Interpreting formative assessment

Exemplification was the focus of one of the sessions at the recent Research Schools Network national conference at Peterborough.  We were discussing what makes the best examples when trying to explain abstract concepts or procedures to delegates at our training programmes.  It fits with the idea of concrete examples that we know has a powerful effect on helping students to learn new ideas.

One exemplification the Research Schools Network currently uses for the idea of the active ingredients of a school intervention is that of a Battenberg cake i.e. what are the non-negotiables that makes a Battenberg a Battenberg?  Is it the colours?  Is it the marzipan?  This is used as a way of getting across the idea that for an intervention to be what it sets out to be, there are certain ingredients that must always be present.

One of my main targets this year is to rebalance summative and formative assessment in KS3 through formative assessment asserting itself as the rightful top dog in this relationship.  In exemplifying to staff why summative assessment can inhibit formative assessment I have used the analogy of a strangling fig.Strangling fig

I wrestled with the best way of exemplifying this idea for some time.  The point I have been trying to get across is that we start out with the best intentions for formative assessment to take priority; you will see it in many policy documents across the country.  However, over time, due to a variety of reasons (many linked to teacher accountability), summative assessment starts to take over.  Eventually we look up and see that our curriculum and teaching are being directed more and more towards periodic summative assessment.  The result is that the rich formative assessment we set out wanting to prioritise gets submerged by the demands of summative assessment.

Hence the strangling fig.

At today’s INSET I reminded staff of my favourite analogy and attempted to refocus us on the formative.  The conduit I used for this were the five strategies for effective formative assessment suggested by education guru Dylan Wiliam in his book Embedded Formative Assessment.  Rather than just share the strategies with staff I added three practical ways they could be interpreted in the classroom to reflect good formative assessment.  The results are shown below:

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

  • Setting benchmarks of brilliance. Unpicking these with students and using questioning to assess students’ understanding.
  • Adapting your lessons based on work you have recently marked or read/observed.
  • Teaching a metacognitive approach to a question type that students have struggled with.

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

  • Prioritising elaborative questions for students with a focus on checking for deeper understanding.
  • Using Socratic questioning to check whether students know why a correct answer is correct.
  • Use live marking to check for understanding as tasks are being completed and to ensure misconceptions do not become embedded.

Providing feedback that moves learning forward.

  • Using whole class feedback following summative assessment or book looks.
  • Adapting your teaching to address areas of weakness you have identified.
  • Quizzing students and then providing immediate feedback.

Activating learners as instructional resources for one another.

  • Giving students the chance to discuss their work with each other, and particularly challenge each other.
  • Designing peer feedback activities with tight parameters that allow students to recognise both strengths and weaknesses.
  • Using worked examples from students within your class to identify ways to improve.

Activating learners as owners of their own learning.

  • Providing students with checklists to allow them to assess their own strengths and weaknesses.
  • Explicitly teaching metacognitive thinking around the most difficult processes or concepts in your subject.
  • Using regular quizzing to reveal to students where the gaps in their knowledge are.

Hopefully the above strategies and their application will ensure that our formative assessment stays healthy and can coexist happily with our summative assessment, rather than being subdued by it.

Posted by Chris Runeckles

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