Working with formative assessment in mathematics

As you already know, the world keeps on evolving at a steady pace. This is also true when it comes to the educational sector. Now and then, people come up with new ideas which are then tried out in practice. Some of them are quickly discarded while some have a big impact on the field as a whole. One of the main concepts being discussed right now is formative assesment. You have probably heard the words many times before, but what do they actually mean? And more importantly, how do you implement the concept into your own teaching? That is what this article will be about.

The difference between formative and summative assessment

To begin with, it might be a good idea to determine the difference between formative and summative assessment since these are often confused. In reality, they mean completely different things. While a summative assessment is done towards the end of a specific period of time (eg. at the end of the term), formative assessment is done while the student is still learning. The insights from the latter are supposed to be implemented in the teaching going forward. As assessment expert Paul Black put it, “When the cook tastes the soup, that’s formative assessment. When the customer tastes the soup, that’s summative assessment.” When the cook tastes the food he can still change it but when the customer tastes it it’s the end result.

Research that proves that formative assessment is good

Formative assessment might seem like an educational “one hit wonder” but fact is that there is a lot of research to back the method up. Dylan William is Emeritus Professor of Educational Assessment at University College London and he has written a book on the subjcet called Embedded Formative Assesment in which he explains its relevance.

According to the study done by Speckesser et al. in 2018 called Embedding Formative Assessment: Evaluation report and executive summary, students who got access to the EFA-material made 25% more progress during the last two years of their schooling to a cost of ca 15 dollars per student per year.

Formative assessment methods

1. Entry and exit tickets

These are used at the beginning or/and at the end of a class to check what students know. One way to use this method is to ask a quick question about what your students remeber from the previous lesson or what they think is the most important thing they learnt today (if you choose to do it at the end of the lesson).

Another way is to let your students, instead of using their words, actually solve one or a couple of problems. This will give you a very good overview of your students’ knowledge on the topic. Even though this can be done on paper with the help of, for example, sticky notes you will have to spend more time on adminstration and correction than if you use a tool like Magma Math. If you use that platform instead, all you have to do is choose the problems you want and then the rest is done automatically.

2. Low-stake quizzes

Low stake quizzes are great for working with formative assessment. Unlike entry and exit tickets, these are mainly done during the lesson and can therefore be longer than the former. Assign the quizzes low point values so your students really try to solve the problems but without putting too much pressure on them. An individual low score shouldn’t kill a student’s grade. Remeber, the quizzes are for checking up on your students and not for grading them.

To do this practically you can use a platform like Magma Math or hand out the quizzes on paper. One thing that is important to remember, however, is that you need to be able to analyze the results easily. It’s not just about correcting, the purpose is to understand the struggles of your students better.

3. Dipsticks

Another way to work with formative assessment is to use dipsticks. These are supposed to be as quick and easy as checking the oil in your car and that’s why they’ve gotten their name. The most popular method here is probably to let your students do a think, pair, share exercise with a partner.

Valuable data can also come from your own observations of your students working in class. However, these observations can be hard to keep track of if you take notes on your device. If you desire more control than that, a focused observation form can really help you out by narrowing your scope when observing.

4. Work with misconceptions and errors

When working with formative assessment is not only of great importance to know which areas students are struggling with but also why they are struggling with those areas. You can for example do a so called misconception check by presenting your students with a common misconception and ask them to correct the mistake. Another way to go is to show them a solution to a problem and ask if it contains and misunderstandings at all. This is also a great way to create classroom discussion.

5. Project solutions on the board and discuss in class

Creating a conversation about mathematics and gaining insights through it can also be done by using a tool which lets you anonymize student solutions and project them on the board for the whole class to see. This method is similar to the previously mentioned ones, but unlike talking about errors you can widen the discussion to also include positive aspects of certain solutions. Guiding questions could be: What did this student do good/bad? Has this student misunderstood anything about the assignment? What’s similar between this solution and this solution?

6. Activate students as owners of their own learning

Think back on the times when you have felt that you have learned the most. How many of those times did you feel responsibilty for how things were going to turn out? This method builds on letting your students feel exactly that. Let students improve on their written solutions after getting input from their classmates. This method is good because it improves the student’s knowledge not only by showing them the flaws in their own solutions but also by letting them study mistakes which they could have done but didn’t.

To summarize, there are many ways in which you as a teacher can work with formative assessment and it doesn’t have to be hard at all! Do you want to know more about topics like this one? Check out our other articles!

#research #eduaction #insights


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