Gathering evidence of learning VS gathering "marks": Why I spend way more time on formative assessment than summatives.
I have spent the last 4 years really delving deep into the power of assessment. Often, when people think about assessment, the usual suspects come to mind - tests, exams, quizzes, maybe a project or two.
I have spent countless hours reading and researching about assessment. All assessment. Assessment for, as and of learning. They all have their place and importance! But after all this time, here's my secret.... assessment OF learning is the one I do the least. To some, this might sound wrong... horrible! Is she not doing her job? Where are all the 'marks'? The marks that I have, while they may be fewer in number, are more powerful in their representation of student learning. Here's why...
I spent much more time and energy on assessment as and for learning because these are assessments that affect true change!! Assessment FOR learning (diagnostic and formative assessment) allows me to gauge student understanding before a "mark" is assigned. What good is it to me or my students if I discover on the final test, with a class average of 55%, that they didn't understand half of the content? How am I supposed to go back and pinpoint where we missed the boat at that stage in the game?
So, instead, I spent each and every day formatively assessing my students. Sometimes through observation (questions/responses in class, discussion, individual contributions to group work) and sometimes in more concrete ways like exit cards, formative quizzes, KWLs, puzzle games, or journals). But it doesn't stop there. As part of the professional learning cycle (plan, act, observe, reflect), I then reflect on the results of my observations or results and figure out how to adapt MY teaching in order to reach all learners. Sometimes, most of the class doesn't understand a concept and so I re-teach it, finding a better or more clear way to explain it. Sometimes, a few students haven't grasped the idea and I find a way to work with them to move them past this hurdle and on ward. All of this is happening before a single mark that "counts" is recorded.
During this phase, I also use another one of my most favourite tools: feedback. As part of assessment AS learning, I have students self assess and peer assess products which will become summatives. This year, as part of my Grade 10 History final task for the World War II unit, the students had their project "chunked" into 5 phases. At each of the first 4 phases, students were given assessment - first, self reflection/checklist; next - peer assessment/feedback; thirdly - teacher checklist and conference and finally, phase 4, teacher written, descriptive feedback. Feedback is so important to improve student learning. What good is it once the task is already completed and done?
"Feedback needs to come while the students still think of the learning goal as a learning goal – that is, something they are still striving for, not something they already did. Brookhart (2008)"
Only after these four phases was the final product submitted for evaluation... a "mark". We spent 3-4 weeks on this project, much of it during class time and I ended up with four "marks" - one for each category (Knowledge, Thinking, Communication, Application). Again, to some, this is shocking or terrible. Only 4 marks in 4 weeks?!
At first, this intimidated me. I always felt nervous at parent-teacher interviews when I only had a few "marks" to show parents. It's hard to explain, in a 10 minute time slot, to each parent that I don't have so few marks because I don't give work or because I don't mark things; there's a bigger reason behind it and I'm following the research on assessment and how it helps students. That it is less important for me to have 50 marks and more important to me to have 10 great, truly reflective ones. It's not that their achievement will be 'skewed' by so few marks; on the contrary, the fact that I don't count those first assessments is, in fact, much better for most students' "marks". It's still a bit intimidating to me because I know that this is not the way it was for many people in school.
The more I use formative assessment and feedback, the more my students understand it and its purpose. They see how it benefits them and can distinguish between a formative and summative task. By October, they would never ask me if an exit card or homework "counts" for marks.
This year, I plan to integrate more use of technology into my assessment and feedback; tools like Socrative, AudioBoo, Edmodo and Google Docs all provide excellent opportunity for assessment as learning - self, peer and teacher feedback, as well as assessment for learning, to check understanding of concepts.
You can find more of my compilations on Assessment on this website in my research/presentations section:
A fantastic resource is the Ontario website "Edugains" and their series on Assessment/Feedback:
"The most powerful single modification that enhances achievement is feedback."
Who am I?
Hi! I'm Megan. 21st century learner and teacher. I am passionate about DI, assessment, student success and #edtech. My blog is where I share what is happening in my classes, my professional learning and sometimes things that are on the outer circle of education. Comments always welcome!