Monday, May 14, 2012

Formative assessment in action

University teachers tend not to be explicit about the formative assessment techniques they use. In fact, there are many who don't use the term at all when describing their practice.
Formative assessment is any learning activity that will assist the teacher to identify deficiencies in student learning to date, design future learning tasks to address these deficiencies, and provide students with feedback that will assist them to improve their performance in summative assessment activities. Formative assessment may be marked, but that mark will not count towards a final grade. It's one of the most useful strategies employed by effective teachers in any part of the sector. It helps teachers to monitor their own effectiveness, and to monitor the progress of their students.
So, if you've ever reached the end of a teaching session - a lecture, a tutorial, a seminar, a class, or some other form of lesson - and wondered whether your students have actually grasped the points you intended them to learn, you need to introduce some formative assessment. Here are a few techniques that will give you feedback on your teaching and on how well students have learnt the lesson you were teaching. You might discover that some quite unexpected things are happening in your class - both inspirational and horrifying. It's always best to know.
  1. The Minute Paper: Towards the end of the session, ask students to spend five minutes answering two questions:
    • What was the most important thing you learnt during this class?
    • What important question remains unanswered?
  2. The Muddiest Point: Towards the end of the session, or at the end of a section, ask students to spend five minutes answering the question "What was the muddiest point in ___ ?".
  3. RSQC2: Students write brief statements that recall, summarize, question, connect, and comment on key points from a session.
  4. Pro & Con Grid: Students list the pros/cons, costs/benefits, or advantages/disadvantages of an issue or question in a two-column format.
Collect the papers on occasion, and respond to them at the beginning of your next session with the students, in whatever way seems appropriate. At other times, simply invite students to make brief comments themselves at the beginning of the next class before moving on.

Variations on these techniques can be found in a range of different texts.

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