Practising Formative Assessment

Friday 3 November
I've been trying to improve my understanding of formative assessment by reading
Assessment for Learning – Putting it into Practice by Black and others . This is a whole area that wasn't covered when I trained – but that's probably true of most teachers too. The excellent
Moray House Returning to Teach course provided an introduction, but it's not a subject you can learn in an hour or two. I tried the
Assessment is for Learning web site, but found that it jumped quickly from key points to supporting case studies – but without explaining much more about the underlying thinking. This isn't a criticism of the web site; it's just that books are better, I think, for explaining some things.

Today I tried one of the ideas from the book (p35) of using different questioning to get a better understanding of where students were starting from. The idea is to move away from limited factual questions. I tried using a so-called "big question"; "How come if cells are living things, so take in food, and get rid of waste, that they don't have any organs to do that?" The topic of the lesson was diffusion, and this proved a much better lead in than to start in the textbook manner with a discussion of what diffusion was. By posing the question, then asking the class to discuss in pairs, a surprising range of ideas was put forward. This, as the book claimed, definitely provides a better understanding of individual learning needs.