Joe Bower just did a great post questioning the educational system’s current emphasis on summative assessment techniques. He raises some great points about their proper use and implementation that I would encourage you to read. This post focuses more on the basics of formative assessments and presents ideas and resources that teachers can implement in their classrooms right away.
A classroom full of students can be likened to a black hole. The teacher spends hours upon hours pouring seemingly infinite amounts of concepts and information into their students but it is immediately sucked into the void never to come back out. This is precisely the kind of metaphor that classroom assessment techniques (CATs) seek to avoid.
Classroom assessment techniques establish a continuous feedback loop between the students and the teacher providing a gauge for the progress and depth of learning in the class. This type of feedback is important for adjusting your curriculum and lesson plans for each class’s individual needs.
There are two types of CATs, formative and summative. Because the Florida Center for Instructional Technology summed up these two concepts so nicely, I won’t try to rephrase it:
Formative assessments are on-going assessments, reviews, and observations in a classroom. Teachers use formative assessment to improve instructional methods and student feedback throughout the teaching and learning process.â€¦ The results of formative assessments are used to modify and validate instruction.
Summative assessments are typically used to evaluate the effectiveness of instructional programs and services at the end of an academic year or at a pre-determined time. The goal of summative assessments is to make a judgment of student competency after an instructional phase is complete.â€¦ Summative evaluations are used to determine if students have mastered specific competencies and to identify instructional areas that need additional attention.
All of the resources and best practices in this post focus on formative assessments because I am writing this blog post for teachers.
Now that I have covered the basics of what classroom assessment techniques are and why you should implement them as soon as possible, I’ll give you some best practices to keep in mind as you move forward.
- Decide what you want to learn from the assessments : Just like a scientific experiment, you need to have a purpose behind each assessment. For instance, you can ask your class, “What is the most important thing you learned today?” Give them one minute to write their response on a piece of paper. Before you administer the assessment, decide if you are looking for the depth of learning in the class, a specific topic that you meant to emphasize, etc. If you don’t decide beforehand, you will receive a variety of answers and will have a hard time drawing actionable conclusions.
- Set goals : Have long-term goals for your class and administer assessments regularly to track progress. For instance, to encourage your class’s excitement about chemistry, you could create an attitude survey that you administer at regular intervals throughout the quarter or semester and use the feedback to adjust the curriculum.
- Explain the purpose of the activity to students : Always explain to your students why you are administering a CAT and what you are trying to learn from it. This will help the students learn from the experience and provide a context for their answers.
- Keep assessments anonymous : If you really want honest feedback from your students, keep assessments anonymous.
- Do not grade assessments : CATs are meant to help instructors teach more effectively not to test the class.
- Present your results to the class : A well designed CAT will help students learn as well as the teacher. For instance, if you have determined that your class needs to focus more on the concepts surrounding a subject and less on rote memorization, you should tell your students so they can consciously work on that area with you.
- Focus on areas where students are falling behind : Balance is an important aspect of learning. If a class is underperforming in one area of learning, it will affect other areas. Your assessments should create a holistic view of the class’s progress and pinpoint the most critical areas.
Resources for Further Research
I would highly recommend that every teacher take advantage of the following resources. They cover the theory behind CATs, the effective implementation of them, and a list of specific ideas that you can easily introduce in your classroom. Some of them are so simple; you could administer them tomorrow with no planning.
Lists of Specific Classroom Assessment Techniques
CAT Concepts and Advice
- http://www.guidetoonlineschools.com/library/classroom-assessment-techniques (in the spirit of full disclosure, this is a website I work on)
Share Your Stories
I hope this post has been a helpful starting place for implementing CATs in your classroom. The biggest benefit will come from all of you sharing assessments you have administered and how they worked so please post tons of comments about your experiences with classroom assessment techniques.