As promised, here are several links to lists and examples of formative assessment. Enjoy!
True story. My first year teaching upper school was also my first year teaching AP European history, AP U.S. history, and government. Want to know a secret? I knew nothing! Looking back, I have no idea how I even got the job, let alone managed to keep the job. The whole year was and continues to be a gigantic blur to me.
On the first day of class, I told my AP Euro students (sophomores) to write an essay on their summer reading (The Prince by Machiavelli!) and to include a strong thesis and support for their argument. I gave them a prompt and told them to get to it! For about 5-10 minutes, the students shuffled papers and scratched out some ideas, but no one had truly begun writing. Finally, one brave soul (shout out to Trey Ingram) raised his hand and asked, “What’s a thesis?”
I imagine this is how my face looked, minus the bunny part!
I had assumed my students would come into an AP class knowing this, but of course, I was wrong, at least with that particular group of students. I immediately had to adjust how I was going to proceed. (Sidebar…I also immediately wondered what on earth I’d gotten myself into! :)) I had to take more time than I had expected to teach my students how to write an argumentative essay. I could have pushed forward without doing this with the attitude that someone should have taught them earlier and the students would just have to sink or swim because I didn’t have time to do it all, but my students would have suffered in the end. Don’t get me wrong! It wasn’t easy to adjust, especially that first year when I was so overwhelmed to begin with, but I had to do it. You know, it was kinda my job. 😉
We teachers assume a lot. We assume our students will walk in with certain skills or knowledge, and when they don’t, we’re apt to blame our colleagues, parents, administration, social media, the weather…You name it! While every school needs to make sure that students are developing knowledge and skills in a logical and efficient sequence from one grade level to the next so that teachers can move forward with their students at the start of the school year, sometimes things are what they are. For the good of the students, we have to move beyond our assumptions and start adjusting.
So where am I going with all this? I think the adjusting part is where formative assessment comes into the equation. It helps us to diagnose where our students are at any one time and create a plan for how to get them where we need them to end up by the time the summative assessment rolls around. It helps us to plan backward, placing small stepping stones that move students in a forward direction.
Tomorrow I will wrap up this series of blog posts on formative assessment by providing a number of resources that can get the ideas flowing for how to incorporate more formative assessment in your own instruction.
In the last two posts, I’ve written a bit about multiple studies that support the need for positive feedback and assessment to improve both teaching and learning. Feedback and assessment can take a variety of forms, however. So before I continue, I thought it might not be a bad idea to revisit what is meant by feedback and different forms of assessment.*
1. Feedback – I think the clearest and most concise definition of feedback comes from Shute (2008). She defined feedback as “information communicated to the learner that is intended to modify his or her thinking or behavior for the purpose of improving learning.” To put it even simpler: feedback informs. Researchers distinguish between negative and positive feedback. Negative feedback does not fundamentally influence student learning because it does not truly inform. Writing “Good job!” on an essay, while positive praise, is not positive feedback because it does not tell the student what they did well or how they can continue to do so. The student has no idea what made the essay “good” unless you tell them. Positive feedback, even when critical, is feedback that is specific and detailed so that the student knows what they did wrong, what they did right, and how to proceed in the future. This does not mean doing the work for the student. For example, an English teacher may identify that a student has lots of fragments throughout her paper. She may explain how to fix the fragments, but she doesn’t actually fix all the fragments for the student. If the teacher proceeded to fix all the fragments for the student, she would not be providing feedback because the student is not actually changing her own behavior and is likely to continue writing fragments in the future.
2. Formative Assessment – Here’s a simple definition of formative assessment from Popham (2008). “Formative assessment is a planned process in which teachers and students use assessment-based evidence to adjust what they are currently doing.” Formative assessment is not a single test but a process involving formal and informal assessments as well as many other activities. Therefore, formative assessments are used during instruction. Evidence is gathered from these activities, analyzed, and used to change instruction and learning as a result. Formative assessments can be graded, but they do not have to be graded.
3. Summative Assessment – In contrast to formative assessments, summative assessments occur at the end of instruction, whether that be at the end of a unit, a semester, or an academic year. Theoretically, summative assessments gauge how much a student mastered or learned in a given period of time. While summative assessments range in terms of their informative value to the student, they can be incredibly useful for the teacher. For example, consider a student who takes an exam at the end of spring semester, a summative assessment. They often only see a grade posted to their report card and do not get a chance to go back and review the exam or the material before moving on to the next grade or graduating. The teacher, however, should examine the results of the exam to analyze what areas the entire class had trouble with and consider adjusting her teaching accordingly. In this way, a summative assessment for the student becomes a formative assessment for the teacher.
Special Note: I’ve heard people distinguish between formative and summative assessments using the following analogy. It’s not perfect, but it does the trick. Formative assessments are checkups with the doctor, while summative assessments are autopsies with the coroner.
