Monday, December 6, 2010

Formative Assessment

A few weeks ago we opened our meeting with a quiz. The quiz was designed to demonstrate one method of formative assessment, using a pre-test and a post-test. We reflected on how this made us feel as 'students' and discovered that some people felt calm, others competitive, and others neutral. In our friendly environment, no one felt pressured or nervous. This is one goal to strive for during formative assessment, encouraging the students to be comfortable so that they accurately represent what they have learned.

We then discussed formative assessment. The definition of formative assessment is assessment designed to allow the teacher to assess learning during the course of instruction and adapt their teaching style to the needs of their students. The assessment process involves four main components: instruction, assessment within a relatively short time, prompt evaluation, and distribution of constructive feedback. It is especially important for the teacher to provide constructive feedback on formative assessments in order for students to respond and learn from their assessment. It is also equally as important for the teacher to adapt their teaching methods when students do not demonstrate sufficient learning.

According to some instructors formative assessment should have the following distinct characteristics: Questions should be open-ended, allowing the students creativity in their answer and avoiding the tendency for teachers to test the students ability to complete a specific type of exam. Students should not be graded on assessments so that they do not feel pressured and are comfortable communicating what they have learned. Lastly, assessments should be frequent enough to demonstrate continued learning and changes in learning throughout the instruction period.

Formative assessments do not have to be quizzes. They can take a variety of forms. In class discussions can serve as a formative assessment. Work in small groups can be used. Open-ended writing prompts or student reflections on a concept or topic can all be used as formative assessments. Using a variety of assessment techniques ensures that all students will have the opportunity to contribute in a manner in which they feel comfortable during the learning period.

After discussing formative assessment, we discussed in groups how we would each engineer formative assessments for our own area of teaching. As a biologist, I feel diagramming or explaining biological processes would be serve as good formative assessments. Discussions on concepts, such as symbiosis and mutualisms for example would also be good. Others in my group discussed asking the students to explain the steps to a complex math problem or dissect a historical argument.

When used frequently and effectively, formative assessment can be valuable in making us more aware of areas to improve and ensuring that our students are achieving our learning goals during the course of instruction.

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