Monday, April 12, 2010

Formative Assessment

Getting students used to formative assessment is one thing, and explaining it to parents is another.

I love Graphjam and this one really sums up formative assessment. First you have to figure out what's going to flip the learning switch, then you can actually flip it. The problem is reducing the time fumbling around so that you go straight to the switch.

Bit by bit over the school year I've earned the students' trust so that they know when I say "I just need information about where you are" or "I need a snapshot" they understand that they should just do their best and expect a lot of feedback. Really, it took several weeks for them to get used to papers coming back with lots of ink (in green or purple) that told them what they were doing right, and what they needed to do to master the material. Then, it took a few weeks for them to get used to having follow-up activities based on what they needed (do THIS wordchamp exercise) When it was a matter of basics, they had a basic activity. If they had mastered the material, they had an extension that took them to the next level (but keep in mind, that all we needed was the basic, the extension was whipped cream on top). Then, I would analyze how they did on the specific assignment (how many times did it take them to master the pattern? how many minutes did it take? what kinds of errors are they making, spelling/careless, or substance/reversals?). Finally, when THEY felt they were ready, they could take a second assessment. This involved me saying, "I see you've done the work in wordchamp, and you are getting the answers right about 90% of the time, and we've talked about the problems. Do you feel ready to show your best work?" The answer was "yes" every time, and every time there was improvement.

Now, for the hard part. I recorded the first evaluation in gradebook with no weight, and an explanation as to how it was not a weighted grade, just an indication of our starting point. Also, in blackboard I had a note to parents referring to how I was tracking the students' growth, and that my goal was to get every student to proficiency on an objective, and that time line might be different for different students. Then, a second, weighted grade was put in AFTER the student had participated in the re-learning and mastery strategies.

As a teacher, this has been a challenging idea for me to wrap my brain around: that it's fair to give a student an A when they get it the first time, and it's fair to give another student an A when it takes them an extra few days, reteaching, practice, then mastery is shown. Now, I teach in middle school and I'm not sure that I would feel the same in a competitive high school situation, and from the feedback I've gotten from parents, I'm not sure that they will embrace it in a high school setting either. What are your experiences?

I'm seeing great things from the students. They have a "no one gets left out" attitude and everyone has had to participate in some reteaching and extension activities. In fact, they are starting to track their OWN progress (this was my devious plan all along), and have guessed that I'm going to have them create a record of their learning. The students will be pinpointing what types of activities helped them most, which are NOT always coinciding with their learning styles, by the way, and will eventually be choosing the type of activity that is right for them after a group introduction to a concept. Hmmm. Could I compact it? We'll see!


Anonymous said...

The hardest thing I have had to do is convince other teachers in my ELEMENTARY setting that kids who take longer to learn the material can still receive an A for achieving the same outcomes, only slower. I am excited to read more about your work. I taught Middle School French for 8 years, and got to be quite good at differentiating instruction in that setting. It is a different world here in the elementary general classroom.


Andrea Weis said...

As a language teacher, I feel like I have a good argument and solid ground for saying "we all have to get over this bar, and some people are going to have to do low jumps and work their way up." Other teachers accept it because I'm not teaching math, science or English in which the bench marks are like concrete. Maybe we world language teachers can be the starting point for this type of change.

I hadn't thought about the pressures of the elementary setting. It's true, we middle school teachers expect the students to arrive having mastered all the content, not to be still working toward mastery. And if I see an "A" on a grade report, I need more information as to what that "A" means in some cases.