Many scholars have stressed the impact of assessment on student progress and learning. It is a central part of the latter as it transparently attests that teaching standards and learning objectives are being met (Jarvis, 2007).
As a deliberate school development strategy, Formative Assessment (also known as Assessment for Learning- AfL) has recently received increasing popular consideration over more archaic types such as Summative Assessment ((also known as Assessment of Learning- AoL) (Tariq, 2013). AfL is defined as “a wide variety of methods [ …] used to conduct in-process evaluations of student comprehension, learning needs, and academic progress during a lesson, unit, or course” (Great Schools Partnership, 2014). Conversely, AoL is used to gauge student learning and achievement at the end of a defined instructional period through examination. This ‘teach, test and, hope for the best’ model tends to narrow the curriculum to what will appear on the examination, thus constricting learning to the lower-order skills of remembering information (Volante & Al, 2011). Researchers have, thus, emphasized the ineptness of AoL in educational terms.
To meet current individual learning needs, instructors at Ecole Eden are encouraged to tailor their lesson plans by integrating various forms of AfL on top of their AoL strategies. Formative Assessment has become, therefore, an integral part of both the teaching and learning process. It helps instructors identify their pupil’s strengths and deficits. Subsequently, by being aware of their achievements and of the improvements needed, pupils can take greater responsibility in their own educational growth (Cohen & Al, 2010).
Eden teachers are continuously encouraged to resort to AfL, as well as AoL, as a means to help pupils develop their strengths rather than focus on their weaknesses. By regularly adjusting learning expectations, teachers are encouraging their pupils to become active actors in their learning process. A variety of Formative Assessment methods are used on a regular basis at Ecole Eden; questioning as well as observation are very effective methods and provide the teachers with yet another very powerful tool.
Research has shown that questioning is the most popular AfL technique amongst teachers. Undoubtedly, it is used every day, consciously or not, by instructors. As suggested by some, successful questioning is a talent which, teachers have to acquire through practice, experience and consistency (Cohen & Al, 2010).
When teachers use questioning for assessment purposes, they have to plan, sequence and understand the exact purpose of the questions they will ask during a lesson. For instance, will they be testing or helping questions? Will they be directed towards individuals or the whole-class? Ultimately, how are they going to help them assess the students?
When Eden teachers incorporate their questions within their lesson plans, they have specific targets in mind. Timing is crucial and they know that the questions asked at the beginning of the lesson will not serve the same purpose as the ones in the middle or the end of the lesson (Cohen & Al, 2010). They also have to decide if they want to assess the whole class or just specific students. For instance, when they notice that one student has not understood a concept during a lesson, they usually direct their questions at him/her in the following session. This form of ‘oral testing’ provides a revision for the whole-class while simultaneously catering for individual needs (Gipps & Al, 2000). On other occasions, if teachers want to check their class’ knowledge they will, for instance, organise a dry-eraser bingo game to evaluate what has been acquired and what still needs to be learned.
While in theory questioning is very efficient, in practice it does have some limits. It is hard to apply to a large class as teachers rarely have enough time to interact with all the children in one lesson. Thus, Eden’s small classes offers the perfect environment for questioning used as a form of AfL. Additionally, pupils usually distinguish between two types of questions – helping and testing questions (Nolen, 2011). This peculiarity influences the students’ opinion of the danger involved in answering a question and subsequently impacts on their level of engagement. Ultimately, Eden teachers need to find a good equilibrium between the number of questions asked and the number of questions answered. If there are too many, students might start feeling threatened and questioning, as Formative Assessment, can become unreliable (Cohen & Al, 2010). Nonetheless, questioning still remains today one of the most operative forms of AfL.
Observation is also another crucial AfL technique used by teachers to adjust their daily teaching. It can take various forms; noticing, following or watching (Gipps & Al, 2000).
For example, after pairing up pupils to perform a task, teachers can usually monitor discreetly the room to see if their students are on-task or if they need help. This form of unobtrusive ‘noticing’ helps instructors to discreetly assess their pupils’ performance, efforts and progress. However, it can also become problematic when it does not accurately reflect individual contributions. Eden instructors are, undoubtedly, well aware of this issue and take it into account in their daily teaching and use of AfL.
On another note, observation does not improve learning if it is not followed by immediate constructive feedback (Johnston & Al, 2007). Teachers, thus, usually communicate to their students the gap between the desired and achieved performance and, soon after, provide the necessary tools to improve.
Ultimately, observation encompasses all aspects of the pupil’s school life; from the classroom to the cafeteria. A comprehensive overview of each pupil, hence, reflects a more truthful reality. With this in mind, the Eden teaching team closely collaborates on a daily basis to assess and exchange information on students various needs.
Regardless of the method used, Formative Assessment should be designed to engage student attention and enhance the learning process. It should be consistent, reliable and followed by feedback. Ultimately, AfL is operated efficiently, and it has become an integral part of teaching and yet another very powerful tool used by the Eden teaching team.
- Cohen, L, Mannion, L and Morrison K (2010) A Guide to Teaching Practice (revised 5th Ed) London, Routledge
- Dean, J. (2000), Improving children’s learning: effective teaching in the primary school, London: Routledge.
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- Gipps, C., McCallum, B., Hargreaves, E. (2000) What makes a good primary school teacher? Expert Classroom Strategies London : Routledge Falmer
- Jarvis, P, (2007) The Theory and Practice of Teaching. London. Routledge.
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- Moyles, J R (2011) Beginning Teaching, Beginning Learning : In Early Years and Primary Education. 4th ed. Maidenhead: Open University Press, 2011.
- Nolen, SB (2011) ‘The Role of Educational Systems in the Link Between Formative Assessment and Motivation’, Theory Into Practice, 50, 4, pp. 319-326, Psychology and Behavioral Sciences Collection, EBSCOhost (viewed 9 October 2015)
- Tariq, MA (2013), ‘Engaging Professionals: Investigating in Service Teachers Use of Formative Classroom Assessment’, Universal Journal Of Educational Research, 1, 4, pp. 318-322, ERIC, EBSCOhost, (viewed 9 October 2015).
- Volante, L, & Beckett, D (2011), ‘Formative Assessment and the Contemporary Classroom: Synergies and Tensions between Research and Practice’, Canadian Journal Of Education, 34, 2, pp. 239-255, ERIC, EBSCOhost, viewed 9 October 2015.