Literature for many years has delivered many different meanings and definitions of what formative assessment is. Marsh (2004) believes that “Formative assessment provides data about instructional units in progress and students in action. They help to develop or form the final curriculum product and help students adjust to their learning tasks through the feedback they receive” Black & William (1998) believe that ‘Assessment’ refers to all those activities undertaken by teachers, and by the students in assessing themselves, which provide information to be used as feedback to modify the teaching and learning activities in which they are engaged. Such assessment becomes ‘formative assessment’ when the evidence is actually used to adapt the teaching to meet the needs’. Paul Black (2002) has also defined formative assessment as ‘any assessment for which the priority is to server the purpose of promoting pupils’ learning.’
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‘Formative assessment’ can be closely linked with ‘Assessment for learning (AFL)’ . The two are very similar but have one definitive difference. Swearingen (2002) states that “formative assessment is part of instruction that informs and guides teachers as they make instructional decisions. Assessment should not merely be done to students, rather it also is done FOR students to guide and enhance their learning”. In Layman’s terms, formative assessment is ongoing assessment to inform planning and aid in overall assessments. Assessment for learning (AFL) on the other hand has the child at the heart of it; knowing what they’re learning, how to perform effectively and assessing what they have learnt.
Formative assessments promote student attainment of knowledge rather than testing a body of attained knowledge. We have to design a Curriculum that is rich with such methods of formative assessment that will result in a more student-centred approach to teaching. J Right (2010) believes that this often leads to student success.
According to research and from personal experience teaching in various schools, there are many forms of formative assessment used in the classroom. Here are some:-
* Observation ‘ This is one of the earliest known methods of observing nature, according to science. (Hein 1991) states that ‘Observation in the classroom reaps benefits for not only the teacher but also the student.’ By observing children, teachers can identify their students’ verbal and non-verbal behaviour, and identify the method he/she uses to complete their work. Teachers through observation can identify areas in which students are finding challenging and provide them with corrective feedback. During all by teaching experiences in school, I have kept a ‘Book of Observations’ to monitor behaviour over time. In the book I wrote the behaviour of a certain child and the method I used to help solve the matter.
* Whole-Class/Group Discussion ‘ This involves discussion of open ended questions with the students by the teacher and the students with each other. The goal of whole-class discussion is to develop critical and creative thinking skills. Concept Cartoons are a very effective way of promoting these skills in Science. I will discuss this later on. Black and Wiliam 1998; Doherty 2003 believe that ‘Discussions allow students to increase the breadth and depth of their understanding while discarding erroneous information and expanding and explicating background knowledge’.
* Teacher Feedback ‘ According to (Boston 2002; Ramaprasad 1983; Sadler 1989; Tunstall and Gipps (1996) ‘The formative assessment activity helps students understanding their proficiency, and the feedback the teacher gives the student helps close the learning gap’. Many researchers including Bangert-Drowns, Kulick, & Morgan (1999) have written about how the more specific a teachers’ feedback about learners’ mistakes and ways in which they could improve their work, the more children improve with their learning. This type of feedback could help cater the needs of the lower ability children because the message is that children can improve their work by using the correct method rather than feel like they are unable to perform a task due to lack of ability.
From practice to research it is obvious that Formative Assessment and AFL and both valuable for teacher and student. The teacher can use it to identify how learners are progression and can use this information to adjust their teaching. Students benefit from formative assessment by being able to follow specific steps to meet their objectives, spot what they are having trouble with and have specific feedback to develop their knowledge.
From a pedagogic point of view it is difficult to argue against the benefits of formative assessment for both teacher and learner. For example:-
* Formative assessment ensures that the learners remains focused and on task. The learners can discuss what they are learning. There is a shared learning process.
* Formative assessment provides a diagnostic approach to approach to recording process and lets the learners know his/her strengths and weaknesses.
* Formative assessment helps teachers with planning as it involves giving the learner specific learning intentions.
* Formative assessment helps teachers design their lessons to cater for individuals or groups of learners.
* Formative assessment develops learners’ awareness of self-assessment so that they can become more reflective and self- managing.
* Boston (2002) believes that Formative assessment focuses on the children’s progression and achievement rather than focusing on the failure. Therefore motivating the learner.
‘Formative assessment has been shown to be highly effective in raising the level of student attainment, increasing equity of student outcomes, and improving students’ ability to learn.’
Assessment for Learning is an important tool for increasing the level of learning in mathematics classrooms. There are many different techniques and strategies that can be used to develop children’s learning through formative assessment and AFL.
Setting achievable learning objectives through Success Criteria
To develop learners’ knowledge learning objectives should be put into place that are realistic and achievable. These learning objectives should include a set of Success Criteria that the learners follow to reach understanding and use this understanding to solve problems. Setting learning objectives makes the learner more focused on their learning. This enables the learner to become more self critical.
Learning objectives and Success criteria should be shared at the beginning of the lesson, this gives the children the goal they intend to achieve and the steps they need to follow to insure they do.
Briggs, Woodfiled, Martin, Swatton (2007) define Learning Objectives as ‘a clear statement of what is intended that children will have learnt during an activity, a lesson or a sequence of lessons.’
‘The success criteria:
* are based on the objective, and should shape the teaching and modelling and provide the children’s focus while they are working
* are the key focus for the teacher’s and children’s feedback.’
Below is an example of a Learning Objective and Success Criteria in a Mathematics lesson:
Learning Objective: To be able to identify what a good Graph needs.
