Formative Assessment 301 – Part 3: Suporting Teachers with Formative Assessment During or After Instruction

In this module, school leaders will consider how to examine lesson learning intentions and how effective discussions, tasks, and activities can be engineered to elicit evidence of student learning. The goal is to help school leaders support the implementation and change process around these practices in their schools and districts.

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Developed by Carla Evans & Jeri Thompson
National Center for the Improvement of Educational Assessment


Welcome to Module 3: Formative Assessment: Supporting teachers as they create or select formative assessments during or after instruction. This module is part of Micro-Course 3: Supporting teachers to accelerate learning using formative assessment processes in the classroom, created by the California Collaborative for Educational Excellence and the Center for Assessment. There is an Introduction Module to Micro-Course 3 that explains the purpose, organization, and intended use of each micro-course and should be watched first, if you have not already done so.

In preparation for digging deeper into designing or selecting formative assessments, begin by reflecting on the following question: Which of these represents examples from a formative assessment process and why?
A) Teachers analyze student math tests to evaluate the quality of their math curriculum.
B) A school tests students every 12 weeks to predict which students are “on track” to score proficient on the end-of-year state test.
C) Exit ticket question after a lesson: “What is the difference between mass and weight?”
D)Teacher instructs students to use white boards to “Sketch the graph of y=2x + 5. Then turn and talk to explain your thinking to your elbow partner.”

Please pause the video and respond to this question either alone or with colleagues. After your reflection or discussion, resume playing the video. You’ll want to write down your thoughts as we’ll return to these examples toward the end of our module.

Let’s do a quick review of formative assessments. As we discussed in previous modules, assessments are not formative or summative by design, they are formative or summative based on use. The formative assessment process is defined as “a planned, ongoing process used by all students and teachers during learning and teaching to elicit and use evidence of student learning to improve student understanding of intended disciplinary learning outcomes and support students to become self-directed learners.”

In other words, formative assessment is assessment for learning. In the formative assessment process, teachers collect data while learning is taking place.

You may recall this formative assessment framework from the previous modules with the three key processes–Where the learner is going; Where the learner is now; and How to get there–and the three groups of individuals involved in the process. This module explores how school leaders can support teachers as they create or select formative assessments that elicit evidence of student learning during and after instruction.

In Module 1 we provided a Formative Assessment Process Discussion Tool for School Leaders. That tool included two prompts related to the topic of this module that school leaders could use to collect evidence of curriculum-aligned formative assessments occurring in classrooms.

In this module, school leaders will consider how to examine lesson learning intentions and how effective discussions, tasks, and activities can be engineered to elicit evidence of student learning. The goal is to help school leaders support the implementation and change process around these practices in their schools and districts.

It’s important to recognize that there is no single way to design or select formative assessments that elicit evidence of student learning. Formative assessments can be informal. Examples include teacher observation, all-student response systems (such as class polls), thinking thumbs, fist-to-five where students indicate their perceived understanding, or using mini whiteboards to elicit a quick response to a question.

Formative assessments can also be more formal in which students engage in collaborative discussions based on a planned question, or solve a problem, either with a peer or independently. Some techniques are listed on this slide.

The key point about the type of formative assessment selected or designed is that it enables the teacher to access information about how the students are thinking and learning. Generally, formative assessments should be planned in advance of instruction; although there are times when formative assessment arises spontaneously during the lesson. The planned formative assessment should occur before, during, and after instruction in order to make decisions that move all students’ learning forward.

According to a study of the types of questions asked by elementary school teachers, Wragg and colleagues analyzed one thousand teacher questions and found that over half of the questions asked are managerial, such as Have you got your books?, another third of the questions required only recall, such as How many legs does an insect have?, and only eight percent of the questions asked required students to analyze, make inferences, or to generalize.

When designing formative assessment questions or activities, a focus on more complex conceptual expectations provides a window into students’ thinking process allowing for stronger actionable information.

Strategic questioning are ones that promote formative discourse. These questions share three common characteristics:
1) They are planned for
2) They promote productive struggle
3) And, they require appropriate “wait time” and collegial conversations to increase student accountability when responding to complex questions.

Strategic questions are open-ended and focus student attention on content and concepts critical to learning targets. In other words, open-ended questions require students to think beyond factual recall or literal paraphrasing of content and guide students along the learning pathway.

Developing open questions depends on the information that the teacher is seeking. For example, questions can elicit a check for understanding, determine misconceptions, or spark discussions. Sample question stems are included on the slide. Additional question stems that allow for student strategic thinking can be found in a variety of resources identified on this slide.

School leaders play a key role in promoting best practices and supporting teachers’ role in the formative assessment process. As a school leader you conduct informal walk-throughs and formal observations. Consider your classroom visits–what are the types of formative strategies that you want teachers to engage in to support student understanding of what they are learning? Please pause the video and brainstorm either alone or with colleagues. Then resume playing the video.

Now that you have an idea of what you would expect to see, plan to try out your thinking. The next time you are in teachers’ classrooms take note of how teachers share lesson learning targets. Are they simply written on the front board or are they discussed and connected to the standards and the work that students are doing? Do students know what success on their learning activities looks like or are the students continuously asking questions about what is expected? Look for teachers who share success criteria and connect these criteria to the learning targets. How can these teachers share these expectations with other teachers? How can you provide resources to support the professional growth of teachers? What barriers need to be removed to build professional practice?

It is important to recognize that teachers are continuously developing and refining their understanding of sharing criteria for success; therefore the type of formative feedback to give teachers depends on where they are in their journey from novice to expert teachers. The Formative Assessment Rubrics, Reflection and Observation Tools can assist you in seeing teacher practice along a continuum from criteria for success are not used, are used in a minimalist manner, or do not hold students to sufficiently high expectations. At the higher levels, criteria for success are integrated into the lesson, are accessible to students, and support student learning. These descriptors will help teachers to reflect on and develop lessons and provide students with what learning would look like or what students could do to demonstrate their learning.

Similarly, when you think about the types of questions, and the before, during, and after learning formative assessments that you would like to see in the classroom to support student learning and allow teachers to make instructional decisions aligned with the standards and learning targets, what would you expect to see? Please pause the video and brainstorm either alone or with colleagues. Then resume playing the video.

Using this information, plan your classroom observations or walk-throughs so that you take note of whether the formative assessments make students’ thinking visible, and if so, in what way? Consider whether the formative assessments provide the teacher with information about what students have learned or whether they provide the teacher with actionable information, and how you know.

This continuum of teacher practice related to Tasks and Activities that Elicit Evidence of Student Learning can be used during walk-throughs to gather evidence and during discussions with teachers to support professional reflection and practice.

Curricular resources are a great place for teachers to start when planning for where, when, and how they can elicit evidence of student learning during and after instruction to adjust/monitor instruction while teaching and when planning the next lesson or sequence of lessons.

When utilizing any activity, question, or discussion probe as part of the formative instruction and assessment process, it is critical for the teacher to ensure understanding of the unit goals. Slides 13-16 show a grade 3 math example and slides 17-20 a middle school science example.

The third grade math unit focus on place value and problem solving with units of measure. The standards addressed include Numbers & Operations in Base Ten Standards 1 and 2 and Measurement and Data Standards 1 and 2.

Module 2, Topic A of this grade 3 math unit focuses on only two of these standards — Numbers & Operation in Base Ten 2 and Measurement and Data 1. Let’s consider how a teacher might use the curricular resources to elicit evidence of student learning during and after instruction for Lesson 4: Solve word problems involving time intervals within 1 hour by counting backward and forward using the number line and clock.

Based on these standards and objectives, the curriculum provides questions that can be used (or modified) to elicit evidence of student learning. For example, during instruction the students can be asked either alone or with peers to complete the following activities and then share their thinking. Walking around the teacher can view student progress and listen to students debrief their thinking, which provides an opportunity for the teacher to determine misconceptions or misunderstandings and to adjust instruction accordingly.

After instruction the teacher could give an exit ticket that will direct instruction and flexible groupings the next day.

Please pause the video and consider: In what ways do these Gr 3 math questions make student thinking visible? Do these questions provide the teacher with information about what students have learned so she can determine how to move students toward the lesson objectives? What would you recommend a teacher change or keep the same? After your reflection or discussion, resume playing the video.

In this grade 6 science example, the unit on light and matter focuses on two Performance Expectations: PS4-2 and LS1-8.

Specific learning targets for students identified for the lesson include the two listed on this slide. They are color coded according to the science standard dimension emphasized. Blue represents a science and engineering practice, green a cross cutting concept (in this case systems), and orange is the disciplinary core idea.

At the end of this lesson, students are asked to diagram interactions between the important parts of a mirror-window phenomenon. Once students get all the important parts into the diagram and labeled, they are asked to add pictures, symbols, and words to show how the parts work and interact to answer the two questions, as their initial attempt to explain the phenomenon.

This diagram can be used to monitor students’ initial ideas about how we see objects; specifically, the extent to which their models reflect a “line of sight” or a “path of light.”

