celebrate the whole class’ work over the year. It’s a great option for rounding off one section of the curriculum on a high note before moving onto new subjects, while also giving you a broad body of work to base a final grade on.

Plus, a portfolio is extensively required by many companies in order to get a job in coding, so this assessment also helps students actually build something practical for their future resumes.

Conclusion

While planning effective assessment methods and projects for your class isn’t always easy, the above tips and techniques can help to make things easier whilst also providing a more varied slate of assessments to evaluate your class’ skills with. These tips are also oriented with the actual development industry in mind – so you won’t just be teaching for the sake of teaching. Instead, you’ll be able to focus your assessments on making sure kids come away from coding with skills they can actually apply to careers, whether coding or something else.

Steps like implementing online courses and projects into assessments or emphasizing peer review in class can make a huge difference to how your class learns as well as how you assess them. Try not to rely on one assessment method too much, though – to get the broadest view of your students’ coding skills you should employ a wide variety of coding assessments such as those listed above.

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