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A Comparison of Formative Assessment Techniques Between Two High School Science Classes

Professional Inquiry Project by Jason Salmon Cardston High School 2013

Focus of the Project

This Professional Inquiry Project involves the incorporation of specific formative assessment techniques into High School Science classrooms. Different formative strategies were identified and then incorporated into daily lessons. Each strategy was used in two different classrooms. The project will focus on a comparison of the effectiveness of these strategies in the two classes.

Description of the Process

Effective formative assessment is a point of emphasis in the Westwind School Division. In keeping with that focus, this project involves identifying specific techniques that have been suggested for use in classrooms. These techniques come from books such as Embedded Formative Assessment by Dylan Wiliam and Making Classroom Assessment Work by Ann Davies. In addition to those sources, other techniques that were used came from various PLC meetings held during the time spent in the Division. These formative assessment strategies were then implemented in two different settings: a Biology 20 class and a Science 24 class at Cardston High School. This project will outline the following for each of the different strategies: a brief introduction and explanation of the assessment technique the advantages and disadvantages of using the technique a comparison of the effectiveness of the assessment in each of the two classes, including observations and reflections made after using the strategy

Hot Seat Questioning

This method involves choosing a random student who is asked a question and then a series of follow-up questions. The teacher can use these questions to assess the depth of understanding. The other students in the class need to pay attention because at any time the person on the hot seat can be changed up randomly. Advantages: Bio 20 This seemed to be very motivating to this class. No one wanted to be called on, but when a student was selected (randomly, using an app on my phone) the rest of the class seemed to remain engaged, probably in anticipation of the chance of being picked next. When a student was unable to answer a question, usually there were many people offering help. I had to be careful when this occurred because it gave the student the opportunity to avoid answering the question, allowing others to do it for them. This was resolved by making sure the student on the hot seat always answered the question, even if it was just restating their understanding of another classmates answer that was given to help them. Sci 24 This was one of the least effective assessment strategies I used with this class. With the exception of one or two students who always loved to be the center of attention, most of this class avoided attention if at all possible. In most cases, using a hot seat method resulted in the student simply shrugging their shoulders and replying, I dont know. In this class, making the students uncomfortable did not result in participation. I did not use this method much at all. more in depth assessment is possible incentive for students to review and understand material only one student is responding other students may answer for them, letting the student off the hook


ABCD Cards
This method usually involves each student having a set of four cards, usually labeled A, B, C, D. Teachers can assess learning by asking a question and having the students indicate the correct response by holding up the corresponding card. This can also be used to express different views rather than a right or wrong answer. For example, a discussion could be generated by a teacher asking a question such as, Of the following four choices, which do you feel should be the focus of efforts to save endangered animals? Student would then hold up the card that matches their personal beliefs. Advantages: Bio 20 I primarily used this method during presentations on the Smartboard as the students were filling in guided notes. Embedded into the slides were questions that were designed as hinge questions. These questions were designed to inform me as a teacher if the students were understanding the information, or if additional time was needed to clear up some points of confusion. Rather than actual printed cards, I usually had the students hold up fingers indicating their choice. Sci 24 Many students in the class struggled at times to give an answer without any prompts or guidance. Asking questions, with multiple options already provided for them seemed to encourage them to answer. I found this method very effective, especially during review sessions where the students responded to questions with multiple choice answers and the students recorded their choice on a mini white board. students must choose a response more than a simple yes/no cards need to be prepared prior to use students may be able to guess an answer they dont understand


Thumbs Up/Down/In Between

This assessment method is used to determine the extent of understanding that the students have. Students who are comfortable with the information they have learned indicate this by showing thumbs up. Students who do not understand or are very confused show thumbs down. Students who are mostly sure, but could use additional clarification can show that by holding their thumb straight to the side. Advantages: Bio 20 I probably used this strategy the most when I needed to determine if students were simply bored because they all understood the concepts, or if they were frustrated by their lack of understanding. Their body language alone can be confusing. There were times when I thought the class was really confused, only to learn that they were actually bored and ready to move to the next topic. The instant feedback helped me to know that it was time to move on. The opposite occurred also. I had mistaken the lack of involvement as boredom, when they were actually confused. Asking for thumbs up showed me that I needed to adjust how I was teaching the concept. The problem was me, not the students attitudes. Sci 24 I had to be careful when I used this strategy in this class. Most of the students were hesitant to ask for help or clarification, so they usually just responded to this question by showing thumbs up whether they really did understand or not. It was a good starting point to assess where they were at, but it always required additional questions of the class. the students thumbs are always available, no preparation needed instant feedback students who do not want you to know they are struggling may not answer honestly


