Thursday, October 13, 2016

Effective Learning Through Formative Assessment

If asked to think back to your experience of assessment at school, what would you think of? Perhaps you think of being given a 'final grade' (an A+ if you were a 'high achiever', or maybe an F if you were not!).  Or maybe you're reminded of a test at the end of a unit or topic. Maybe you were ranked in comparison to your classmates, or compared yourself to your classmates? This type of assessment - assessment that looks back and reports on how well a student has done - has been used in classrooms for generations. It's what I remember from my own school days and what my parents remember from theirs.  It's what is known as summative assessment as it provides a summary of what has been learned.

These days there is a lot more emphasis on formative assessment - assessment that looks forward, rather than backwards.  Formative assessment is the on-going process used in classrooms everyday to help students and teachers answer three important learning questions:

  • Where am I going?
  • How am I doing?
  • Where to next?

'Formative assessment describes all those processes by which teachers and learners use information about student’s achievement to improve their achievements... So it’s what happens when you don’t just lecture students and rattle through the material and then ask them if they understood OK.' 
 Dylan Wiliam, Nov 2006

Every task completed by students provides an opportunity for formative assessment - feedback on whether they met the success criteria of a task and what they need to do next to improve.  As educators we talk a lot about the importance of feedback to students. Feedback and formative evaluation have been identified as two of the most important factors to improve student learning (Hattie 2012). At Seisen, teachers evaluate students' work and provide feedback that tells them what they've done well and guides them towards their next steps.  

Feedback stamps are used in all homerooms to identify what was done well and point out next steps in learning. 
Students will become familiar with the shared symbols as they progress through the Elementary School.  These can be used by teachers when providing feedback to students on their writing.  They can also be used by students when they're self-assessing, revising or editing their own work. 
The SOLO Taxonomy also provides students with a framework to reflect on where they are in the learning process. In the video below, a grade six student is using the SOLO Taxonomy to reflect on the progress she made during her Who We Are unit of inquiry where students inquired into cultural identity and global mindedness.   You can hear her talk about where she started at the beginning of the unit and how she was able to use the SOLO Taxonomy to identify next steps, allowing her to direct her own learning. 

Here is another video of three grade 4 students discussing their learning from their recent Where We Are In Place And Time unit of inquiry, where they inquired into explorations, looking at the reasons for and consequences of different explorations from the past.

Whilst this type of formative assessment is becoming the more dominant and purposeful kind of assessment in helping students progress, it's still important that we administer summative assessments (those end of unit assessments, tests and standardised assessments that students take throughout the year).  More importantly, we need to share the results of these with students and use the data gathered to help them identify new learning goals.  You can also be part of the reflective process with your child.  At home, instead of asking, 'How was school Today?' (often met with an answer of 'It was okay')or 'What did you do at school today' (often met with an answer of 'nothing'!), why not try some of these questions instead:
  • Did you learn something new at school today?
  • What do you know now that you didn't know before?
  • What are you learning to do in math / writing / reading / your unit of inquiry?
  • What is your learning goal in math / reading / writing?
  • How do you know you are learning at school?
  • What will you be learning about next?
  • What did you find difficult today? 
  • What do you want to learn more about?
The upcoming Three Way Learning Conferences (Wednesday November 23rd) will also provide an opportunity for you to talk with your daughter and her homeroom teacher about learning to identify some areas of strength and to set new learning goals to work towards. 

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