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Teaching and Learning

The role of Formative Assessment in our return to physical school. Research

The act of Formative Assessment is not just for the teacher. It is the most important part of the learning process for a student, and as the student gains a mastery of self-assessment, they will truly unlock the skill of lifelong independent learning in their chosen fields. The best way for students to gain this mastery of learning is for their teachers to deliberately model high standards of student reflection in a consistent and meaningful way across the school. A huge part of this is the language and process that the students use to describe and record their next steps. Careful use of the digital tools that we have used extensively over this year of online learning will help teachers guide students towards their learning mastery.

In order for my Formative Assessment practice to improve, I first needed to clearly define what Formative Assessment is, and it’s role in the classroom. This clarity will then lead to applying digital tools in order to boost Formative Assessment in a way that can be replicated in all classrooms.

Education Week defines Formative Assessment as:

“Formative will tell us … how students are progressing, either on individual skills or towards mastery”


(Education Week, 2017)

Formative assessment is designed to inform students and teachers of the progress that has been made to inform the next step in learning. Like teachers do throughout their PGCE, students should be recording and reflecting on these signposts in order to reach their desired level of mastery in a subject. As Rosenshine states:

“The best way to become an expert is through practice, thousands of hours of practice. The more practice, the better the performance.”

(Rosenshine, 2012)

The phrase Formative Assessment should never be consigned to a teacher observation form, or another mandatory CPD at inset day to standardise writing LO’s on the whiteboard. The act of Formative Assessment is not just for the teacher. It is the most important part of the learning process for a student, and as the student gains a mastery of self-assessment, they will truly unlock the skill of lifelong independent learning in their chosen fields. The best way for students to gain this mastery of learning is for their teachers to deliberately model high standards of student reflection in a consistent and meaningful way across the school. A huge part of this is the language and process that the students use to describe and record their next steps. Careful use of the digital tools that we have used extensively over this year of online learning will help teachers guide students towards their learning mastery.

Tom Sherrington explains in the article “Revisiting Dylan William’s Five Brilliant Formative Assessment Strategies”, that the Five Formative Assessment Strategies complement many of Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction. This guides teachers and schools towards the effective techniques to ensure efficient learning. These techniques should be replicated in physical, digital and hybrid classrooms.  

The Five Formative Assessment Strategies could create an overwhelming and unnecessary need for the teacher evidencing and demonstrating learning by creating reams of games out of flashcards and insisting students write out a Learning Objective in their book to signpost learning. It could also lead to whole school expectations of teacher marking and student feedback, which quickly becomes bureaucratic and daunting should there be a “poverty of practice” at the student, teacher or managerial level (Paul Black, 2010). These barriers to effective practice need to be acknowledged first in individual practice as well as the whole school policies in order to promote effective learning throughout the school.

The objective of Formative Assessment is for the student to acknowledge their own next steps. For Formative Assessment to take a higher priority than a Summative Grade, the language and standards of assessment must be consistent and transparent across the school. A lack of clarity of what Formative Assessment means and the role that the teacher and the student plays in in this continual process will lead to a shift in focus to Summative Grades (or percentages) in conversations between teachers, parents and students. This will this lead to an unhealthy perception of what achievement and progress means for the student. At best, this discourages them from putting in the hours needed to understand what learning looks like and how to master the skill of learning. At worse, teachers overcompensate with writing out personalised targets for the students, which the student does not interact with because they perceive the Grade as Summative. They understand that the Grade is the end of learning. Ideally, it is the student that should be taking the time to write out and carry through their own learning targets.

By using digital tools in order to promote student guided Formative Assessment at key points in learning, all stakeholders can be empowered to provide the right tools and language to enable meaningful two-way conversation to enable the student to progress. The variety of platforms and use of them to support the Five Formative Assessment Strategies will be explored in future posts.

September 2020 will be a once in a lifetime opportunity for many established schools to undergo a clean start for their teaching and learning strategies. “Resisting the temptation to order up standardised benchmarking instruments” (Robert Pondiscio, 2020) would help the school environment hugely in September when students enter the classroom for the first time in 7 months. By reintroducing students back into learning by teachers upping their Formative Assessment standards will guide students, teachers and parents towards proactive discussions on “next steps” in learning. This would create the positive learning environment and routine that our school communities so desperately need, rather than teachers introducing students back into the classroom by labeling them as “behind” before their learning has even begun.

References

Education Week, 2017. What is Formative Assessment?. [Online]
Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hkoDWSCGIE4
[Accessed 21 June 2020].

Paul Black, D. W., 2010. Inside the Black Box Raising Standards Through Classroom Assessment. Phi Delta Kappan, 80(2).

Robert Pondiscio, R. H., 2020. Education Week. [Online]
Available at: https://mobile.edweek.org/c.jsp?cid=25920011&item=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.edweek.org%2Fv1%2Fblog%2F76%2Findex.html%3Fuuid%3D80876
[Accessed 18 June 2020].

Rosenshine, B., 2012. Principles of Instruction Research- Based Strategies That All Teachers Should Know. American Educator, pp. 12-39.

Siobhan Leahy, C. L. M. T. D. W., 2005. Classroom Assessment: Minute by Minute, Day by Day. Assessment to Promote Learning, Volume 63, pp. 19-24.

Siobhan Leahy, D. W., 2009. From teachers to schools: scaling up professional development for formative assessment. San Diego, CA, Annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association.

By Linda Parsons

Author of Digilin Learning.
Follower of Educational Technology enthusiasts, of all subjects. I am an MIE Fellow, Apple teacher and Google Educator. If it can be used as a learning tool, I will be keen for it. Currently a science teacher in the UAE.

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