January/February 2018 – Vol. 31 No. 2

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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Accelerating into NGSS – A Statewide Rollout Series Now Accepting Registrations

Posted: Friday, January 19th, 2018

Are you feeling behind on the implementation of NGSS? Then Accelerating into NGSS – the Statewide Rollout event – is right for you!

WHO SHOULD ATTEND
If you have not experienced Phases 1-4 of the Statewide Rollout, or are feeling behind with the implementation of NGSS, the Accelerating Into NGSS Statewide Rollout will provide you with the greatest hits from Phases 1-4!

OVERVIEW
Accelerating Into NGSS Statewide Rollout is a two-day training geared toward grade K-12 academic coaches, administrators, curriculum leads, and teacher leaders. Check-in for the two-day rollout begins at 7:30 a.m., followed by a continental breakfast. Sessions run from 8:00 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. on Day One and from 8:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Day Two.

Cost of training is $250 per attendee. Fee includes all materials, continental breakfast, and lunch on both days. It is recommended that districts send teams of four to six, which include at least one administrator. Payment can be made by check or credit card. If paying by check, registration is NOT complete until payment has been received. All payments must be received prior to the Rollout location date you are attending. Paying by credit card secures your seat at time of registration. No purchase orders accepted. No participant cancellation refunds.

For questions or more information, please contact Amy Kennedy at akennedy@sjcoe.net or (209) 468-9027.

REGISTER

http://bit.ly/ACCELERATINGINTONGSS

DATES & LOCATIONS
MARCH 28-29, 2018
Host: San Mateo County Office of Education
Location: San Mateo County Office of Education, Redwood City

APRIL 10-11, 2018
Host: Orange County Office of Education
Location: Brandman University, Irvine

MAY 1-2, 2018
Host: Tulare County Office of Education
Location: Tulare County Office of Education, Visalia

MAY 3-4, 2018
Host: San Bernardino Superintendent of Schools
Location: West End Educational Service Center, Rancho Cucamonga

MAY 7-8, 2018
Host: Sacramento County Office of Education
Location: Sacramento County Office of Education Conference Center and David P. Meaney Education Center, Mather

JUNE 14-15, 2018
Host: Imperial County Office of Education
Location: Imperial Valley College, Imperial

Presented by the California Department of Education, California County Superintendents Educational Services Association/County Offices of Education, K-12 Alliance @WestEd, California Science Project, and the California Science Teachers Association.

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.

The Teaching and Learning Collaborative, Reflections from an Administrator

Posted: Friday, January 19th, 2018

by Kelly Patchen

My name is Mrs. Kelly Patchen, and I am proud to be an elementary assistant principal working in the Tracy Unified School District (TUSD) at Louis Bohn and McKinley Elementary Schools. Each of the schools I support are Title I K-5 schools with about 450 students, a diverse student population, a high percentage of English Language Learners, and students living in poverty. We’re also lucky to be part of the CA NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative with the K-12 Alliance. 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.

2018 CSTA Conference Call for Proposals

Posted: Wednesday, January 17th, 2018

CSTA is pleased to announce that we are now accepting proposals for 90-minute workshops and three- and six-hour short courses for the 2018 California Science Education Conference. Workshops and short courses make up the bulk of the content and professional learning opportunities available at the conference. In recognition of their contribution, members who present a workshop or short course receive 50% off of their registration fees. Click for more information regarding proposals, or submit one today by following the links below.

Short Course Proposal

Workshop Proposal 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.

CSTA’s New Administrator Facebook Group Page

Posted: Monday, January 15th, 2018

by Holly Steele

The California Science Teachers Association’s mission is to promote high-quality science education, and one of the best practice’s we use to fulfill that mission is through the use of our Facebook group pages. CSTA hosts several closed and moderated Facebook group pages for specific grade levels, (Elementary, Middle, and High School), pages for district coaches and science education faculty, and the official CSTA Facebook page. These pages serve as an online resource for teachers and coaches to exchange teaching methods, materials, staying update on science events in California and asking questions. CSTA is happy to announce the creation of a 6th group page called, California Administrators Supporting Science. 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.

Find Your Reason to Engage

Posted: Monday, January 15th, 2018

by Jill Grace

I was recently reflecting on events in the news and remembered that several years ago, National Public Radio had a story about a man named Stéphane Hessel, a World War II French resistance fighter, Nazi concentration camp survivor, and contributor to the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The story focused on a book he had published, Time for Outrage (2010).

In it, Hessel makes the argument that the worst attitude is indifference:

“Who is in charge; who are the decision makers? It’s not always easy to discern. We’re not dealing with a small elite anymore, whose actions we can clearly identify. We are dealing with a vast, interdependent world that is interconnected in unprecedented ways. But there are unbearable things all around us. You have to look for them; search carefully. Open your eyes and you will see. This is what I tell young people: If you spend a little time searching, you will find your reasons to engage. The worst attitude is indifference. ‘There’s nothing I can do; I get by’ – adopting this mindset will deprive you of one of the fundamental qualities of being human: outrage.  Our capacity for protest is indispensable, as is our freedom to engage.”

His words make me take pause when I think of the status of science in the United States. A general “mistrust” of science is increasingly pervasive, as outlined in a New Yorker article from the summer of 2016. Learn More…

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Written by Jill Grace

Jill Grace

Jill Grace is a Regional Director for the K-12 Alliance and is President of CSTA.