Instead of Retakes, More Formative Assessment

Why where there three versions of the same exam?  Two options to retake the test? What happened last year? This situation coupled to reflection on my unit plan and consideration of my current students, led to the logical conclusion that a change needed to be made.

The first version of the quiz was easily converted into a series of thought provoking questions that were transferred into a power point. The students have completed their first task and seem somewhat confident in their knowledge. At least they are proud of their work.  So, out come the whiteboards and dry-erase markers. This is a first for these students and they are curious. The “rules” cause a few furtive glances and it’s clear some students are worried they’ll be put on the spot or their ignorance will be displayed for all to see. However, once the first couple of questions are behind us, the smiles and laughter begin. They realize my message was real: this is to determine what I still need to focus on to help them master the content they must know. They see it’s part of the learning process. The ensuing discussion on several of the questions clearly helps students take a step closer to understanding.

You can see their smiles.  Assessment can be fun!   You can also see how different their answers were which, in this case, indicated inconsistencies in understanding.

The questions are projected on the screen in front so student can read and process the information. They are given time to record their answer and then all student hold up the boards at the same time. During this session of formative assessment, the questions are multiple choice, however, they do allow for higher level thinking. More often than not, more than one answer is acceptable and when students explain their choice(s), I can detect their level of understanding. Selection of one 'correct' choice often indicates beginning understanding while selection of more than one can indicate deeper understanding.  At least, that's the way I attempt to design the questions. Formative assessment at this level, with well thought out questions can yield a wealth of information about student understanding and where the lesson/unit needs to go next.

At the end of the session it’s clear to me why last year additional versions of the quiz were offered. The work we’ve done thus far simply isn’t enough for understanding to be achieved. Additional re-enforcement activities (with planned formative assessment) are being built in with the design for greater learning to take place.

I’m so glad I reconsidered the direction of this unit. I can’t over emphasize the power of formative assessment. Seriously, we should be building it in multiple times to every lesson.