Learning Environments and Formative Assessment

I’m getting to this week’s readings a little earlier this week, in part because it connects really well with my Teaching Writing class that I’m in for my teaching certificate for SLM (it’s for my English minor). We actually had an assignment on formative assessment this week! Almost all of my classes are combining in interesting ways. I might have mentioned it before, but it just keeps popping up.

Anyway. Formative assessment. In the chapter of How People Learn, I really liked the Venn diagram of a learning community, seen here. It shows that the ideal instructional environment is centered on learners, knowledge, and assessment. The balance between these three elements is crucial. It’s interesting, because a lot of what I have been reading for class talks about “learner-centered” or “learner-focused” approaches, but it’s important to incorporate knowledge and assessment. In HPL, they mention that knowledge-centered instruction allows for novices to begin thinking like experts, which is important. And an instructor has to use assessment during and after a lesson to make sure the students actually learn something. But the focus still needs to be on the student and what he or she wants or needs to know.

The chapter on formative assessment from ASCD was also great. It reflected what I read for my writing class in that formative assessment is of enormous benefit to the student. It’s about providing feedback that the student can use to learn better. When instructors use this sort of measurement for progress, they can take it into account and adjust lessons as necessary. This reminds me of when we talked about one-shot workshops and the ADDIE process. Being prepared to teach a wide variety of experience levels is good, especially if you do this sort of formative assessment. You can think ahead about what you can do to help fast or slow learners and then, once you ask your workshop attendees, you can adapt to the feedback you get.

Probably my favorite part of the chapter was the first sentence about the overall nature of formative assessment: “Formative assessment focuses on achieving goals rather than determining if a goal was or was not met, and one of the ways it does so is by helping to clarify learning goals and standards for both teachers and students” (online). Summative assessment is all about following the rubric and whether or not you included the necessary elements. Formative assessment lets you nurture the learner by rewarding effort towards the process of learning. And it makes sure that teachers and students are all on the same page for the objectives of a task and of learning in general. Formative assessment is a way to let students know that their instructors are on their side and that what they want is for them to be better writers, researchers, thinkers, learners, and people. The students who do not thrive with traditional assessment approaches can feel better about themselves when graded formatively.

Now, I’m not saying completely stop using summative assessments. I don’t think that’s what people are trying to say about formative assessment either. The final product of an assignment is important. Also, it seems like most of the time in life we are judged summatively. However, to build up the confidence of our learners, we need to give credit for effort and for time and thought spent doing something, whether or not the outcome is successful. Besides, with earlier and more frequent feedback, students will produce better work since they will know what the teacher is looking for and they will learn to properly gauge how they are doing. Formative assessment offers a transparency in expectations that can only improve our students’ chances at success.

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3 thoughts on “Learning Environments and Formative Assessment

  1. Isn’t it exciting when your classes are so in-sync theoretically and practically!?

    I can see your teacher-identity forming right before my computer-screen reading eyes. The way you delicately talk about the affordances of using summative and formative assessment in a classroom is very balanced, a necessary skill to have in the oscillating public opinion view of the education arena these days.

    I don’t think we will cover him in this class but I hope you have the opportunity to look at Vygotsky’s idea of the zone of proximal development. I particularly single out ZPD because of your discussion about knowledge-centered learning (which was very well stated): “they mention that knowledge-centered instruction allows for novices to begin thinking like experts, which is important.” As a jumping off point, here’s the link to Wikipedia’s discussion of ZPD: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zone_of_proximal_development. (Message from Michelle’s Lending Library: I have a few books about his work you can borrow if you are interest is piqued and you want to read more.)

  2. It’s really awesome how you talk about formative assessment as a way of showing students that teachers are on their team. Formative assessment is a way of making the educational experience more transparent. Teachers and other educators can use it to openly share the goals of learning and therefore help learners to feel more in control. It also emphasizes that teachers want learners to reach the goal and are there to support them, rather than just be their judge. I agree that you objectively balance your views on the usefulness of summative/formative assessment.

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