Flying in the Right Direction – Formative Assessment

Just imagine what would happen if a pilot flew like many teachers assess. I flew back from Seattle a few weeks ago – just imagine what the pilot would have done – he would have flown east for 9 hours and then after 9 hours he says ‘Time to land’. He will put the plane down and then he will ask ‘Is this London?’ and of course even if it’s not London, he says ‘Well everybody has got to get off because I’ve got to get on to the next journey’.

This idea from Dylan William is quite memorable. I feel like this approach to assessment – thinking of the plane’s journey – is one that will help me to return to question: is my teaching effective? What learning is happening? Where are the students at?

I believe it is timely to think about this as I set up some routines for the year. I have been explored the ways that moodle can be used for formative assessment, but I’ve been unconvinced. I feel more comfortable setting up a google folder for storage of all assessment work. The main reason for this is I want the students to see there submissions as being ongoing pieces of work and already I’ve been thinking about ways of making revision and reviewing more central to the way I follow up with formative assessment. Google docs certainly has this feeling because it has an ongoing purpose like a dialogue. My early feeling about moodle is it is too much like posting a letter – once you put it in the letter box, you don’t have to think about it again.

On the more practical – ‘do-now’ – level, Dylan William has written a book called “Content Then Process: Teacher Learning Communities in the service of Formative Assessment”. Within it he outlines five strategies for formative assessment. The following two I plucked out. Both have appeared in my practice in some form or another, but this is a great reminder of activities that I want to become more common this year.

Technique: Find It and Fix It

Rather than checking all correct answers in an exercise and putting a check mark next to those that are incorrect, the teacher directs the student to identify them him- or herself: “Five of these are incorrect; find them and fix them.” This kind of feedback requires the student to engage cognitively in responding to the feedback, rather that just reacting emotionally to his or her score or grade…

Technique: Pre-Flight Checklist

Before students can turn in an assignment, they must trade papers with a peer. Each student then completes a “pre-flight check-list” by comparing the peer’s document against a list of required elements. For example, the pre-flight checklist for a lab report might require, among other things, a title, a date, diagrams drawn in pencil and labeled, and results that are clearly separated from conclusions. Only when the peer has signed off on the checklist can the work be turned in to the teacher.


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