Friday, November 5, 2010

Formative assessment

This week was a conference week, with several general and subject specific conferences for all city-employed teachers in Stockholm.
My knee-jerk attitude to these forced events is somewhere on the extreme end of the disgust-scale, but during the event it usually shifts to anger and then to desperation. Now that I have an iPhone things have gotten much easier.

This particular week, however, had at least one worthwhile presentation. Lena Göthe, the principal at a local school, talked about formative assessment, why and how to use it in secondary classrooms.

Why formative? Because it increases student motivation and provides more detailed and constructive feedback than summative evaluation. Lena refered to several research articles which claim that not only is detailed, formative feedback more helpful than summative points, scoring assignments (using points or numbers) is detrimental even if it accompanies detailed comments. It's not clear if that is because points encourages competition or because it shifts the attention away from the written feedback. (It is also not clear what populations of students this works for, and how, but let's suspend disbelief and try it out.)

How formative? Here is where it gets interesting. Obviously, teachers who are by law obliged to set grades need to use summative assessment at least sometimes. How can we also have time to give formative assessment? Well, we don't have to do it alone.
Formative assessment can happen in student meta-cognition, and in interaction with peers, teacher, and other people such as friends, family members and even strangers.
I'm trying to come up with some examples of how to work these resources for mathematics and psychology, and will share these ideas here:

Meta-cognition: exercises such as "explain this concept", "summarize the method you used", "what do you like best/dislike most?", "what's the muddiest point?" and other questions about concept, end result, and procedure activates student meta-cognition.
Using peers: students can analyze each other's work, for instance they could share and give feedback on the questions posed above under meta-cognition. Students can also check and feedback each other's solutions or together solve and/or discuss problems, solutions and concepts.

Meta-cognition: evaluate own work against rubrics (potentially before handing it in), identify muddiest point, reflect on note-taking and other skills, identify what feedback the student wants from peer or teacher.
Using peers: evaluate and feedback each other's work, give each other advice, especially before handing it in for teacher summative assessment. Also, group discussion of feedback and strategies for improvement following summative assessment could shift student focus from points to comments and increase self-efficacy. Debates may also help students assess the strength and style of their arguments.

Giving effective feedback: What I will do, but didn't do with the tests I graded yesterday, is to hand back the assignments without marks - just written feedback - and get students to comment on this feedback before I take the assignments in again and mark them. It's also possible to give homework

Of course, summative feedback will always be there. It just doesn't have to be everywhere.
As always, I welcome whatever ideas or comments readers want to share.

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