When I first started teaching, the concept of assessments was familiar to me. After all, all through me schooling years, I had exams. However, little did I know that assessments were further broken down to formative and summative. I was only familiar with the summative assessments. With a little research and discussion with my colleagues I slowly began to build my understanding of formative assessments.
Having been a doctor, I am familiar and understand the importance of evidence-based medicine. Popham (2008) introduced formative assessments in a manner that I could comprehend easily that is to say formative assessments are “evidence-based instructional decision making”. Borrowing the definition from Popham (2008), “formative assessment is a planned process in which assessment-elicited evidence of students’ status is used by teachers to adjust their ongoing instructional procedures or by students to adjust their current learning tactics”. They stress that formative assessments is a multistep process and not a particular assessment tool.
What I found most interesting is that whilst tests can be used as formative assessments the main distinguishing factor between a formative and a summative test is how the results of the test is used. So long as the test is used to provide teachers as well as students with the evidence they need to make changes to their learning process immediately, then the test is playing a role in the formative assessment process.
I decided to assess the salt hydrolysis portion of the unit as it required an understanding of the previous subtopics we had learnt in class. It is a concept that students have to be able to explain in the final examinations. In deciding the approach to the assessment, I took into consideration not only the content that the student has to grasp but also a more holistic approach. The approach to assessments in the past has always been very exam-orientated, mainly through summative assessments. Thus for the formative assessment, I wanted to shift away from the exam focus. From my medical training, I learnt about Miller’s pyramid of competence (See Appendix 1) that the highest level of competence is only achieved when they are able to perform a particular skill. Therefore, in the assessment, I took a more skill-based approach where the highest achievement is when a student proves they can perform. I also incorporated elements of research, teamwork, communication skills and the IB learner profiles.
When I came across the “Jigsaw” lesson as part of the IBDP Department weekly CPD, I took the opportunity to try a new teaching strategy as I thought it would work well to assess the students based on the criterion I had identified. Due to the multiple criterions I had identified, I decided to use a rubric to assess the students performance. This allows for a more objective and consistent grading system. Giving the rubrics to the students beforehand also ensures that they know what I am assessing and gives them a good idea how to perform well. I also asked them to grade themselves as well as their group for comparing with the grades I give them. This serves to encourage them to critically think about their performance.
As the students have been rather overwhelmed with work and pressures of performing well in summative assessments, I believe that this formative assessment was a breath of fresh air as well and a relief as the focus was not on written exams. This encouraged my learners to be more participative and responsive. For the first time also, content mastery was not the priority which motivated the weaker students as they saw that there were other areas they could score well in. Lastly, as they were given the rubrics beforehand, students knew how they were being assessed and played to their strengths. The overall feedback I received from them was “it is as though we are sitting for an exam with the mark scheme given to us”. No surprise that they all performed well and were motivated after the session.
I obtained two types of feedback from this assessment. The first, the students performance. Whilst they all managed to grasp the majority of the content, the higher ability students were more able to link content from other topics. This assures me that they will be able to pass their written exams at the end of the day. They all performed reasonably well in listening skills and teamwork which also tells me they are attentive listeners in class when I am teaching and they are also comfortable working with one another. However, research skills needed to be improved upon as many were depending on only one source or unreliable sources such as Wikipedia. As most of them are also not used to speaking in public thus they have to work on their confidence in delivery. The found the assessment feedback was very useful as I realised the students were comfortable with the subject content but were lacking in skill based areas, which needed further development. This feedback has given me the encouragement to move away fromt eh exam focuse as much as I can and instead focus on skills which will enable my students to become better more independent and effective lifelong learners.
Building on this, I came across Nicol and MacFarlane’s (2006) work who argue that whilst currently the trend and evidence for successful learning is for student-centred learning, where students are more responsible for their own learning, teachers are still reluctant to give them responsibility for the assessment processes. To encourage lifelong learning, Nicol and MacFarlane-Dick highlight that students must be given the opportunity to regulate their own learning. They have suggested seven principles of good feedback practice (see Appendix 2) which addresses a wide spectrum—the cognitive, behavioural and motivational aspects of self‐regulation.
In the near future, once I have boosted the learners skills further, I intend to give the students an opportunity to design their own assessment process to allow them to take on more responsibility for their own learning.
Boston, C (2002) ‘The concept of formative assessment’ Practical Assessment, Research & Evaluation. 8 (9). http://PAREonline.net/getvn.asp?v=8&n=9 . [accessed 1 December 2012]
Garrison, C., Ehringhaus, M. (2007) ‘Formative and summative assessments in the classroom’ Assessment. http://www.amle.org/Publications/WebExclusive/Assessment/tabid/1120/Default.aspx [accessed 2 December 2012]
Nicol, D.,MacFarlane-Dick, D (2006) ‘Formative assessment and self-regulated learning: a model and seven principles of good feedback practice’ Studies in Higher Education. 31 (2) pp. 199-218. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/03075070600572090 [ accessed 1 December 2012].
Popham, W. (2008) Transformative Assessment. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Silver, H., Strong, R., Matthew, P. (2008) The Strategic Teacher: selecting the right research-based strategy for every lesson. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Society of Teachers of Family Medicine ‘Why Assess Competency?’ Why Assess Competency?. http://www.stfm.org/RCtoolkit/Why.cfm [accessed 1 December 2012].