Success Criteria: I know what X axis is
I know what Y axis is
I can differentiate between the two.
Working with a Partner
Questions set to the children should encourage them to explore and refer back to what they have previously learnt. Children should work in partners or in small groups (this would be more for the lower ability children) to identify the correct answer.
Much research has been carried to explore the response of a learner working collaboratively with a partner or in small groups. Vygotsky (1978) believes that ‘Assessment is grounded in the theory that students learn better by collaborating and discussing concepts with peers than by constructing answers in isolation’. Boe (1994) once stated that groups working in groups in the classroom should be followed by assessments in groups. He believed that it “implements the ideals of democracy in the classroom”.
After working in groups the children could fill-in a short worksheets assessing themselves on their group work. The following method i was introduced to during my second year school based studies, teaching a year 6 class. The children could use the worksheet to assess themselves by answering the following Questions:
* Did I listen to the instructions?
* Did I listen to everybody in my group?
* Did I help my group?
* Did I stay on task throughout?
* How much did I enjoy the activity?
* Did I Respect the others in my group?
* Next time I will…..
As well as working with a partner or in a group, to improve children’s learning they should be given more time to think and answer questions. This is often referred to as ‘thinking time’ or ‘wait time’. Mary Budd Rowe (1972) first came up with the concept of thinking time. After observing teachers she saw that the time between asking the question and the response rarely lasted 1.5 seconds. She noticed that the children’s answers and attitude was more positive after given more time to answer (3-4 seconds).
According to research by Mary Budd Rowe (1972) many benefits came from wait time. They include:-
* Increases the number of cognitive response by learner
* Decreases the number of ‘I Don’t know’ answers and confusion
In mathematics the thinking time would not be much more than 4 seconds as much of the answers are of quantity.
Stahl (1985) defined ‘think time’ as ‘a distinct period of uninterrupted silence by the teacher and all students so that they both can complete appropriate information processing tasks, feelings, oral responses, and actions’.
‘Children need time to think. Research evidence shows that teachers usually allow only 0.9 seconds between asking a question and expecting an answer or even answering the question themselves. Leaving only 0.9 seconds demands that children simply react, they do not think. However if between 3 and 5 seconds is left before allowing children to answer this encourages them to provide more thoughtful answers and to analyse, synthesise and evaluate.’
At the beginning of a Maths lesson, assign individual learners a partner, this could either by the person they are sitting next to or to develop their collaboration skills further they could be partnered with a random peer in the class. Through my experience teaching Key Stage 2 Children I have adopted this method grossly into my lessons. In Mathematics lessons, I often assigned children partners and asked them to record their final answers on mini white boards. From personal experience I have observed that children really like using the whiteboards in partners.
‘I love using the small whiteboards because I get to talk to my friend and compete against the rest of the class.’ A boy in Year 6
Let us begin by asking the question, ‘What is Science in the Primary school?’ In Britain, even though there are 4 different science curricula, they is an agreement that Science is used to engage interest and enjoyment in the learner by nurturing and developing curiosity and creativity. Then, when the scientific skills are imbedded, learning progresses.
Claire Hodgson NFER review (2010) believes that ‘Primary science learning is about living things, materials and phenomena. It is intended to be relevant to pupils’ everyday lives, helping them to learn about the world around them through ‘hands-on’ investigation and exploration, with opportunities for making observations and measurements.’
Science is arguably the Core subject in school that incorporates the most AFL strategies. Science provides a rich opportunity for teachers and learners to develop their understanding through
formative assessment and AFL.
Discussion/Talk in Classroom
Discussion is a key element used in science lessons to assess a child’s learning. Asoko and Scott (2006) believe that, in science discussion: ‘Language provides the fundamental means for communicating ideas, but it is also through talk, either with others or ‘in our heads’, that we can develop personal understanding.’
There are many methods used to promote discussion in the classroom. Concept Cartoons are very effective at this. Concept cartoons are illustrations of a question and 3 children giving different answers to the question. They are used to promote discussion between groups of children or the whole class. Keogh & Naylor (1999) indicate that this method: ‘has a positive impact on pupil motivation and may help to promote argumentation.’ Hodson (1998) has also listed conditions in which can further promote discussion with children. For example, the discussion topic must enthuse the children, keep them interested, it must also be problematic and relate to the children’s prior knowledge. Concept cartoons are an effective way to assess the children’s learning at the beginning of a lesson. Concept cartoons get children thinking, discussing and sharing their ideas and opinions with their peers. Keogh and Naylor (1999) said that this ‘made the learners more active in the assessment process and helped to connect formative assessment with the learning that would follow.’
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Harlen (2006) states that ‘It is well known from research that learners construct their own understanding in science, based on their experience and that their ideas may be in conflict with scientifically accepted viewpoints.’ Elicitation is therefore very effective in Primary Science Education as it takes the learner’s ideas into account of the teaching. This is called a Constructivist approach to learning. Constructivism is a theory that was put forward by Piaget. It is used to explain how children know what they know. It describes problem solving being Key to children’s thinking, development and learning. There is a significant change in the learner when he/she engages in activities, discusses with peers and reflects on their learning. But what is the role of the teacher in this style of teaching? According to Brewer W (2009) the role of the teacher is to ‘act as an expert learner who can guide students into adopting cognitive strategies such as self testing, articulating understanding, asking probing questions, and reflection.’ He basically states that a constructivist approach to teaching involves giving the children a ‘Big Idea’ for learners to discuss, that keeps them engaged and interested and to connect prior knowledge to gain new ideas.
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