Fist of Five
Similar to the Thumbs Up strategy, Fist of Five allows students to indicate to the teacher the level of understanding they feel they have about a subject. If they are comfortable with the information, they indicate this by holding up five fingers. Lack of understanding is indicated by holding up 1 or 2 fingers. Advantages: Bio 20 The few times I tried this method of assessing understanding I found I usually got one of two answers: five fingers or none. Asking for a response on a scale of 1-5 seemed unneeded. I found I accomplished the same thing by employing the Thumbs Up strategy instead. Sci 24 Similar to the previous strategy of Thumbs Up, this group of students usually just answered with five fingers, regardless of their understanding. I think the main motivating factor for this was to just get the lesson over with, that if they showed the need for more clarification it would just prolong the class. Luckily, most of the time there were less than 15 students present in the class so other methods of assessment could be used instead. quick and easy students can give descriptive feedback students who do not want you to know they are struggling may not answer honestly


Hinge Questions
Hinge questions are used to determine if the students are ready to move on to a new topic or if additional learning needs to take place. The responses to pre-planned questions will indicate mastery or confusion, guiding the teacher as to how to continue. Advantages: can be used with ABCD cards, whiteboards, or exit passes to get students responses well written questions can give the teacher feedback, even when incorrect responses are received Disadvantages: takes a lot of planning to make a good question, ie. ones that students cannot likely get right for the wrong reasons Bio 20 I found I used hinge questions quite often, but unless I had planned the question in advance, it was usually just a yes/no question. I used this technique most effectively when I embedded the question into the slideshow I was using to teach. When prepared beforehand, the different responses could be crafted in a way that required the students to demonstrate knowledge as opposed to just an indication that `they were comfortable with the information. At times, students may feel comfortable with what was taught, yet they dont really understand it. Hinge questions require them to demonstrate that knowledge. Sci 24 Due to the smaller class size and considerably less content that needed to be covered in Science 24 when compared to Bio 20, I found I used hinge questions less often. Instead of asking a single question to the whole class, I was able to ask many students a few questions to determine their understanding. Perhaps this strategy should have been employed more, but it wasnt as pressing to assess in a timely matter as it was in Biology 20.

Mini Whiteboards
Small, individual whiteboards are distributed to each member of the class. The teacher can ask a question and each student records their response using a dry erase pen on the whiteboard and holds the whiteboard up for the teacher to see, providing immediate feedback of every student at the same time. Advantages: Bio 20 I used whiteboards quite often in this class, usually as a way of reviewing concepts that had already been taught but needed additional clarification. It allowed me to assess the level of understanding of many different concepts in a short time. I found that because of the large size of the class, students were more tempted to doodle or not answer every question. Initially, I had the students hold up their responses as soon as they were finished. I found it was easy to lose track of who I had seen or not seen. Some students realized this and tried to avoid answering the questions. This strategy was more effective when I did one of two things. One, I had everyone hold their board up until everyone had responded, or second, I would ask everyone in a row to hold up their boards, then I would move on to the next row. This ensured I noticed every students response. it is easy to ensure that all students are responding students cant opt out, they must provide an answer many students felt like it was a safe way to get things wrong. immediate feedback for students whiteboards need to be bought or made requires clear classroom expectations or some students will doodle and colour rather than respond wasting markers and making a mess


Sci 24: The smaller class size of the Science 24 class made mini whiteboards a very effective tool. Students that were normally very hesitant to volunteer answers seemed much more comfortable in writing their answers on a whiteboard. It was also much easier as a teacher to be sure that each student was responding and I found I could help those students who needed help much more effectively because of the immediate response. It was also interesting to me that this class was much more particular about keeping their board clean and clear of doodles. I would have expected the opposite, but they stayed on task better with whiteboards than with most teaching methods.

Exit Slips
An exit slip requires a response from each student that is handed in to the teacher, usually at the end of a class period. The teacher can then collect the responses and organize them in a way that allows the teacher to effectively address the needs of the class the next time the class meets. Advantages: Bio 20: I found this to be effective when I handed each student a post it note and asked them to respond to my question in 140 characters or less, as if they were tweeting on Twitter. They then posted their tweet by sticking it on the door as they left. I most recently used this in preparation for a review class. I asked each student to identify the top 3 things they felt they needed clarification on during the review class. I was able to group their responses into a few concepts that needed to be reviewed and prepared the next class to address those specific concerns. This made for a more focused and effective review class. Sci 24: This group of students was always very anxious to leave class. In fact, almost daily they wanted to leave early. When I used exit slips at the end of a class period the responses I received were usually not very useful at all. The strategy was much more effective if done earlier in the class period when they were not so anxious to leave. I would get the class to do an exit slip at the conclusion of an activity, before we moved on to a different activity, rather than at the conclusion of a class. Timing was everything with this group. can give the teacher time to go over the responses and make notes or record formative notes for record keeping if done anonymously, students may be more likely to record honest thoughts if anonymous, students may not be motivated to put honest effort into the response a significant amount of time passes from the assessment to the instruction Disadvantages:

In Conclusion
In an effort to try different types of formative assessment techniques, I found that it helped me improve as a teacher because it shifted my focus from the material I was teaching to being concerned about what learning was actually taking place. Instead of what I was teaching, I began to focus on what was being learned. It was also interesting to me how different types of learners responded to the different techniques. Even though both classes were Grade 11 students learning science, each class responded very differently to the assessment methods. This reinforced to me that a teacher needs to always be using multiple assessment techniques and that a good teacher should always be willing to try new and different strategies as well.