Ch. 2 Clear Purpose: Assessment for and of Learning

If we can do something with assessment information beyond using it to figure grades, we can improve learning.

(Page 19)

Formative and Summative Assessment

Above is the quote that starts this chapter off and that’s exactly what the chapter focuses on as it discusses the two types of assessments that we use in the classroom:  formative assessment and summative assessment.  Before I venture into my discussion of the purpose of assessment, I’d like to define what these two types of assessments are through my own understanding of the terms.  The purpose of formative assessment is to find out where the students are in their learning.  It should answer questions like, are they getting it?  If they are not, where are the gaps?  What do I need to supplement their learning so that they can achieve the objectives set out for this unit?  Formative assessment is done throughout a unit of study and it informs me of where I need to take my teaching.  It allows me to move through a unit faster, and sometimes guides me to re-visit some of the concepts taught in a different way.  Summative assessment is often conducted at the end of a unit and it tells me how much of the content the students have learned and retained.  Through the summative assessment, the students should demonstrate their understanding  and mastery of the concepts through this assessment.

Purpose of Assessment

As the title states, the chapter emphasises that assessment should have a clear purpose and a goal.  What are we assessing the students for?  How is this being executed?  What are we doing with this assessment and who is going to be evaluating this information?  As we all know with the inundation of the ‘differentiation’ discussions in the educational world, that in assessment (as well as learning), ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach also does not work.  This was a fantastic reminder for me as a math teacher.  A typical math assessment – whether formative or summative – is usually a paper and pencil assessment of some sort.  It could be in the form of a quiz or a test.  It could even be in the form of homework or class work.  This poses a challenge (a good one) for me as a math teacher.  What are some other ways I could assess students to gain understanding of their learning that is not paper and pencil?  Currently, I rely heavily on their class work and class discussion.  I collect the student’s class work daily and go over it at the end of the day to inform me of their understanding.  This has been very informative for me as a teacher and I do adjust my lessons depending on what I see in their class work.

During class discussions, I have all students use the whiteboard to show me how much of the lesson content they understand.  I even use the thumbs up and thumbs down (or thumbs in the middle) to show me how much of the content they understand.  This helps me to move on with the lesson or spend a little more time on the lesson.  Another crucial way I do formative assessment is one-on-one conferencing with the students, as they do independent work.  I look over their work and discuss why and how they are solving the problems.  This is what I’m doing currently in my classroom.  May be some pinteresting will lead me to other ideas on formative assessment for math???

Students as Users of Assessment

The idea of students as one of the users of formative assessment was a great challenge for me as well.  As much training I have received about student-lead learning, I still see myself as the driver of assessment and learning in the classroom.  I forget how beneficial it is for the students to learn how to evaluate themselves as learners and make decisions on what they need to do to help themselves in their own learning.  In the case of assessment, teaching students to use formative assessment would be a powerful tool to empower them as learners.  This tells us that one of the teachers’ jobs in the classroom is to create an environment of learning and assessment.

When it comes to teaching students to be users of formative assessment, training and explicit teaching of the students will need to take place.  Discuss how they can use the information and what they should do with it.  Providing them with strategies of how they can make amends in the areas where they are struggling.  I foresee a need for much patience on the part of the teacher, but I can also see how powerful this can be in the classroom, once the students get used to this kind of self-evaluation.

The book offers seven strategies for an effective formative assessment:  Here they are in my own words:

  1. Ensure that the students know exactly what the learning target is.  Let them know why they are doing a particular task and where they are going with that.  I think this is a great point as I find myself ‘assuming’ that my students just know why we are doing certain tasks and what the end results are supposed to be.  This is a habit that I need to form in my daily practice.  I usually have the learning objective of the day displayed in the front of the classroom and draw attention to it at the beginning of the lesson, but I wonder how much impact this has on their learning…
  2. Show clear examples and models of strong and weak work:  This allows the students to have a vision of where they are going and what they are aiming for.  I’m thinking about how this will be done in a math class – one way that I’m thinking of is to show them the type of problem they will be able to solve by the end of the lesson.
  3. Offer regular feedback:  This part was very helpful for me.  The feedback themselves have to be descriptive and informative.  It is vital that we, as teachers, don’t do the thinking for the students.  But, it is also important to remember that not all corrections need to be done at once – this is something that I often forget, in my eagerness to help the student.  The approach of the feedback is just as important.  Start with the positive first…and then address the key areas the student needs to work on – but the attitude and the tone of encouragement is vital.
  4. Teach students to self-assess and set goals:  They should be able to give themselves feedback before they receive feedback from me.  They should be used to giving other students feedback.  This would entail having a clear understanding of what is expected of them.  Something that I find in math is the students get quite obsessed with getting the correct answer.  They also rely heavily on me to tell them whether they are on the right track or not.
  5. Focus on one learning target or one aspect of quality at a time:  This should be a result of formative assessment – at least one of the products of formative assessment.  Depending on the target, the teacher can adjust their lesson to focus on one weakness or aspect of quality.  It may even cause the teacher to slow down their lesson.  The only problem I see with this is getting through the content.  I do this a lot in the classroom as I conduct formative assessment – re-teach a lesson or target a lesson objective.  But for this to be done effectively and in the best way would require a lot of time – or may be this is something I haven’t figured out yet.  With the amount of content to cover each year, I do have a slight sense of urgency in getting through the curriculum which does not serve this strategy very well.
  6. Teach students focused revision:  This can take the form of them looking over their own work or their peer’s work and giving feedback or critique.  This strategy ties in with #5 strategy and they can be critiquing the area that they focused on as their weak area.
  7. Engage students in self-reflection, and let them keep track of and share their learning:  This ties into #4 strategy.  This is basically empowering students to monitor their own learning and creating a classroom environment of student-lead learning.

Reflection:

After going through this chapter, I want to make start with some small changes in my classroom.

  • I’d like to come up with a way the learning target is introduced more specifically to the students so that students know exactly what the goal is for the lesson/unit.
  • I’d like to find a way to give more descriptive feedback to the students, rather than just letting them know if the answer is right or wrong.  I would need to train my students to look at the process of their problem-solving rather than focus on whether an answer is right or wrong.
  • I’d like eventually lead my students to learn to self-assess effectively on their learning and take more ownership of their learning in the classroom.

Ultimately, being able to be an effective ‘assessor’ in the classroom is a habit that I need to form in myself as a teacher.  It requires a change in the way I think and view myself and the students, and it requires me to get into the routine of conducting effective formative assessment and allowing my students to develop the habit of using these formative assessments to become self-directed learners.

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