Formative Assessment is critical to teaching science using sense-making strategies. Formative assessment is a “process used by teachers and students during instruction that provides feedback to adjust ongoing teaching and learning to improve students’ achievement of intended instructional outcomes” (CCSSO, 2008, p. 3) As Furtak points out, “formative assessment is something that teachers and students can do together, every day, to monitor student learning and provide timely feedback (Shepard 2000; Trauth-Nare and Buck 2011).” (Furtak & Heredia, 2016)) This makes formative assessment and invaluable tool for teachers engaging students in making sense of science phenomena. The text box details some specific differences that come with three-dimensional formative assessments.
Using the process outlined by Furtak, et al, helps teachers make the best use of the formative assessment process.
It is important that the formative assessment used be both rigorous and responsive. Formative assessments help us answer three questions: Where are we going? Where are we now? How do we get there? Teaching science for understanding through sense-making is not a linear process, but formative assessments help us get there. (Gotwals, 2017). [Diagram from Furtak, 2017]
Where are we going is answered in the PE’s, unit goals, and learning performance statements. Using a tool like the one shown below (from Furtak, 2017) can also help teachers take students current ideas, thinking and experiences into account when considering the formative assessment goal and tool to use.
How do we elicit student understanding? There are three main methods to gather evidence of student understanding: Discourse, Written work, Student Self assessment. (Gotwals, 2017). Choosing a rich task, especially during the Pre Assessment portion of the instructional cycles can be a very productive method for understanding student thinking. Rich tasks are ones that will show what naive conceptions and explanations students are currently holding as well as give the teacher some potential leverage points about which to focus upcoming discourse and investigations. In this way, teachers can allow students to use student-generated evidence to build models, explanations and arguments toward more scientifically accepted explanations of phenomena.
The most challenging portion of formative assessment process is determining what can be learned from the results. Two main purposes for the formative assessment is to provide feedback to students and determine our next steps in instruction.
Another key challenge for teachers is determining what to be graded. Considering that the key purpose of formative assessment is to give feedback to teacher for planning and students for growth, they should be graded sparingly. Both students and teachers need to have trust in the process and be free and confident to share their thinking about their science ideas. (Gotwals, 2017. DeLeon & Allen, 2015)
Using evidence is the hardest piece of the puzzle. (Gotwals, 2017) According to Gotwals the main question teachers need to ask themselves with formative assessment data / evidence: What can you productively do with that idea? Some possibilities include, adding ideas to a Class Question Board or Competing Hypotheses Board; gather evidence as a class to support or refute the idea; use the idea to scaffold small group discourse or as questions in whole class discourse. Another great option for showing student growth and learning is to keep track of student models that change over time - can have a checklist for the model and pieces that you want to see in it. (Gotwals, 2017). Furtak recommends the following tools as helpful as teachers analyze student formative assessment data
Finally as can be seen from Research Brief: The Informal Formative Assessment Cycle as a Model for Teacher Practice formative assessment can help science teachers attend to equity in the following ways:
So, with all this background, how do we use formative assessment within Phenomenal Science? There are several areas within the units to look for possible formative assessment tasks. First, in the Learning Plan Overview charts, the right-most column is dedicated to highlighting some of the formative assessment opportunities within each instructional cycle. All of the items in that column would be ones that could provide feedback to teachers and students about student understanding. Secondly, throughout the units there are embedded opportunities for Student Discourse and for Written Work. Discourse happens both in small groups and pairs and in whole class settings. Written work comes especially in the form of notebook entries, models, initial explanations and CER’s. Some instructional activities combine the two especially well such as, Summary Tables, Class Question Boards, Consensus Models or Explanations, and Investigations.
For further ideas about formative assessments: