Table 1. Framework for formative assessment (based on Torrance & Pryor, 2001).
|Identify the task
- Define the learning objective
- Define the learning task
- Provide rich task that offers opportunity for students to reveal learning progress
- Set quality criteria
- Engage in the learning task
- Understand task and reasons
- Negotiate quality criteria
- Understand quality indicators
- Observe closely
- Ask questions
- Ask for clarification
- Engage meta-cognition
- Construct knowledge
- Reveal prior knowledge
- Articulate understanding
- Check for understanding
- Engage in meta-cognition
- Critique aspects of student work
- Provide corrective information
- Make counter-suggestions
- Give/discuss evaluative feedback
- Review quality criteria
- Practice self-monitoring
- Enhance knowledge of quality
- Enhance motivation
|Make pedagogical decision
- Identify the gap between student level of achievement and goals
- Weigh current understanding with previous plans
- Select strategy to narrow the gap
- Make decision about ways forward for lesson
- Suggest or negotiate next steps
- Deepen understanding of process/principles
- Informed about current achievement
- Recognize steps needed to narrow the gap between current and desired performance levels
In the initial stage, the teacher identifies the learning task and establishes the criteria for superior work. How will the teacher and the students know when student work is high quality? What characterizes quality work and distinguishes it from inferior performance? In this first stage, teacher and students clarify what the goal and success criteria are for learning and create a quality assurance guide. This not only helps with the current task, but establishes a framework for what is considered acceptable for future work in that classroom.
In the second stage, the teacher carefully observes students at work in order to gain knowledge of whether students properly comprehend the task, to identify any initial barriers that might impede student progress, and to provide additional clarification that might be needed as students undertake the assignment. This stage includes student-teacher discourse as both parties refine their understanding. Student construction of knowledge, articulation of understanding, and initial skills practice provide opportunities for meta-processes and self-regulation. Students and teachers are actively involved in the learning process as they gather data during instruction (Torrance & Pryor, 2001).
While continuing to gather data, both teachers and students evaluate the data and critique various aspects of the work. Teachers might provide corrective guidance as they perceive students are misinterpreting the task or might point out additional information students need to complete the task. This evaluative stage serves to enhance the quality of future work, promotes independent student work, and helps communicate information regarding alternative or more acceptable student products. Students gain an enhanced understanding of what counts as quality work. They are empowered to evaluate their own efforts and identify aspects that might contribute to successful learning (Torrance & Pryor, 2001).
The fourth stage of formative assessment is for some the most critical and is the distinguishing characteristic of this kind of assessment. In this stage, teachers suggest to students or negotiate with them what to do next. This is interactive (Bell & Cowie, 2001) formative assessment that occurs on the fly and requires sophisticated pedagogical content knowledge skills on the part of the teacher. While managing all the complex aspects of a twenty-first-century classroom, the teacher is also called upon to consider and select an appropriate strategy to move student learning forward based on the input received only moments before. This is arguably the most challenging aspect of formative assessment, as teachers need to not only evaluate classroom learning based on immediate feedback, but also make plans for instruction nearly simultaneously. Experience with students in prior class periods or in prior teaching years provides valuable insight as teachers gain know-how and learn to recognize and remember student learning challenges for a particular topic or for a particular group of students (Torrance & Pryor, 2001).
The following ORC instructional resources model how ongoing assessment might be embedded throughout a lesson.
Example lesson: Biomes: Action for a Healthy Planet (ORC #6555)
Formative assessment aspects of this lesson: Ongoing student-centered assessment
A variety of assessment types have been suggested throughout the Biomes: Action for a Healthy Planet lesson description including student questioning, peer feedback, and teacher conferences. Rubrics and scoring guides suggest guidelines for quality work and open a dialogue with students regarding expectations for performance. Self-assessment, group assessment, and tight feedback loops foster student evaluation of their individual and group performances and sharpen their diagnostic skills, helping them know what they know and what they still need to learn. Teacher conferences provide data useful for diagnosis of learning progress and opportunity for redirecting teaching.
Lights, Camera, Reaction! (ORC #6559)
Cell-to-Cell (ORC #6556)
Research-Based Formative Assessment Practice
What guidance does educational research offer to help teachers improve their formative assessment practice? Black and Wiliam's Assessment Reform Group (1999) has identified formative assessment techniques that support teachers in helping to improve student achievement. According to their work and the work of others (e.g., Bell & Cowie, 2001; Ruiz-Primo & Furtak, 2007), students benefit from effective classroom feedback that identifies specific actions needed for self-improvement. Students need to be actively engaged in the learning process. Instruction should respond immediately to student learning needs. Helpful feedback not only assists students in identifying their learning needs, but also recognizes the powerful influence that different kinds of feedback have on student motivation and self-esteem. Students need to understand the activities that teachers plan for classroom instruction, as well as the learning objective for the lesson. With clearly defined learning goals, students can participate more actively in their self-assessment of learning progress (Clarke, 2001).
