Assessments and the Learning Environment: Active Learning vs. Traditional Learning

Updated: Jun 16

When I first started student assessments, I followed the traditional assessment form provided by my school. It was a uniform list of questions with a simple rubric. While it made for easy completion, it didn’t differentiate student learning styles or abilities. Once I developed my teaching philosophy, I was able to move beyond the traditional assessment and implement more formative assessments based on an active learning environment. It didn’t come without challenges. I was learning to meet my students where they were, while school guidelines said I needed to follow the traditional assessments and teaching. I was torn. Was it possible to assess students in an active and collaborative learning environment? What was the difference between assessing students in an active and collaborative learning environment versus assessing students in a traditional classroom learning environment? To find the answer, I had to understand the differences between the two environments, then the two types of assessments.

In the traditional learning environments, high-stakes assessments are offered at the end of the quarter or semester and tend to be aimed at score results and right or wrong answers. Andrew Miller (2015), explains that teachers begin teaching to the test simply to raise scores, often at the expense of more meaningful learning activities... And when the tests... aren't properly aligned to standards, they provide little concrete information that teachers and schools can use to improve teaching and learning for individual students. In the active learning environment, students learn collaboratively. The environment provides opportunity for student-based learning. Formative assessments help to discover what students know while they’re still in the process of learning. Here, teachers are constantly “assessing” their students through critical thinking questions and collaborative activities.

So, how can assessment data be used to differentiate instruction? I use formative assessments in a number of ways in my teaching. At the start of each new session, I test their knowledge in basic skills, then I make a plan according to the assessment results. The results usually group my students in one of three categories: independent, co-independent, and dependent learners. I tailor the activities according to these categories along with the students’ learning styles. There are opportunities for collaboration and team activities. The students really thrive during these small group efforts. they learn from their peers and use their own ideas to find solutions and complete tasks.

Student learning should never be stressful. Students should be allowed to learn. In an environment that fosters their creative learning capacities. There should always a direct connection to resources and information that will help students thrive and encourage a passion for learning. At Tailored Learning, this is my aim.


Miller, A. (2015) How Should We Measure Student Learning? 5 Keys to Comprehensive Assessment. Retrieved August 18, 2020 from

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