2013 GSI Symposium Breakout Session 2: Formative Assessment

A Report from the Trenches

We’re continuing with our reports from the JHU Gateway Sciences Initiative (GSI) 2nd Annual Symposium on Excellence in Teaching and Learning in the Sciences. Next up is “Assessing Student Learning during a Course: Tools and Strategies for Formative Assessment” presented by Toni Ungaretti, Ph.D., School of Education and Mike Reese, M.Ed., Center for Educational Resources.

Please note that links to examples and explanations in the text below were added by CER staff and were not included in the breakout session presentation.

The objectives for this breakout session were to differentiate summative and formative assessment, review and demonstrate approaches to formative assessment, and describe how faculty use assessment techniques to engage in scholarly teaching.

Summarizing Dr. Ungaretti’s key points:

Assessment is a culture of continuous improvement that parallels the University’s focus on scholarship and research. It ensures learners’ performance, program effectiveness, and unit efficiency. It is an essential feature in the teaching and learning process. Learners place high value on marks or grades: “Assessment defines what [learners] regard as important.” [Brown, G., Bull, J., & Pendlebury, M. 1997. Assessing Student Learning in Higher Education. Routledge.]  Assessment ensures that what is important is learned.

Summative Assessment is often referred to as assessment of learning. This is regarded as high stakes assessment – typically a test, exam, presentation, or paper at the midterm and end of a course.

Formative Assessment focuses on learning instead of assigning grades. “Creating a climate that maximizes student accomplishment in any discipline focuses on student learning instead of assigning grades. This requires students to be involved as partners in the assessment of learning and to use assessment results to change their own learning tactics.” [Fluckiger, J., Tixier y Virgil, Y., Pasco, R., and Danielson, K. (2010). Formative Feedback: Involving Students as Partners in Assessment to Enhance Learning. College Teaching, 58, 136-140.]

Effective formative assessment involves feedback. That feedback has the greatest benefit when it addresses multiple aspects of learning. It includes feedback on the product (the completed task), feedback on progress (the extent to which the learner is improving over time), and feedback on the process (If the learner is involved, feedback can be given more frequently.)

Diagram showing the Three Ps of Formative Assessment

 From this point on in the session, the participants engaged in active learning exercises that demonstrated various examples of formative assessment including utilizing graphic organizers (Venn Diagrams, Mind Maps, KWL Charts, and Kaizen/T-Charts – practices that focus upon continuous improvement), classroom discussion with higher order questioning (based on Bloom’s Taxonomy),  minute papers, and admit/exit slips.

Classroom discussions can tell the instructor much about student mastery of basic concepts. The teacher can initiate the discussion by presenting students with an open-ended question.

A minute paper is a quick in-class writing exercise where students answer a question focused on material recently presented, such as: What was the most important thing that you learned? What important question remains? This allows the instructor to gauge the understanding of concepts just taught.

Admit/exit slips are collected at the beginning or end of a class. Students provide short answers to questions such as: What questions do I have? What did I learn today? What did I find interesting?

There are many ways in which faculty can determine learner mastery. These may include the use of journaling or learning/response logs to gauge growth over time, constructive quizzes, using modifications of games such as Jeopardy, or structures such as a guided action or Jigsaw. There are also ways to quickly check student understanding such as using thumbs-up–thumbs-down, or i>Clickers.

Assessment may also be achieved by using “learner-involved” formative assessment.  Some ways to achieve this are through the use of three-color group quizzes, mid-term student conferencing, assignment blogs, think-pair-share, and practice presentations.

When incorporated into classroom practice, the formative assessment process provides information needed to adjust teaching and learning while they are still happening. Finally, faculty should look on formative assessment as an opportunity. No matter which methods are used it is important that they allow students to be creative, have fun, learn, and make a difference.

Faculty may also use assessment methods as research. This allows them the opportunity to advance hypotheses-based teaching, gather data on instructional changes and student outcomes, and to prepare scholarly submissions to advance the knowledge on teaching in their discipline. Teaching as research is the deliberate, systematic, and reflective use of research methods to develop and implement teaching practices that advance the learning experiences and outcomes of students and teachers.

Cheryl Wagner, Program/Administrative Manager
Center for Educational Resources

Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image Source: Macie Hall