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Embedding Formative Assessment: Practical Techniques for K-12 Classrooms Paperback – May 21, 2015
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"Loaded with real-world advice, "Embedding Formative Assessment" offers bulls-eye guidelines about how to make formative assessment sizzle." -- W. James Popham "professor emeritus at UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, author of "Classroom Assessment""
"Wiliam and Leahy have done it again! In this highly readable book, they present five formative assessment strategies, a compelling explanation of why each is important, and scores of practical techniques and tips for how to implement them in your classroom." -- Susan M. Brookhart "senior research associate, Duquesne University, author of "Performance Assessment""
"This book offers almost unlimited potential for increasing student learning and achievement. Wiliam and Leahy present formative assessment as a dynamic partnership between teachers and students, blending guiding principles with practical activities that demonstrate how best to match instructional purpose with tools and techniques." -- Jackie Walsh "educational consultant, coauthor of "Quality Questioning""
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By way of introduction, the authors describe the significance of formative assessment, “The basic premise of this book is that there is now substantial—many researchers would say overwhelming—evidence that developing classroom formative assessment is one of the most, if not THE most, powerful ways of improving student achievement in schools.” (p. 201). (Emphasis is in original).
TEACHING THE TEACHER
Most teacher workshops are ineffective because they merely tell the teacher what to do, but fail to provide practical guidance for the teacher to apply the ideas in the classroom. The authors compare this to a football coach who has his players read books and watch films about football techniques, but never coaches them in the field in applying the techniques. (p. 17).
SOME COUNTERINTUITIVE INFORMATION
Authors Wiliam and Leahy often cite research findings. For instance, they provide evidence that the human mind has limited capacity for transferring learned skills to new situations. (pp. 32-33). However, transference is increased when students do varied activities. For instance, one group of children practiced tossing a ball one meter into a bucket, while another group practiced tossing a ball various distances (but never one meter) into a bucket. Both groups were eventually tested for their skill in tossing the ball one meter into the bucket. The latter group outperformed the former. (p. 35).
PRACTICAL LESSON PLANNING
The authors are not keen on learning outcomes and rubrics. Instead, they value teaching intentions, and they list strategies for these on p. 59. For instance, they suggest that student learning experience is more important than outcome, and that sometimes a teacher should therefore not start the lesson with a teaching intention.
Wiliam and Leady also focus on big ideas. They list ten of these for the science teacher (such as myself), along with four ones on the nature of science. (pp. 48-49). An example of the former is the fact that organisms are organized on a cellular basis. An example of the latter is the fact that scientific explanations, theories, and models are those that best fit the facts known at a particular time.
FORMATIVE ASSESSMENT IN ACTION: USEFUL TEACHER-QUESTIONING STRATEGIES
The authors strongly frown upon the common practice of teachers calling on students for answers, as this limits the involvement of other students. (p. 65). Students should be selected at random to answer questions. This can be done by using popsicle sticks with the name of students, or electronically-selected responders. The latter encompasses electronic voting systems (also called classroom clickers: p. 78). However, a few teacher questions can allow students to raise their hands, so that the high-achievers do not feel left out. (p. 67).
One very useful form of formative assessment is the use of slates or dry erase boards. However, the teacher must avoid the common mistake of having students write too much on the boards. (p. 81). The teacher can also use page protectors, and have students write on them with reference to inserted sheets underneath. These inserted sheets can include graphs, maps, music staves, skeletons or body parts, etc. (p. 83). In still another variation, students can place sticky notes on a continuum, from left to right and/or top to bottom, to express a range of beliefs on an issue, or to express a self-assessment of their confidence in having mastered the lesson. (p. 85).
One questioning strategy is for students to come up with their own questions. In order to reduce the usual tendency for rote-recall questions, and to activate higher-level thinking skills, the teacher should provide question shells (tabulated on pp. 87-88). Question shells are structures for questions: For example, “What would happen if…?”; “What are the strengths and weaknesses of…”; “What are the implications of…for…?”
FERRETING-OUT STUDENT MISCONCEPTIONS
The teacher must anticipate student misconceptions about a subject. This includes the use of hinge questions. Hinge questions are those used by the teachers to elicit a misunderstanding, and to tell the teacher if he/she can proceed with the lesson. The teacher can also use two sentence completions to formatively assess the correction of a misconception: “I used to think… But now I think…” (p. 90). Good multiple-choice tests include an incorrect answer that will be answered by students laboring under a misconception. (p. 92).
FEEDBACK TO STUDENTS
Too often, students pay little attention to teacher feedback. Authors Wiliam and Leahy cite an interesting strategy for engaging student thinking about feedback. A group of students gets their work returned, along with four strips of paper with teacher’s comments. The students are to match the strips of paper with the correct paper they refer to. (p. 124).
The authors caution that children often do not have an accurate sense of what they have learned. However, he makes suggestions for student portfolios, in which students eventually have to reflect on their work, and in how they have improved. (pp. 179-180).
In conclusion, this book provides many useful strategies for teachers’ use of formative assessment. It concludes with a series of checklists for self-assessment of teachers as to what strategies they are actually using in the classroom. (pp. 204-on).