The Formative Years

Well, Dear Protege, I see that you’ve ventured into the wonderful world of formative assessment, and how it functions in reality rather than in the theoretical realm. First, to answer your questions:

Markbook is a wily beast, to be sure. Yes, there are all kinds of categories for assessment–diagnostic, formative, and so on–but it’s just a simple bookkeeping tool. You can accomplish the same thing by writing information in your personal markbookm, which is what I prefer. The only hard data that goes towards a student’s actual percentage mark is summative evaluation. Peer assessments, formative feedback, group work, homework, and so on, can’t be used to generate a summative grade. In terms of the number of summative assessments, you’ll remember that department policy is 12 – 15 assessments, not including the culminating activity. Personally, I think that’s just right. With 15 Overall Expectations in our curriculum, it seems only natural that we’d be evaluating each one at least once, with the understanding that many assignments may deal with more than one. Anything more than 20 means that you’re most likely hammering the kids with a lot of superfluous assignments, and hammering yourself with a lot of marking. Anything under 10 tells me that the summative assessments are worth too much, and a lot of kids are going to give up after one or two poor marks in single assignments worth a substantial percentage of the term mark.

As far as your scenario, that’s where professional judgement comes in. For example, your student has written three  formative paragraphs and has achieved a level three by the third one because you’ve provided feedback which has helped the student improve every time. Then, when it’s time to write it for a summative assessment, the student blows the paragraph–limited supporting detail, weak topic sentence, what have you. You know the kid can write a good paragraph–maybe this is a case of test anxiety, or maybe he had a fight with his parents before school–whatever the case may be. So what do you do? The answer is “most recent, most consistent”. Using your professional judgement, you can do the following:
Have the student try it again–view the blown summative as another formative attempt. OR
Count the formative paragraph that the student achieved level three on as the summative.

Does that make sense?
Now as for the notion that you can’t assign a mark for formative assessment, well, technically, that’s right. But you CAN say to a student, “This is the mark you would have received, and here’s what you need to do to improve.” But you can certainly assign marks to things like bell work, if you’ve done a formative assessment at least once, and given feedback. Just put it into your “Classwork” category in Markbook.

In terms of formative assessment being responsible for 90% of a student’s success, I’d like to make this point. If you DON’T have a strong rapport with your students, if they’re NOT engaged in the material, if you LACK a strong teaching style, then you can do all the formative assessment you like, and it won’t help, because you’ve alienated that kid and he or she won’t be interested in listening to any of your feedback. Students are driven by many things which are extrinsic–marks are just one of those things, but if you get them used to a routine where they get formative and instructive feedback before they do it for marks, then they will ultimately see the benefit in it. We just have to be explicit about why we’re using formative assessment.
And for some kid, stickers are just as good as marks. You gotta love the stickers:-)

Week Two

Well Dear Protege, we’ve made it to the end of the first full week of school. You amaze me–I’m exhausted at the end of the day on Friday, but you’re still able to make me laugh my a** off as you tell me about the crazy antics of the kids you teach, and make me proud by relating all your successes so far. You love your classes, it’s obvious. I love mine too; although I don’t know if it’s always that obvious, I have to say that in almost twenty years, there are very few classes that I haven’t loved, or at least felt a little affection for. But really, I just want to say thanks–our conversation at the end of today regarding the remote for the data projector made me laugh harder than I think I have all week 🙂

But back to you–I thought I would address some of your comments in your last post.

I was equally surprised and impressed at Ian’s activity–like an old, torn, and worn $10 bill, no matter how crumpled or stepped on our students are, they still have intrinsic value. What a wonderfully subtle reminder of the role we play in reinforcing that with our kids. I’ve tried to base my career around the absolute truth that I might be the ONLY person who gives a student a smile or a kind word over the course of any given day, and that sometimes school is a safer place than home and I’m a more caring adult than anyone else in that kid’s life. The thing that underpins everything I do in the classroom is this: “It’s easier to build a child than fix an adult”. Your 3C class really hit the nail on the head with their very mature observations about the qualities of a great teacher. I agree with them one hundred percent, especially the part about having boundaries, routines, and rules. Students thrive best when there are expectations that they have to meet.  Face it, the vast majority of kids are looking to please–they want positive feedback, and they want our approval. That puts the onus on us to give them the kind of environment where that can be facilitated, where students can be built up, not torn down. Not unlike the twin towers (what a random segue–sorry).

I vividly remember 9/11 and the day you described. I remember standing in horror and awe with my students as the events unfolded live on the TV screen before us. I remember asking my OAC class to journal about it, in the immediacy of the moment, so that they would be able to look back on how they felt as the towers fell. Did I ask your class to write about it too? I wonder what the momentous event will be in your career, the one that your students will remember 10 years later, the one you tell them to write about so they never forget. And when it does happen, I know that there will be bagels, and kindness, for them too.