In addition to these effective practices, methods that interfere with successful learning have been identified. When teachers reward quantity rather than quality work, students learn to produce lengthy but low-quality products. If grades are the most important aspect of assessment, students pay little attention to what is needed to improve their learning. When competition and comparison characterize classroom interactions, low-achieving students are demoralized and quickly disengage from the learning process. When teachers provide feedback that focuses exclusively on classroom management and student deportment, students learn that the important aspect of school is good behavior rather than student achievement (Assessment Reform Group, (1999).
These ORC resources show ways teachers can create a safe classroom environment that encourages students to honestly reveal their prior ideas about the concepts involved in the lesson.
Productive Written Discourse
Example lesson: Isotopes of Pennies (ORC #3501)
Formative assessment aspects of this lesson: Comments-only assessment
The Isotopes of Pennies lesson from Science NetLinks acknowledges student naïve conceptions about isotopes and recognizes the difficulty students have with atomic number, mass number, and atomic mass values on the periodic table. The lesson begins with student-teacher discourse regarding values found on the periodic table. Students use their own words to define important terms. This initial writing exercise allows students to reveal their prior knowledge without fear of "getting a bad grade." The teacher challenge here is to create a safe classroom environment that encourages students to honestly reveal their prior ideas about the concepts involved in the lesson. Journaling or writing provides a private opportunity for every student to engage in this task. Teacher comments at this stage should encourage students to continue to think about their ideas and to compare their thinking with scientific views of isotopes and atoms. The lesson explicitly informs students at the outset that their initial ideas may be modified by the instructional experiences planned for the lesson.
Managing the Everglades Ecosystem (ORC #3513). This lesson makes use of a "diary entry" to access students' early thinking about the Everglades National Park. http://www.ohiorc.org/record/3513.aspx
Mobile Inquiry Technology: Monitoring an Aquarium (ORC #6159). This lesson asks students to respond to some preliminary question in which they discuss the evidence they have for their current thinking.
Informative Feedback Practices
A recent review of the literature on formative feedback by Valerie Shute provides additional guidelines for enhancing learning through effective feedback techniques (Shute, 2008). Suggested practices include feedback that:
- Targets the task, not the learner.
- Describes the what, how, and why for a given task.
- Concisely elaborates in manageable chunks how student work needs to be improved but does not overwhelm students.
- Makes clear, specific suggestions.
- Includes only as much information as needed.
- Clarifies the difference between current student work and the desired goal.
- Is written and as objective as possible.
- Promotes a learning orientation (I can learn this if I try) rather than performance orientation (no matter how hard I try, I cannot learn this because I am dumb).
- Occurs only after students attempt to solve the problem on their own.
- Includes comments, whenever possible without grades.
Research has shown that the following two feedback practices impede student learning: comparing students with other students and drawing attention to individual deficits. If feedback is critical of the learner rather than the gap between learner performance and task criteria, student learning is impeded. Students respond better to written feedback than oral feedback, as written comments are perceived as less biased and more neutral in nature. If students are engaged in the learning task, teachers should delay feedback rather than interrupt them as they work. The teacher practice of providing progressive hints that culminate in offering students the right answer may be abused by students as they learn to manipulate the teacher to do their work for them. Using a variety of feedback modes such as text, diagrams, visuals, and acoustical supports increased student learning (Shute, 2008).
The timing of formative assessment has been the subject of considerable research (Shute, 2008). Studies have demonstrated that immediate feedback to students produces rapid learning gains and promotes efficient learning. However, some studies have also demonstrated that delayed feedback may produce better learning transfer from one instructional context to a new context. More research is needed in this area to clarify the gains possible for delayed feedback practices. Researchers have established that immediate feedback is particularly beneficial for learning tasks that are identified as difficult for a particular group of students. If the task is relatively simple, then delayed feedback is more successful. For tasks that require procedural or conceptual knowledge, immediate feedback has produced stronger learning gains.
Different types of students respond to feedback differently. In regard to the timing of feedback, high achievers benefit more from delayed feedback than low achievers. In regard to the type of feedback, direct or corrective feedback has proved successful with low achievers, where facilitative feedback is more successful with high achievers. Low achievers benefit from a correct response with elaboration feedback style. Three characteristics of the feedback style that teachers control include the content of the feedback (hints, cues, correctness, explanations, worked-out examples), the function of the feedback (motivational, cognitive, metacognitive), and presentation aspects (timing, frequency, format)(Shute, 2008).
To practice formative assessment successfully in the classroom, teachers need to clearly identify the learning intentions for a particular lesson, communicate both the learning intentions and the activity instructions to students, gather data during the instructional sequence about learning progress as well as student disposition, evaluate the data while instruction is occurring, and be able to make strategy decisions based on the evaluation of the data that help close the gap between where students are in their learning progress and where they need to be. Students need to believe that their efforts in the classroom lead to success, to actively engage in the learning process, to monitor their own learning progress, to learn to evaluate that progress, and to learn to communicate their learning progress to others (students as well as the teacher).
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Bell, B., & Cowie, B. (2001). The characteristics of formative assessment in science education. Science Education, 85(5), 536553.
Black, P. (2003). The importance of everyday assessment. In J. M. Atkin & J. E. Coffey (Eds.), Every assessment in the science classroom. Arlington, VA: NSTA Press.
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