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.
“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.
Posted: Wednesday, October 12th, 2016
by Jessica Sawko
In June 2016 California submitted a waiver application to discontinue using the old CST (based on 1998 standards) and conduct two years of pilot and field tests (in spring 2017 and 2018, respectively) of the new science assessment designed to support our state’s current science standards (California Next Generation Science Standards (CA-NGSS) adopted in 2013). The waiver was requested because no student scores will be provided as a part of the pilot and field tests. The CDE received a response from the U.S. Department of Education (ED) on September 30, 2016, which provides the CDE the opportunity to resubmit a revised waiver request within 60 days. The CDE will be revising the waiver request and resubmitting as ED suggested.
At its October 2016 North/South Assessment meetings CDE confirmed that there will be no administration of the old CST in the spring of 2017. (An archive of the meeting is available at http://www.cde.ca.gov/ta/tg/ai/infomeeting.asp.) Learn More…
Posted: Thursday, September 22nd, 2016
by Carol Peterson
1) To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, Google has put together a collection of virtual tours combining 360-degree video, panoramic photos and expert narration. It’s called “The Hidden Worlds of the National Parks” and is accessible right from the browser. You can choose from one of five different locales, including the Kenai Fjords in Alaska and Bryce Canyon in Utah, and get a guided “tour” from a local park ranger. Each one has a few virtual vistas to explore, with documentary-style voiceovers and extra media hidden behind clickable thumbnails. Ideas are included for use in classrooms. https://www.engadget.com/2016/08/25/google-offers-360-degree-tours-of-us-national-parks/. Learn More…
Posted: Thursday, September 22nd, 2016
CSTA is pleased to announce the winners of the 2016 CSTA Awards for Distinguished Contributions, Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award, 2014 and 2015 PAEMST-Science recipients from California, and the 2016 California PAEMST Finalists. The following individuals and organizations will be honored during the 2016 California Science Education Conference on October 21- 23 in Palm Springs. This year’s group of awardees are truly outstanding. Please join us in congratulating them!
Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award
The Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award honors an individual who has made a significant contribution to science education in the state and who, through years of leadership and service, has truly made a positive impact on the quality of science teaching. This year’s recipient is John Keller, Ph.D. Dr. Keller is Associate Professor, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Co-Director, Center for Engineering, Science, and Mathematics Education, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. In her letter of recommendation, SDSU science education faculty and former CSTA board member Donna Ross wrote: “He brings people together who share the desire to make a difference in the development and implementation of programs for science teaching. Examples of these projects include the Math and Science Teaching Initiative (MSTI), Noyce Scholars Program, Western Regional Noyce Initiative, and the Science Teacher and Researcher (STAR) program.” Through his work, he has had a dramatic impact on science teacher education, both preservice and in-service, in California, the region, and the country. He developed and implemented the STEM Teacher and Researcher Program which aims to produce excellent K-12 STEM teachers by providing aspiring teachers with opportunities to do authentic research while helping them translate their research experience into classroom practice. SFSU faculty member Larry Horvath said it best in his letter:“John Keller exemplifies the best aspects of a scientist, science educator, and mentor. His contributions to science education in the state of California are varied, significant, and I am sure will continue well into the future.” Learn More…
Posted: Tuesday, September 20th, 2016
by Peter A’hearn
NGSS is a big shift. Teachers need to learn new content, figure out how this whole engineering thing relates to science, and develop new unit and lesson plans. How could NGSS possibly make life easier?
The idea that NGSS could make our lives easier came to me during the California State NGSS Rollout #1 Classroom Example lesson on chromatography. I have since done this lesson with high school chemistry students and it made me think back to having my own students do chromatography. I spent lots of time preparing to make sure the experiment went well and achieved the “correct” result. I pre-prepared the solutions and organized and prepped the materials. I re-wrote and re-wrote again the procedure so there was no way a kid could get it wrong. I spent 20 minutes before the lab modeling all of the steps in class, so there was no way to do it wrong. Except that it turns out there were many. Learn More…
Posted: Tuesday, September 20th, 2016
by Robert C. Victor. Twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller. Graph of evening planet setting times by Dr. Jeffrey L. Hunt
Our evening twilight chart for September, depicting the sky about 40 minutes after sunset from SoCal, shows brilliant Venus remaining low, creeping from W to WSW and gaining a little altitude as the month progresses. Its close encounter within 2.5° N of Spica on Sept. 18 is best seen with binoculars to catch the star low in bright twilight. The brightest stars in the evening sky are golden Arcturus descending in the west, and blue-white Vega passing just north of overhead. Look for Altair and Deneb completing the Summer Triangle with Vega. The triangle of Mars-Saturn-Antares expands as Mars seems to hold nearly stationary in SSW as the month progresses, while Saturn and Antares slink off to the SW. Learn More…