Making summative assessments formative

#15MinForum – 10/5/16

This week’s 15 Minute Forum was led by Nikki Cloudsdale (@NikkiCloudsdale), our Maths Subject Leader, with some suggestions for taking summative assessment tasks (tests, exam papers etc) and turning them into formative learning strategies (perfect timing, having just finished internal exams for year’s 7 and 9, and with exam groups in years 10-13 ploughing through past papers!)…

Teachers Marking
Photo Credit: superdave3451 via Compfight cc

In a webinar that I attended a couple of months ago (if one ‘attends’ a webinar?!), I listened to Terry Morgan and Beth Carr from the Learning Sciences Dylan Wiliam Center talk about ‘The Case for Short Cycle Formative Assessment‘. Much of the webinar, like the others in the series, revolved around unpacking the key dimensions of formative assessment (and the compelling evidence base that underpins it):

formative assessment overview

Credit ‘The Case for Short Cycle Formative Assessment

In this particular webinar, this was specifically set in the context of short-cycle formative assessment (i.e. the minute-by-minute processes) as opposed to medium- or long-cycles, which look at assessment between teaching units or across units and terms:short cycleCredit ‘The Case for Short Cycle Formative Assessment

Listening to Nikki talking through some of the strategies that the maths department are playing with at the moment, I was struck by the potential for some of the strategies to help tie the different ends of the cycles together, taking summative assessments completed to assess progress across entire units or even entire key stages, and then using them as the basis for learning activities rooted back in the short-cycle formative assessment processes.

Nikki started by outlining the journey that the Maths department has been on in the last 18 months with regards to assessment within the department, highlighting some of the features of their current approach, including tracking sheets that students keep in their exercise books on which they record progress in various tests alongside the key feedback from their teacher (in the form of WWW/EBI) for each key objective; formative assessment tasks and feedback as they move through a unit of work; then a final summative assessment which is graded. But, as Nikki herself put it, the grade is just one part of their feedback – the most important part comes next…

At the heart of the strategies listed below, is the idea that reviewing a summative assessment should only rarely (if ever?!) be about simply showing the students a mark scheme and talking through it. Rather, it should be about engaging the students in meaningful reflection – with them in the driver’s seat – on the hows, whys and wheres of their mistakes and misunderstandings in order to help them move their learning forwards.

Here are a few of the ideas:

  • Peer assessment of a selection of responses to a question: project photos of selected responses or share them on nearpod, and charge students with marking it (without looking at the mark scheme!) and then perfecting it. Round it off by asking students to suggest a suitable improvement target for this individual, forcing students to think about the skill, exam technique, or approach (metacognition!)
  • Champions of a question: identify areas of strength within the test and make every pupil a champion of some aspect of the assessment. Provide opportunity for students to move around to find the solution from the champion, or use a jigsaw seating approach to help structure the sharing and collaborating (activate students as resoures for each other!)
  • Develop a model solution/answer: working in small groups or pairs, task students with developing model solutions/answers for themselves (taking ownership of their own learning!) before then rearranging groups for peer-teaching (activating them as resources!)
  • And, of course, at the end, having used the assessment to identify priority areas (some sort of gap analysis), point students in the direction of specific resources that they can use to support them with these specific priority areas… and provide them with tme to actually do it!

I wonder if we might really get them thinking carefully if, when marking the work, we were to give the question a score, but not use any ticks to show which aspects of the answer gained the credit. The students are then tasked with devising their own mark scheme to work out for themselves specifically where they did and didn’t gain the marks…

In all of these strategies, we could argue that the teacher should be acting as a conductor rather than a controller, freeing them up to coach and probe students in the construction of their own understanding, rather than simply telling them what the mark scheme wanted them to write…

Doing so will surely encourage the students to be full involved in reflecting on the important part of any test: what it is that they need to attend to in order to move forward… (but then we all know that, according to John Hattie at least, the point of testing is not really about telling the students anything at all, but rather it is to find out what you as the teacher did well – who did you teach well and who not so well, what did you teach well and what not so well, and so on“………….)

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