May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

Continuous Assessment Through Questioning

Posted: Friday, April 8th, 2016

by Sue Campbell

At the beginning of my teaching career I believed that I could tell how well students understood the concepts I was teaching by their test scores. I equated tests with assessments and limited my view of assessments to tests or quizzes. Little did I know or understand how ineffective that view was! At some point I was introduced to formative assessments, which broadened my view of assessments considerably. Good formative assessments require that the students explain their thinking. Page Keeley’s Formative Assessment books published by NSTA are a good source. It was enlightening. It was also disconcerting to discover that some students could pass tests but when faced with a formative assessment, they could not explain their thinking or their reasoning was faulty.

Even though my view of assessments had been changing, it still focused on assessments happening at specific times. This notion changed when I took a class on questioning strategies to uncover student thinking. The following captures some of one student interview.

Advertisement

Advertisement

“What causes this ball to go up and down?” I asked a sixth grade student as I tossed a tennis ball up in the air and then caught it several times. I was conducting an interview with a student for the class I was taking. The topic for this questioning session was gravity but I wasn’t allowed to use the term unless the student used it. The session was also being recorded for later reference. The female student, who I will call Sarah for the purpose of this article, quickly replied, “Gravity.”

“So gravity makes the ball go up and down,” I replied. I kept my voice and face neutral as I made my response even though I was concerned about her answer.

She paused for a moment and then said, “No. Gravity makes the ball come down. The force of your arm makes it go up.”

At this point in the interview although I was relieved that she didn’t think that gravity makes things go up, I kept my face and voice neutral as I rephrased her response to me. “So gravity makes the ball come down.” She nodded in agreement.

I am going to pause the interview here for a moment to ask a question. Does Sarah understand gravity? Internally I was feeling a sense of relief at this point in the interview. The assignment, however, called for some follow up questions to probe a little more so I pressed on.

“Tell me more about this thing you call gravity,” I said.

Sarah took the ball from me and began to explain gravity to me. “First,” she said, “as soon as the ball is up in the air, gravity pushes the air out from underneath it so it can fall back down.” She held the ball in one hand up high and used her other hand to produce a sweeping motion under the ball with the other hand.

“Anything else?” I asked.

“Yes,” she replied. “Gravity also surrounds the ball,” she explained as she took one hand to cup the ball from the top, “and pushes down on it.”

The interview continued to explore Sarah’s many ideas about gravity and I learned some important lessons about questioning and assessment.

Lesson 1: Just because a student answers a question correctly doesn’t mean they understand the content or concept. When Sarah indicated that gravity causes things to come down, I could have, and probably would have, concluded that she had a simple, but correct understanding of gravity.

Lesson 2: Wait a moment and then ask students follow up questions after their responses. Asking a follow up question was a new idea to me then, but now it is routine. Simply asking the student to tell you a little more can reveal so much information. The idea behind waiting after a response and then asking a follow up question is explained in a small booklet, How to Ask the Right Questions by Patricia Blosser, and is downloadable as a PDF or for purchase as a hard copy or e-book from NSTA. Blosser refers to this as Wait Time 2.

Lesson 3: Push to have them express their understanding in their own words. I want students to use correct scientific and academic terms, but sometimes it can get in the way of knowing if they truly understand. Sometimes they have just memorized a correct answer, or we have been too quick to put a label on a concept before they completely understand. Recently when I visiting in another classroom, I asked a student to explain what had happened to the two balloons when they had been rubbed with another material. The student said, “They were attracted.” When I probed further to see if she knew what “attracted,” meant, she kept repeating herself. In a follow up conversation with the teacher who witnessed the conversation and described the lesson, we both concluded that the term at been introduced before the students had had the opportunity to simply describe what happened in their own words. It was a reminder to both of us to take the time for students to explain their thinking and then introduce the terminology.

Lesson 4: Craft some of your questions ahead of time. I know that we can’t plan all questions, but planning some of them beforehand will help ensure that they are open ended and not leading.

Lesson 5: Assessment should be continuous in your classroom and can be through questioning and listening. Continuous assessment through questioning will reveal student understanding and help you monitor and adjust your pace and sequence of a lesson.

It took time for me to build the habit of asking probing questions of my students but now I find that assessment through questioning is a continuous, daily learning process, which is a valuable tool for both my students and me.

