In a recent post on our site, Dr. Rhonda Morris helped us define formative and summative assessment. About formative assessment she wrote,
Formative assessment informs the teacher how the students are performing on an on-going basis.
This definition emphasizes formative assessment from the vantage point of the teacher. While I completely agree with her definition, I want to provide in this post an important point of view on formative assessment that makes learners and learning the focus of attention.
This may seem like stating the obvious, but the key to making formative assessment truly formative for learners lies in providing feedback that is, itself, formative. Formative feedback doesn’t merely tell the learner that she or he answered a question incorrectly, nor does it simply give learners the correct answers to the questions they have missed on an exam. Rather, formative feedback gives learners a map that motivates and guides them on the quest to discover for themselves the knowledge or skill the teacher wants them to gain. Or, to use a different but equally appropriate analogy, formative feedback provides learners with lenses that help them to see or to bring into focus what it is they are asked to understand. Goodwin and Miller (“Good Feedback is Targeted, Specific, Timely“) rightly point out that formative feedback can—and, in my opinion, should—
help students develop a learning orientation, in which they view improving their own competence as the goal of learning, as opposed to a performance orientation, in which they view being evaluated well by others (or getting a good grade) as the goal of learning.
Developing life-long, self-directed learners is an outcome that nearly every faculty member I know hopes for and that many educational institutions have printed somewhere in their academic catalogs. Yet, it seems that students continue to be more interested in getting a good grade than they are about actually learning what we’re trying to teach them. As I began to prepare for this academic term, I wondered if, perhaps, I as a teacher have been at least partly responsible for perpetuating such a performance orientation—about which I have often complained (!)—by overemphasizing summative assessment and neglecting formative assessment. So, I took a good hard look at my course syllabi and made some changes.
One major change I’ve made is to convert a number of assignments that were essentially summative assessments into a series of formative “learning activities.” These “activities” differ from “assignments/homework” in a few key ways: (1) they are intentionally formative; (2) they are “safe” in that a learner might try them and fail miserably but not destroy her or his final grade in the course (these activities amount to only 5% of a person’s final grade); (3) I give my very best effort in providing timely, targeted, and specific feedback for each question in which a learner misses something—i.e., formative feedback to each student for each question she or he answers incorrectly. It’s also important to note that the questions I ask in these activities are of the same type and are just as challenging as the ones I ask for “assignments/homework.” These activities provide a way for me to know if the learners are “getting it” and, perhaps more importantly from a learning perspective, a way for the learners to know if they’re “getting it.”
Recently, I asked a series of questions in which the learners were to “parse” the underscored word(s) in a clause I gave them from the Greek New Testament. In addition, I asked them to explain why they chose to parse certain words the way they did. Here’s an example:
Parse the underscored word in the following clause: αὐτὸς γὰρ Ἰησοῦς ἐμαρτύρησεν ὅτι προφήτης ἐν τῇ ἰδίᾳ πατρίδι τιμὴν οὐκ ἔχει.
Suppose a student (we’ll call her “Sally”) responded to my two questions (i.e., What is it? Why do you think that?) as follows:
(1) VRB-ImAInd3S [i.e., Imperfect Active Indicative 3rd Person Singular] from μαρτυρέω “he was testifying.” (2) It’s Imperfect because it has an augment; it’s Active because it uses the secondary active ending; it’s Indicative because the connecting vowel is not lengthened and there’s no contextual indicator like ἵνα that it’s anything else; it’s 3rd person and singular because it uses the 3rd person singular ending.
Everything looks good here except that it’s not Imperfect tense-form; it’s 1st Aorist. My feedback would be something like the following:
Sally, you’ve correctly identified the word’s class (verb), its voice (Active), mood (Indicative), person (3rd), number (singular), lexical form, and inflected meaning. Good job! However, the tense-form you thought it was (Imperfect) isn’t correct. You’ve correctly identified that the word has an augment on the front of it and that Imperfect is one of two possible augmented tense-forms. But it appears that you’ve missed a second clue towards the end of the word that might tell you something else. Do you see it? Here’s a hint: the contract vowel of the verb stem lengthened in front of it… If you need a refresher, check out p. 36 in the grammar.
Yes. It’s more work for me as a teacher, but the payoff of deeper learning makes it worth it! In upcoming posts, the North Institute team will highlight a number of different tools that help provide efficiency for this process (e.g., ThinkApp). Stay tuned.