Dissecting Formative Assessment – Post Two

Dissecting Formative Assessment – Post TwoIn our first post in this series, we mentioned the five strategies that Dylan Wiliam has identified as core to successful formative assessment practice in the classroom. To recap they are:

1. Clarifying, sharing, and understanding learning intentions and criteria for success

2. Engineering effective classroom discussions, activities, and learning tasks that elicit evidence of learning

3. Providing feedback that moves learning forward

4. Activating learners as instructional resources for one another

5. Activating learners as owners of their own learning

Our first post dissected the first strategy – clarifying, sharing and understanding learning intentions and criteria for success. In this post, we’ll explore the need to engineer effective classroom discussions, activities, and learning tasks that elicit evidence of learning.

In general, many classroom discussions consist of lower-order questions (closed end questions, yes/no questions) which are answered by a few motivated students. While these questions have their place in the classroom, they may not provide enough detailed information about student learning, and the way the questions are asked may not allow for responses to be systematically collected from all students in the class. In a presentation in Lake Worth, Texas last winter, Dylan shared these statics from the research about questioning in classrooms:

+ 54% were managerial – What are you working on now?

+ 38% were lower-order thinking – What is war?

+ 8% were higher-order thinking – How might life be different if peace were declared in the Middle East?

Using classroom instructional techniques that require all students in the class to engage deeply with the content such as:

asking higher-order questions,

+ requiring all students to think about each classroom question (even if only one or two students will respond), and

+ collecting responses simultaneously from all students…

…help elicit evidence of student learning. These techniques increase the engagement of all students, rather than just those who typically raise their hands, and provide the teacher the evidence and information needed to adjust instruction.

From Vinner’s 1997 paper – From Intuition to Inhibition:  Mathematics, Education and Other Endangered Species (Vinner, S. (1997) Proceedings of the 21st Conference of the International Group for the Psychology of Mathematics Education, Finland, 1, 63-78.):

Vinner argues that the current understanding of students’ approaches to reasoning and solving mathematical problems is modeled after mathematical proofs, when in fact they may actually resort to using unsupported bases of knowledge, that is, what he terms pseudoknowledge and pseudoanalysis.

Vinner argues that math requires inhibition in order to check and correct intuition. He proposes that questions asked of students should be planned beforehand that will provide information to the teacher concerning the cognitive approach students use in constructing answers, specifically, deep-level ques- tions that require students to provide more than a superficial answer which may be right, but for the wrong reasons.

Beyond asking higher-order questions, the beauty of formative assessment is the sheer number of tactics and techniques available for all student response solutions. We’ve written a number of blogs that showcase these, the most popular being 22 Easy Formative Assessment Techniques for Measuring Student Learning. Try some of the techniques in your classroom or school and see which ones work best for you.

We’d love to hear from you on what your methods are for eliciting evidence of student learning, so share your thoughts in the comments section below.


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