Formative Assessment

Assessment always seems to be such a broad, hot topic  There are rubrics to help create assessments, rubrics for reviewing assessments, and tons of reading about the benefit of assessments. While I agree assessment is an important topic of conversation and all of these things can be helpful, I just lose a bit of interest when it becomes so cumbersome. I feel the longer the rubric and steps to create an assessment, the more detached the assessment becomes from student thinking.  This could be completely be my short attention span speaking, however the way assessment is discussed feels either like data (a grade or number-type of data) or a huge process with tons of text in rubrics that I really, quite honestly, don’t feel like reading. Not to mention, I just love looking at student writing and listening to student thinking when planning my immediate next steps (formative) or checking in to see what students have learned over a longer period (summative). This is why I find the work we are doing each month in our Learning Labs such a wonderful way to think about formative assessment in an actual classroom context, in real time.

This passage from NCTM’s Principles to Action really captures how I feel about the work we are doing in our Learning Labs:

Screen Shot 2016-04-06 at 2.43.31 PM.png

In this most recent Learning Lab in 3rd grade, we planned the activity together using the 5 Practices model and reflected after the lesson. Since this blog is always my thoughts about student work, I thought it would be great to hear what the teachers took away from the activities we are doing in terms of the students’ understandings and impact on their future planning, formative assessment.  

The teacher mentioned in the blog said, I was surprised by how quick many of the students defended their responses that 1/2 will always be greater than 1/3, and then proving this response using visual representation of the same whole ( which is an idea that we have made explicit). I was impressed with “skeptics” in the crowd that were looking to deepen their understanding around the concept by asking those “What if” questions.  Going forward, I want to create opportunities that push and challenge my student’s thinking. I want them to continue to question and explore math – especially when it uses the word “always.”

Another teacher who taught the same activity after watching it in action in another classroom said, “I learned that almost half of my students assumed they were comparing the same size wholes.  They agreed with the statement, and each student gave at least two different ways to prove their thinking (area and number line model were most common).  The students that disagreed almost all provided their own context to the problem, such as an example with small vs large pizzas, or a 2 different-length races being run.  I found it so interesting that almost all students confidently chose one side or the other, and were able to defend their thinking with examples (and more than one-yeah!)  I was excited to see that they could be so flexible in their arguments as to why they felt as they did.  Three students responded that they were unsure, and gave reasons to support both sides of the argument. This impacted my instruction by giving me such valuable formative assessment information with a simple, non-threatening prompt.  It took about 5 minutes, and gave me tons of information.  It was accessible and appropriate for all.  Students were comfortable agreeing or disagreeing, and in some cases, saying “unsure-and here is why.”  I was most excited about that!”

She also said, From this activity, I learned that I really needed to revisit the third grade standard to see what is actually expected.  It says they should recognize that comparisons are valid only when the two fractions refer to the same whole.  My statement didn’t have a context, so how cool that some were at least questioning this!   This impacted my planning and instruction by reminding me how thinking/wondering about adding a context to the statement would influence their responses.  I am also reminded that I need to stress that students must consider the whole in order to make comparisons accurately.”

Earlier in their fraction unit, the third grade teachers used the talking point below to hear how her students were talking about fractions. (This work is actually from another teacher’s class, but you get the idea;)

A teacher who did this activity reflected, “From this activity, I learned my students had only ever been exposed to a fraction as a part of a whole (and wanted to strictly refer to fractions in terms of pizza). This impacted my instruction by being sure to have the discussion that fractions can represent parts of a whole, but we can also represent whole numbers with fractions.”

To me, these reflections are what assessment should be….the teachers learn about student thinking, the students think about their own thinking, and what we learn helps us plan future lessons with our students’ understandings in mind!

More examples from different grade levels where the teachers and I learned so much about student thinking that impacted future instruction:

Kindergarten: Adding

Kindergarten: Counting

1st Grade: Fractions and Adding

2nd Grade: Counting and Leftovers

4th Grade: Division

5th Grade: Fraction Number Line

6 thoughts on “Formative Assessment

  1. ChristyP

    Yes. This.
    “To me, these reflections are what assessment should be….the teachers learn about student thinking, the students think about their own thinking, and what we learn helps us plan future lessons with our students’ understandings in mind!”

    I can’t tell you how I excited I am about this post! I work with preservice and new teachers and literally just this week decided that I am going to rename “assessment” in the lesson planning templates I use with them as “gathering evidence of student thinking.” My students hear “assessment” and they think “test” and “numbers” when I want them thinking about student thinking. I can’t wait to share this with my teachers!

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    1. mathmindsblog Post author

      That is so awesome to hear you are having these discussions with preservice and new teachers!! I absolutely LOVE your rewording of assessment, I may start doing that same exact thing!!

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  2. mikeollerton

    I really like the comment by ChristyP because it places assessment in its rightful place in terms of student learning and the teacher learning about students’ learning! “Gathering evidence of student thinking” is indeed a great way of thinking about assessment. At issue is how schools are able to take ownership of the agenda and constructively align assessment with teaching & learning

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