How can you design meaningful experiences and assessments?

Meaningful Experiences

Research shows that when the brain is engaged more, by making a task relevant and interesting, people learn more when curiosity is stimulated and that there is increased activity in the hippocampus, the region of the brain associated with memory.

Children who may be struggling to learn and become frustrated, stimulating curiosity before learning in an educational setting can enhance incidental learning and also increase the motivation to learn. Amy Reichelt, cited by Saville 2.10.14.

We, as teachers know, that orchestrating meaningful experiences for your students is essential to keeping them engaged and curious. It is curiosity that puts the brain in a state that is ready to learn.

So let’s take a look at some strategies to support engagement and ignite curiosity in practice.

#8 Simulations

  • Age-appropriate simulations give students the chance to think beyond their own lives and connect to content

  • Prepare students by discussing the possibility of strong emotional responses

  • Highlight the intended concepts by pausing during the simulation to record student thinking using a planned conceptual question

  • Provide opportunities for reflection on current thinking using talk, writing or drawing to consider intellectual and emotional learning experiences

#9 Dual language Mind Mapping

  • Dual language mind maps give students choice and builds confidence

  • Icons and non-linguistic images can support students explain their thinking

  • Give choice to students in what to express in English and what to represent in mother Tongue

  • Invite students to use images, colours and words on branches

Meaningful Assessments

Assessment sits at the heart of teaching and learning. It is what you do day by day, minute by minute to understand if your students are learning. To assess for knowledge, skills and conceptual understanding, and how near or far students can transfer their understanding, you will want to consider varied assessment types, assessments of process and product and student self assessments.

The illustration and suggestions below can provide you with some assessment types to consider as you look to vary assessments within your concept-based practice.

Justify and Validate

Students look at new case studies and justify the validity of their understandings.

#10 Stress Test

  • Invite students to discuss and transfer their understanding to new case studies

  • Promote discussion to challenge and build thinking and build

  • Introduce a new case study or factual example to develop or challenge thinking

Apply and Act: Based on identified needs, students take action to show understanding

#11 Student-led Action enables students to be a change agent.

  • Actively listen for student voice to help them find opportunities to take their learning beyond the classroom

  • Ask students questions to help them clarify their thinking and select the most purposeful course of action

  • Take a step back and let students take the lead stepping forward only when help is needed.

Apply and Create: Students create and/or perform to show understanding.

#12 Performance Assessments enable students to show deep understanding by creating a product or performance.

  • Develop evaluation rubrics or scoring guides which include criteria that assess students ability to explain thinking and justify choices

  • Create an authentic performance task that supports concept-based assessment by using the language of the generalizations in order to align to conceptual learning

  • Allow students to refer back to case studies and established understandings while engaging in the task

Take a look at the examples for how you might consider designing assessments to assess for transfer of understandings, knowledge and skills supported by a scoring guide


Reflection is important in any assessment task as it enables students to consider their own learning progress. It provides the opportunity to slow down and think, along with building a student’s sense of agency around their learning process.

Use strategies to optimize reflection and metacognitive thinking skill development through a unit.

#13 Learning blogs support collective student thinking

  • Invite students to explain their thinking in mother tongue for deeper reflections

  • Use blogs, or screencast apps, where students can speak to images, or their own diagrams or drawings, or write main points in their mother tongue

  • Purposefully create regular time for peer discussion to promote reflective thinking

#14 Learning Journals can support individual metacognitive thinking

  • Ensure regular use of learning journals or learning journal platforms, and embed within routines

  • Embed the use of journals during direct instruction mini-lessons to deepen the learning process

  • Invite mother tongue language reflections when using journals

  • Students use reflective drawing, writing or screen casting to evaluate their learning

So whenever it’s possible, consider using an inductive approach in your teaching to avoid that you do the thinking for your students - strategically select strategies to scaffold and personalize learning. Step by step you can provide opportunities for your students’ thinking to be challenged, perspectives to be broadened and understandings to be deepened.

Reflect - Act

As you come to the end of this guide, let’s think back to the main objectives. We aimed to enable you to:

  • Build understanding of concept-based teaching and learning - the why, how and what?

  • Consider teaching approaches that can support conceptual thinking

  • Acquire strategies and tools for planning and instruction to support conceptual thinking

  • Expand your tool kit for designing meaningful learning experiences and assessments

  • Leave this course with practical take-aways to try out in your own classroom

I hope this guide has provided you with an alternative perspective, a new strategy or tool that you can add to your teacher tool kit, or maybe it has raised some questions in your mind that you want to explore further.

Once again, take a look at your reflection rubric:

  1. Read, reflect and adjust highlights across the continuum

  2. Celebrate the areas you have strengthened

  3. Identify which areas you might consider to develop further

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