July/August 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 8

Formative Assessment vs. Checking for Understanding

Posted: Tuesday, March 4th, 2014

by Rick Pomeroy

Many teachers claim that they are doing formative assessment when checking for understanding but, unfortunately, this is not always the case. The difference between formative assessment and checking for understanding lies in the purpose of the activity and what is done with the information that is gained in the process. Formative assessment can be one of the most powerful tools in a teacher’s arsenal for improving student understanding when 

“….it improves instructional decisions, that are made by teachers, learners, and peers. The decisions can be immediate, on-the-fly, or longer term.”

“ The five key strategies (of formative assessment) are:

  • clarifying and understanding learning intentions and criteria for success.
  • engineering effective classroom discussions, questions, and tasks that elicit evidence of learning
  • providing feedback that moves learners forward
  • activating students as instructional resources for each other, and
  • activating students as owners of their own learning

The ‘big idea’ (being) that evidence about learning is used to adjust instruction to meet the students – in other words, teaching is adaptive to the learner’s needs.”

Dylan Wiliam (2011) p. 45-46, Embedded Formative Assessment.

Checking for understanding is an important strategy in any class. If you aren’t connected to your students and how they are processing the content you are presenting in lecture, discussion, or lab, it is impossible to know when to stop and restate or revisit an idea. Unfortunately, many teachers do not take this critical step. Instead, after checking where their students are, they press on due to pacing guides and bell schedules, often loosing the teachable moment that pausing and adjusting instruction would provide. In our fast-paced, assessment-driven curricula, it seems counter intuitive to take the time to stop and address a common misconception, a missed foundational point, or a key relationship between concepts. As teachers, we often feel that they may not fully “get it” as a result of this activity but when they grapple with it in homework, when it is addressed in the bell activity the next day, and when it is visited during the test review, surely they will understand. Do they?  Have those time “tested” strategies resulted in the deep and connected understanding that you would desire, or that the new NGSS driven instruction is striving for?  Based on my years of observing in classrooms, I would say that the results are often disappointing, resulting in the implementation of other, add on activities, to generate enough points for a passing grade.

I do not claim to be an expert on formative assessment but in recent months I have had several opportunities to visit this topic. In that process, I have learned a few key points: First, good formative assessment is not a mistake and it does not happen by chance. Formative assessment is part of an overall assessment plan that seeks to generate the kind of information a teacher needs to insure effective instruction. Second, there are excellent resources for formative assessment strategies. Third, when formative assessment is integrated into instruction at all levels, students learn its value and use those opportunities to improve both their content knowledge as well as their pedagogical skills. In short, students learn how to learn. It would be impossible to cover, in detail, one, much less all three, of these key points but there are many resources available to help teachers who genuinely seek to improve their formative assessment skills. The text that I found most useful in helping me clarify my ideas about formative assessment is Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers, Second Edition, 1993, Angelo, T. and Cross, K. P.  Though the title indicates that the text is written for college faculty, the ideas about establishing an assessment system prior to instruction and the 50 Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATS) provide an excellent overview of the value of formative assessment and creative ways to engage classes of 20-200 in these practices.

As we move forward, we need to engage our students both in their understanding of the content and sharing what they don’t understand. Armed with that knowledge, it is imperative that we adjust our instruction to engage our students’ thinking and their participation in their own learning.

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Written by Rick Pomeroy

Rick Pomeroy

Rick Pomeroy is science education lecturer/supervisor in the School of Education, University of California Davis and is a past-president of CSTA.

One Response

  1. Your points are well taken and research based. Thank you.

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CTC Seeking Educators for Science Standard Setting Conference

Posted: Wednesday, August 16th, 2017

The Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC) and Evaluation Systems group of Pearson are currently seeking California science educators to participate in a Science Standard Setting Conference for the California Subject Examinations for Teachers (CSET) program. Each standard setting panel is scheduled to meet for one-day, in Sacramento, California. The fields and dates are listed below:

Multiple Subjects Subtest II (Science), Monday, October 2, 2017
Science Subtest II: Physics, Monday, October 2, 2017
Science Subtest II: Chemistry, Tuesday, October 3, 2017
Science Subtest II: Life Sciences, Wednesday, October 4, 2017
Science Subtest II: Earth and Space Sciences, Thursday, October 5, 2017
Science Subtest I: General Science, Friday, October 6, 2017

The purpose of the conference is for panel members to make recommendations that will be used, in part, by the Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC) in setting the passing standard, for each field, in support of the updated California Subject Examinations for Teachers (CSET).

Click here to nominate educators. If you are interested in participating yourself, complete an application here for consideration.

Eligibility:

Public school educators who are:

• Certified in California
• Currently practicing (or have practiced within the last school year) in one or more of the fields listed above. 

College faculty who are:

• Teacher preparation personnel (including education faculty and arts and sciences faculty)
• Practicing (or have practiced within the last school year) in one or more of the fields listed above, and
• Preparing teacher candidates in an approved California teacher preparation program.

 Benefits of Participation Include:
• Receive substitute reimbursement for their school (public school educators only),
• Have the opportunity to make a difference in California teacher development and performance,
• Have the opportunity for professional growth and collaboration with educators in their field,
• Be reimbursed for their travel and meal expenses, and
• Be provided with hotel accommodations, if necessary.

For more information, visit their website at www.carecruit.nesinc.com/cset/index.asp

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.

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…

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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.