This curriculum even provides specific ‘look for’ recommendations for teachers. For example, teachers can look for specific indicators of misunderstandings or misconceptions by examining student diagrams for key components such as:
– Arrows pointing away from the eyes, or
– Arrows pointing away from the source of the light and bouncing away from objects, and arrows pointing into the eyes, or
– A combination of the above

Please pause the video and consider how these “look-fors” will provide a window into students’ thinking, and to what extent they will:
– Provide the teacher with information about what students have learned as a result of instruction?
– Provide the teacher with actionable information? How do you know?

Once teachers have gathered evidence of student thinking demonstrating their understanding of the concepts that were taught, they’ll want to analyze the student work to make decisions about:
– Quality of student thinking, learning, and teaching
– Student misconceptions and opportunity to learn, and
– Different levels of student performance.

One way to analyze student work for formative purposes is to use the process described in the hyperlinked Student Work Analysis Protocol for Instructional Purposes. Using this process, the teacher gathers student work and does a quick sort either alone or ideally with colleagues in which papers are placed in the high, average, or low level piles. The levels are a ranking of student performance toward proficiency in relation to grade level proficiency expectations–not ranking students in relation to one another. In other words, when reviewing student work, papers in the high level are those that are closest to proficiency. Once the papers are sorted, teachers should discuss if working with colleagues or independently reflect if working alone why the papers were placed in each pile and come to consensus if there are any discrepancies. This will help to ensure that there is agreement on what constitutes proficiency. Teachers should then diagnose student strengths and needs at each level and finally, identify next instructional steps for the whole class and for students at each level. This is a great activity to do during common planning time or other types of grade-level or professional learning community meetings.

Let’s look at an example of student work that 8th grade science teachers have sorted and analyzed. The teachers reflected on the students’ progress compared to where they began the unit and recognized that two students found the topic challenging and that remediation was necessary.

When examining student strengths, the teachers identified specific concepts related to the learning target and expectations for completing a lab. It is important to approach the student work analysis looking for what students are able to do and not just what they cannot do. This mindset will ensure that the differentiated instruction meets students in their progression of learning. In other words, it is the “sweet spot” where the instruction is not too difficult and not too easy.

Please pause the video and take a moment to read the student strengths from each of the three levels. Once you are ready, resume playing.

Next, the teachers identified the specific needs of each group.

Please pause the video and take a moment to read the students’ needs from each of the three levels. Once you are ready, resume playing.

Based on the strengths and needs, these teachers would identify the patterns that were noted in the whole class, strategies that would be beneficial for all students, and strategies that would specifically meet the needs of students in each group. For example, many of the students either struggled with reading charts and graphs in order to analyze data and all students could use additional support with using the data to draw accurate conclusions. However, based on the diagnosis of student responses at the high, average, and low levels, there are specific strategies that will be beneficial for students at each level that will move their learning forward.

Let’s return to the warm-up question. Has your thinking about these examples changed based on your new learning? Examples A & B are not formative because the information is not used to monitor/adjust instruction or provide feedback to students. Whereas examples C & D are part of the formative assessment process because they are conducted during or right after a lesson allowing students to self- and peer-assess as well as allowing the teacher to gauge student understanding in order to make instructional or grouping decisions.

Modules 1, 2, and 4 in Micro-Course 3 go deeper into supporting teachers in the specific aspects of Dylan Wiliam’s framework. This slide provides an advanced organizer so that you know which module you can go to in order to find out more about certain topics including: supporting high-quality formative assessment processes in the classroom, supporting teachers’ understanding and use of formative assessment processes, and supporting teachers in engaging students and their peers in the formative assessment process.

We believe that it is essential to take a few minutes to reflect upon what you just heard, organize it in your own mind, and to apply it to your classroom assessment practice. Pause to reflect and respond to the following:
1) Describe how teachers can engineer effective discussions, tasks, and activities to elicit evidence of student learning before, during, and after instruction.
2) Explain how creating strategic questions as part of the formative assessment process allows the teacher to make instructional decisions and plan for differentiation.
3) Review the planned formative assessment questions or assignments for a teacher’s unit – do they make all students’ thinking visible and provide actionable information? Explain how the teacher can revise the questions/activities, if they do not.
4) Engage in the Student Work Analysis Protocol with teachers during a PLC or team or department meeting. How are teachers diagnosing students’ strengths and needs, and discussing instructional next steps? What did you learn about the formative assessments used in the classrooms?
5) What is one key takeaway and one lingering question you have after listening to this module?

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