4. Authentic Assessments (Alternative Assessments) – I am going to use authentic and alternative assessment interchangeably here. Authentic assessments are assessments that attempt to replicate real-world situations for the student. In other words, these are assessments that are not based on objective questions or essays. Instead of a multiple choice test, a student is asked to apply what he or she knows to a real-world situation. For instance, a student in government may be tasked with researching, proposing, and lobbying for a change in their local government. A math student may be asked to use what they’ve learned in mathematics to build something. These authentic assessments can replace traditional assessments entirely or supplement them.
*If you are looking for a good overview of formative assessment, check out Formative Assessment and Standards-Based Grading by Robert J. Marzano.
Here’s a few more thoughts to add to my previous post on feedback and assessment. My next post will be on differentiating between summative and formative assessments as well as authentic and alternative assessments.
Educational assessment in its most basic form means documenting the knowledge and skills of students, but simply documenting doesn’t do much to improve teaching or learning. One has to analyze the documentation in order to figure out how best to move forward, how best to modify one’s teaching and student learning. Effective assessment – in its various forms – requires making data-informed decisions for instructional purposes for the benefit of both teaching and learning.
According to Hattie (2003), “effective teachers were more adept at monitoring student problems and assessing their level of understanding and progress, and they provided more relevant and useful feedback. Effective teachers were also more adept at developing and testing hypotheses about learning difficulties or instructional strategies.” In addition, according to Strong and Xu (2012), “teachers who monitor their students’ progress closely exhibit greater concerns about student learning and higher academic emphasis in their instruction. They also are better at supervising the adequacy of student learning, identifying students in need of additional or different forms of instruction, and determining what instructional modifications are necessary.”
Personally, I think many teachers intuitively know this and have classroom experiences that add support to the above. Sometimes, however, it’s nice to know that the studies affirm what you already know. It’s also good to read such studies so that you are pushed to continue on with and improve on what you are already doing.
Reading academic studies with lots of statistics is never a great deal of fun for me, but over the last several weeks, I’ve repeatedly been bombarded with one group of statistics that is difficult to ignore, in large part because it corroborates the anecdotal evidence from my own classroom experiences. If you are not a numbers person, bear with me. The end result is worth it, I think.
First, let me refresh your brain on what is meant by effect size (ES). An ES tells you how many standard deviations larger (or smaller) the average score for a group of students who were exposed to a given strategy is than the average score for a group of students who were not exposed to a given strategy. Therefore, an ES essentially tells you just how important or influential a strategy is, and the larger the ES, the more influential the strategy is to student learning. ESs are actually usually quite small numbers, but small ESs translate into large percentile gains. So an ES of .66 in one study translated into a 25 percentile point gain (Tenenbaum and Goldring, 1989).
Okay…so that brings us to the statistic that can’t be ignored. Two researchers, Hattie and Timperley (2007), aggregated 196 studies and 6,972 ESs on the role of feedback on student learning. (Feedback consisted of formal and informal formative assessments that informed the student and teacher about how to best improve student learning.) They calculated an overall average ES of 0.79 for feedback, which translated into a 29 percentile point gain! To be sure, this is an overall average, meaning some studies showed smaller ESs, but it also means some showed larger ESs. Other independent studies corroborate the findings of Hattie and Timperley.
Now, to get those gains, feedback needs to be what is considered “positive” rather than “negative.” Negative feedback simply involves making comments like “Good job,” or “Needs improvement,” without explaining to the students what exactly they’ve done well or exactly what they need to change to do better. Effective feedback must be detailed and specific to positively influence student learning.
Next year, a major focus for my school is assessment – formative, summative, authentic, alternative, etc. Over the next several weeks, as I research these things more and more, I’m going to post more about feedback, formative assessment, and how to use both to enhance student learning. Since it appears to be so influential to student learning, it’s something every teacher needs to understand and use well. And I’m putting myself on the top of that list!
1. Trading Card Creator – This interactive allows students to create their own trading card about a real or fictional person, place, object, event, or abstract concept. FREE.
2. Our Little Earth – Global News for World Citizens – An international newspaper for kids, delivered to you every two weeks by email. FREE.
3. ExamTime – Create and share flashcards, mind maps, and practice quizzes. FREE.
4. Graphing Stories – Developed by Dan Meyer, Graphing Stories features 24 short videos that tell a story that students can graph to tell the mathematical story happening in the video. FREE.
5. PlantingScience – PlantingScience is a learning community where scientists provide online mentorship to student teams as they design and think through their own inquiry projects.
This is a short post, but it’s something that I need to write. Every teacher knows that there are some students with whom you just “click,” and every student knows that there are some teachers with whom he or she just seems to “click” as well. This is to be expected because it’s the same in all human relationships. It’s a little more rare, however, for a teacher to find an entire class of students where everyone seems to be seamlessly interwoven, where the absence of any one person is noticed and missed. I am blessed to have such a class right now, and I am sad to know that I only have 2 days left with them. So to my APUSH students, I love you and will miss having you in class next year.
Author of the Mermaids of Eriana Kwai trilogy
writing where the sliver of light comes in
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