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What Neuroscience Tells Us About Connecting Assessment with Learning

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September 18th, 2020

One of the most interesting pieces to me about neuroscience and the research that’s coming out about the brain now is that humans are hardwired for assessment. Assessment can actually be conducive to learning, and oftentimes, we don’t think about that. We think about it as a negative thing, or that it’s not actually helpful to students.

However, what we know about the brain is that humans are hardwired to be assessed. The brain believes everything is an assessment, from social cues to threat responses—like whether something is going to burn you if you touch it—we wait for that type of feedback and we respond to that as humans. Biologically speaking, the brain is hardwired and hungry for feedback all the time. 

That is incredibly impactful when we think about how important formative assessment is in schools. We have a moment in time with a student when the brain is ready for feedback. What research does show us is that we have a pretty finite window of time. Research has also shown us that if we missed that window, there are ways that we can get around it. So, if you cannot create a paper right away or don’t have assessment results right in that moment, there are ways to re-engage the brain in that experience to trigger and remind the student what they were learning so that the feedback is more relevant. So, conferencing with students is a great strategy, in which you’re sitting down with a student and saying, “Do you remember doing this? Let’s walk through these.” And then actually walking through those responses. 

Furthermore, what’s really great to think about (and what research also supports) is that elaborating on correct responses is just as important as helping students unpack incorrect responses, if not more so. The brain functions in a way that we want reinforcement for why we’re right. And oftentimes, even when students are right on a test, it doesn’t mean they truly understand it. So, the elaboration on a correct response is incredibly powerful for the brain.


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