Thursday, December 21, 2017

Two new ways to see learning | Better tests, better learning

| Post by Cory Curl |

Note: We're taking time to explore what families and communities might want to know about what's new and what's around the corner for student tests in Kentucky, organized around five major purposes. With this post, we're focusing on the second purpose: providing information to help teachers understand and guide student learning.

  • Learning
  • Informing
  • Clarifying
  • Benchmarking
  • Measuring

  • As a parent, I'm always curious about how learning happens in my child's classroom, and appreciate parent and community leaders who express curiosity about how learning happens in all classrooms.

    One area that I've enjoyed learning more about in the last few years is formative assessment. There are many different definitions out there. To me, formative assessment is a process teachers use to see what students know and can do, and then, based on what they see, make decisions about their next teaching steps.

    Image of Mars Curiosity rover downloaded from NASA

    Formative assessment informs the learning process. Our last post was about ways to get information out of students' brains to strengthen students' learning. This is about ways to get information out of students' brains to strengthen teacher understanding about what a student (or group of students) knows or does not yet know, or even misconceptions that need to be addressed. Teachers can then better make decisions about whether an individual student (or group) grasped the lesson and is ready to move on, or needs extra practice, help clearing up a misconception, or more intense support to master the concept.

    As in our last post, this is about testing with little or no "stakes" such as grades or scores for students.

    Conversations with Kentucky teachers have introduced me to two new ways formative assessment is being used in mathematics classrooms:

    1. Exit tickets
    An exit ticket is a question or short series of questions that students answer after a lesson or at the end of the day to give teachers an immediate grasp on what students have learned and where they might be struggling. Teachers then use the information they glean from exit tickets to decide what support individual students, groups, or the class as a whole needs on a particular concept.

    2. Formative Assessment Lessons
    The Kentucky Department of Education has designed Formative Assessment Lessons (FAL's) in mathematics for elementary grades. Students complete a pre-assessment prior to the lesson, the teacher shares the lesson, and then students work in small groups to complete a task. Teachers then analyze student responses to the task. Based on their responses, they provide immediate feedback to students in the form of questions or thinking prompts. They can also group student responses into categories to determine what group of students have mastered certain concepts, have misconceptions, or need more intense support. They can also look at the responses as a whole to decide how to go through the rest of the learning unit. This story from Kentucky Teacher shares how teachers use FAL's at Kirksville Elementary in Madison County.

    Here are a few more resources about formative assessment:
  • National Council of Teachers of Mathematics Five Key Strategies for Effective Formative Assessment from Dylan Wiliam
  • What is the Exit Ticket? from Eureka Math
  • Teacher guidance on using exit tickets on teacher/coach/author Doug Lemov's Field Notes blog

  • Next time, we will discuss how tests can be used to clarify learning expectations for teachers, parents, and students.

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