Stop, Collaborate, and Listen: inspiring non-graded formative assessment

On Monday, December 5, Jeff McCalla (St. Mary’s Episcopal School, Memphis, TN) and I co-facilitated a 2-hour session at Learning Forward.  The conference description said:

Learn to model practical classroom formative assessments. Hear stories and gain artifacts from National T3 instructors as they share their struggles and successes as well as the struggles and successes of their students in middle school and high school math. Develop processes and tools for creating formative assessments that integrate technology to motivate student collaboration.

While we planned our lesson, we also committed to modeling the techniques that we were promoting.  Our handout shows a linear path that we intended to take.

We started with a basic review of the traditional 4-point rubric.

Level 1 – Beginning
Level 2 – Progressing
Level 3 – Proficient
Level 4 – Exceptional

What do these descriptors “tell” a learner about their understanding?  Do these descriptors help a learner know where they are and how to get to the target level? So we reframed these ideas in different terms.

Level 1:  I’m getting my feet wet.
Level 2:  I’m comfortable with support.
Level 3:  I’m confident with the process.
Level 4:  I’m ready for the deep end.

Using the TI-Nspire Navigator system, we polled our participants to assess their disposition on formative assessment which caused us to change our plan on the fly.

We dropped all planned discussion of the theory of formative assessment and began to model and discuss how to create opportunities for collaboration.

We moved quickly to discuss how to develop formative assessments that offer opportunities to lead learners by following their progress and to help learners level up.

We feel that formative assessment should give all involved a different level of awareness.  How many times have we said “how can they not know this” when we are grading papers?  How many times have we heard our students proclaim “I thought I knew this, but what I studied was not on the test?”

“It is easy to miss something you’re not looking for.”

It is easy for a learner to feel and believe that they understand what is being learned.  But, do we offer them opportunities to calibrate their understanding with ours?  Leveled, non-graded formative assessment that offers learners the ability to calibrate their understanding with the teacher’s expectation and, at the same time, shows the path to the next level will improve learning and teaching.

Working from an identified area of strength and success offers learners the opportunity to stretch and grow.  Have students stop, collaborate, and listen to assess and report progress, to diagnose strengths and needs, and to communicate and collaborate with each other.

Stop, collaborate, and listen to your team.  Design leveled assessments to lead learners to the target level.  Intervene and enrich in one swoop with opportunities for all learners to self-assess, learn and grow.

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