Super Teacher's Job is Never Done!

Super Teacher's Job is Never Done!
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Teaching is the profession that teaches all the other professions. ~ Author Unknown

My goal is to reveal one teacher's humble journey of self-reflection, critical analysis, and endless questioning about my craft of teaching and learning alongside my middle school students.

"The dream begins with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called 'truth'." ~ Dan Rather

Sunday, July 10, 2011

What do our students already know?

Formative Assessment
Knowing What Your Students Know
Pamela M. Jett
Classroom teachers want to know with certainty that students have acquired the lesson's objectives and are able to demonstrate newly gained knowledge. Teachers also want to be able to observe and measure how well each student understands new concepts and where they may need to reteach.
By using formative assessment strategies on a daily basis, classroom teachers can plan, assess, instruct, and remediate students more precisely. In turn, students can proceed with greater confidence in their own learning.

Keep the Focus on Student Learning
A tenet of formative assessment is to inform students about what they will learn and how that learning will be assessed (Leahy, Lyon, Thompson & Wiliam, 2005). Sometimes during the planning process, the relationship between lesson objectives and assessment strategies gets muddled by a focus on designing learning activities.
Though creating engaging learning activities is important, the primary target needs to be an assessment designed for desirable student outcomes. By developing formative assessment strategies to capitalize onhow a teacher assesses students at work, teachers set the course toward knowing what students have actually achieved.
As a teacher evaluator, I stress the importance of using frequent formative assessments with the goal of knowing what students know before they walk out of the classroom. Using the framework based on Understanding by Design® (Wiggins & McTighe, 1998), teachers are asked to clearly state what good student work looks like by creating an assessment using lesson objectives to measure depth of learning.

Define Objectives and Establish Quality Criteria
Solid lesson plan objectives with clear intentions will make formative assessment a productive activity for both the teacher and students. To illustrate, here are some science lesson objectives:
  • The student will be able to list properties of acids and bases.
  • The student will be able to determine the pH of unknown substances by providing supporting evidence.
These objectives have two important criteria: they are observable and measurable. When creating assessments, the lesson objective verbs are the indicators of what students need to do. In this example, students will list and provide supporting evidence, which a teacher can easily observe. Therefore, assessment for learning is now achievable.
To establish quality criteria, you must determine
  • How long is this list?
  • Is a bulleted list satisfactory?
  • What kind of supporting evidence should I provide?
  • Is a sentence adequate?
  • Should the students construct a table with this information?
Once you have defined criteria for quality, inform the students; don't keep it a secret! The next step is to prioritize the lesson objectives from simplest to most complex to help determine where uncertainty may occur, because these will become the points for remediation.

You Can Assess with a Simple, Effective Tool
A simple spreadsheet on a clipboard can become an informative formative assessment tool that teachers can use while walking around the classroom observing, questioning, guiding, and responding to students' questions (see Figure 1). Listing the students' names in rows, the lesson objectives from simple to complex along the column headings, and marking as you converse with students can provide quick, reliable data.

Figure 1. A Sample Spreadsheet of Lesson Objectives to Assess for Learning
Proper use of pH paper to classify acids and bases
A bulleted list of 4 characteristics for acids
A bulleted list of 4 characteristics for bases
A complete sentence of valid supporting evidence
KEY:  3 = Got it!;  2 = OK, some uncertainty;  1 = Remediation needed

At the conclusion of the work time, the teacher knows which students have successfully achieved the lesson objectives and thus can determine objectives for subsequent lessons.
Formative assessment can inform your teaching and inform students about their learning. Having a simple, effective formative assessment strategy can provide data that you can use to make confident decisions about student learning before students walk out the classroom door.

Leahy, S., Lyon, C., Thompson, M., & Wiliam, D. (2005). Classroom assessment: Minute by minute, day by dayEducational Leadership, 63(2), 19–24.
Wiggins, G., & McTighe, J. (1998). Understanding by design. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

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