Sue Campbell is the District STEM Coach for Livingston Union School District, and is CSTA’s Jr. High Director.

Written by Sue Campbell

Sue Campbell

Sue Campbell is the District STEM Coach for Livingston Union School District and is a member of CSTA.

4 Responses

  1. I so agree. Evaluation of whether or not they “get it” should be ongoing, every day. I would add using homework as a daily assessment. If it’s corrected in class, it can be passed in so that passing scores go into one in-box and not-passing scores go into the other. Then, asap, find out the reason behind the not-passing scores and figure out a fix. I personally don’t think homework should be part of the grade except to note that it was done. That way kids feel “safe” to fail because the homework will alert you to a problem so it can be rectified before the test – which does count – no ifs, ands, or buts.

    I’d also don’t recommend calling on students via the hand-raising method. When a question is asked, every student should be ready to answer. Call random students, Check off a student’s name when they’ve answered well, and try to get around to everyone as much as possible. If they clam up, WAIT. If a minute or two has gone by, coach them to figure out an appropriate response. But every student should know that they are responsible for demonstrating understanding 100% of the time, and if they can’t, you’re responsible for helping them.

  2. How do you do this kind of ongoing questioning with 32 students in a class? Diagnosing a student’s thinking and helping them to clarify their pre-conceptions takes concentrated time. Thinking aloud is a great way to learn but how can we focus on that many kids at once?

  3. Susan, good ideas. I use random calling using craft sticks with names on them, but names go back into the cup to be called again. I find that students tune out after their name is called if they know it won’t be again. Of course this can be manipulated a bit. After a student happens to be called upon a second time, I put it back in the cup with the name up and manage to not pull it again. Keeping all students accountable is important. If a student is stuck, you can give them some time as you suggest. I also allow them to confer with a partner or request assistance from someone, but they still have to answer.

  4. Lee, good questions. First I need to acknowledge that oral questioning can’t be the only means by which you can gather information about student thinking. Many of us have large classes of 32 or more and while it would be helpful to have individual conversations daily, it simply isn’t possible. I have ongoing questioning conversations in a couple of ways.

    The first is with the whole class. I usually do this through having partners discuss the original question before having students respond to the entire class. A frequently used strategy here is Think-Write-Pair-Share. Giving the students time to think about their ideas and writing them down before they start speaking increases participation and accountability. When students are sharing with each other, they write down their partner’s ideas. Often I have the students to come up with a shared answer based on their conversation and write that on their paper. While the students are sharing in groups I circulate around the room and listen in on their conversations. This provides me some indication of their thinking and can assist in planning some follow up questions. Following the time for partner sharing, I normally call on students randomly before I allow some volunteer responses. There are times that my random calling isn’t completely random because I overheard a conversation and for various reasons I want the idea shared in class or shared in a specific order. I don’t provide feedback which would indicate if their response was correct or not. I also ask them to tell us a bit more or explain their answer more. I collect their papers solely for the purpose of looking a little more closely to the individual responses.

    The second way is through small group conversations. This is not a structured as a whole class session. As I move around them room while students are working I stop and have conversations with them. My groups are usually three or four students. I have some questions in mind as I travel through the room, but I am also open to jumping off from whatever is happening at that moment in their group. This is especially true when they are involved in an investigation or engineering project.

    Over time my students have come to accept that I ask a lot of questions and that I will ask them to explain their thinking. They know that I am not going to give them the answers. They also know that when I ask them questions that I don’t want to know what a book or website said. I want to know what they think.

Leave a Reply

LATEST POST

CSTA Annual Conference Early Bird Rates End July 14

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Jessica Sawko

Teachers engaged in workshop activity

Teachers engaging in hands-on learning during a workshop at the 2016 CSTA conference.

Don’t miss your chance to register at the early bird rate for the 2017 CSTA Conference – the early-bird rate closes July 14. Need ideas on how to secure funding for your participation? Visit our website for suggestions, a budget planning tool, and downloadable justification letter to share with your admin. Want to take advantage of the early rate – but know your district will pay eventually? Register online today and CSTA will reimburse you when we receive payment from your district/employer. (For more information on how that works contact Zi Stair in the office for details – 916-979-7004 or zi@cascience.org.)

