Karen Wootton, Director of Assessment
Last May I wrote an article asking the question “Does Anyone Really Know What Formative Assessment Is?” My thoughts stemmed from my frustration at the NCSM National Conference, following the formative assessment thread of sessions, and hearing inconsistent messages. I concluded that, while I may not be able to define formative assessment, I could at the very least, describe it. I came up with four descriptors.
- Formative assessments are understandable.
- Formative assessments are are open enough that there are multiple strategies to completion.
- Formative assessments does not just provide information to the teacher, but must provide information to the student.
- Formative assessments should be more work for the receiver than the giver.
See the May 2015 newsletter for more details.
This July, 18 teachers met in Las Vegas to develop formative assessment lessons. During the morning of the first day, we discussed whether we could create a suitable definition or a better description of formative assessment. After a great deal of debate, someone had the clever idea of developing a Formative Assessment Tool Kit. This FATK could provide options for teachers on how to formatively assess students and the advantages of each type.
The FATK is still being developed, and we are hoping to share it some time this school year. Here is a sampling of what you will find in the FATK.
Rethink your formative assessment. Forget that the term “assessment” is in the title of this teaching practice. There is nothing to grade in a formative assessment, and students should not be receiving a score. Formative assessment is the practice of learning what your students know and acting upon it in the most immediate way possible. When thinking about formative assessment in this manner, you might realize that the best way to do this is to ask the student a question and respond. You will quickly know what your student knows, and you and the student can act upon it immediately. Did the student clearly answer your question? Ask the natural follow up “Why?” to allow the student an opportunity to clarify or extend his thinking. Did the student stutter and falter? After a suitable wait time, ask the student a similar, simpler question. With each question, the student is also learning what she knows and on what she is unclear. You are not just finding out what your students know but also to what depth they know it. Having a conversation with your students is the best, most efficient way to formatively assess them. Additionally, this promotes the mathematical discourse we expect students to be having daily.
Try using a formative assessment that does not involve you. As the teacher in the classroom, we all know you are the most knowledgeable person in the room on the subject of the course. (At least we hope so!) But that does not mean that you are the only person who can contribute to the formative assessment process. Before students submit a problem for grading, have them turn to a partner to do a peer edit. Students may or may not be successful at solving the problem, but when they are looking at another student’s solution critically, they will be thinking things like “Hey, I didn’t do that,” or “Oh, she forgot the negative sign. I hate it when I do that,” or other thoughts that are engaging the student’s brain. In the toolkit, we will provide other examples that use the student to provide the necessary feedback to his classmates.
Understand that formative assessment is a process, not a product. Step away from the idea that the test you give the students at the end of a chapter is formative because they “learn what they got wrong.” First, the information the student is gaining is probably not very immediate. Second, studies have shown that when students receive a score, they do not look at anything else. When a score is on the paper, students do not read feedback, they do not try to fix their mistakes, but learning stops. Also, the formative assessment process is on going. There is no end, and you should never be thinking “It has been awhile so I think I will do some formative assessment today.” If you are interacting with your students, questioning and encouraging rich mathematical discourse, this is all formative assessment. This process is far more important to learning and understanding than an Exit Slip.
If you would like to contribute your ideas for consideration for the FATK, please email them to firstname.lastname@example.org. With teachers contributions we can make this a great resource.