New Information Now Available On-line:

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Goodbye Outgoing and Welcome Incoming CSTA Board Members

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

Jill Grace

Jill Grace, CSTA President, 2017-2019

On July 1, 2017 five CSTA members concluded their service and four new board members joined the ranks of the CSTA Board of Directors. CSTA is so grateful for all the volunteer board of directors who contribute hours upon hours of time and energy to advance the work of the association. At the June 3 board meeting, CSTA was able to say goodbye to the outgoing board members and welcome the incoming members.

This new year also brings with it a new president for CSTA. As of July 1, 2017 Jill Grace is the president of the California Science Teachers Association. Jill is a graduate of California State University, Long Beach, a former middle school science teacher, and is currently a Regional Director with the K-12 Alliance @ WestEd where she works with California NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative districts and charter networks in the San Diego area.

Outgoing Board Members

  • Laura Henriques (President-Elect: 2011 – 2013, President: 2013 – 2015, Past President: 2015 – 2017)
  • Valerie Joyner (Region 1 Director: 2009 – 2013, Primary Director: 2013 – 2017)
  • Mary Whaley (Informal Science Education Director: 2013 – 2017)
  • Sue Campbell (Middle School/Jr. High Director: 2015 – 2017)
  • Marcus Tessier (2-Year College Director: 2015 – 2017)

Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Finding My Student’s Motivation of Learning Through Engineering Tasks

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Huda Ali Gubary and Susheela Nath

It’s 8:02 and the bell rings. My students’ walk in and pick up an entry ticket based on yesterday’s lesson and homework. My countdown starts for students to begin…3, 2, 1. Ten students are on task and diligently completing the work, twenty are off task with behaviors ranging from talking up a storm with their neighbors to silently staring off into space. This was the start of my classes, more often than not. My students rarely showed the enthusiasm for a class that I had eagerly prepared for. I spent so much time searching for ways to get my students excited about the concepts they were learning. I wanted them to feel a connection to the lessons and come into my class motivated about what they were going to learn next. I would ask myself how I could make my class memorable where the kids were in the driver’s seat of learning. Incorporating engineering made this possible. Learn More…

Powered By DT Author Box

Written by NGSS Early Implementer

NGSS Early Implementer

In 2015 CSTA began to publish a series of articles written by teachers participating in the California NGSS k-8 Early Implementation Initiative. This article was written by an educator(s) participating in the initiative. CSTA thanks them for their contributions and for sharing their experience with the science teaching community.

State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Unveils Updated Recommended Literature List

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson unveiled an addition of 285 award-winning titles to the Recommended Literature: Prekindergarten Through Grade Twelve list.

“The books our students read help broaden their perspectives, enhance their knowledge, and fire their imaginations,” Torlakson said. “The addition of these award-winning titles represents the state’s continued commitment to the interests and engagement of California’s young readers.”

The Recommended Literature: Prekindergarten Through Grade Twelve list is a collection of more than 8,000 titles of recommended reading for children and adolescents. Reflecting contemporary and classic titles, including California authors, this online list provides an exciting range of literature that students should be reading at school and for pleasure. Works include fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and drama to provide for a variety of tastes, interests, and abilities. Learn More…

Written by Guest Contributor

From time to time CSTA receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CSTA. By publishing these articles CSTA does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CSTA’s Disclaimer Policy: http://www.classroomscience.org/disclaimer.

Teaching Science in the Time of Alternative Facts – Why NGSS Can Help (somewhat)

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Peter A’Hearn

The father of one of my students gave me a book: In the Beginning: Compelling Evidence for Creation and the Flood by Walt Brown, Ph. D. He had heard that I was teaching Plate Tectonics and wanted me to consider another perspective. The book offered the idea that the evidence for plate tectonics could be better understood if we considered the idea that beneath the continent of Pangaea was a huge underground layer of water that suddenly burst forth from a rift between the now continents of Africa and South America. The waters shot up and the continents hydroplaned apart on the water layer to their current positions. The force of the movement pushed up great mountain ranges which are still settling to this day, resulting in earthquakes along the margins of continents. This had happened about 6,000 years ago and created a great worldwide flood. Learn More…

Powered By DT Author Box

Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the Region 4 Director for CSTA.