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Formative Assessments

As many of you are aware, in addition to writing and playing music I’m also an educator. For 8 years I’ve been teaching young people how to write music as a way to better understand themselves. To that end I’ve enrolled in an online grad school called Teach Now to learn how to be a better educator. Our assignment this week was on formative assessments.

When you hear the word “assessments” you’re probably imagining those gut-wrenching exams that we all had to take when we were in school. It was the way we “officially” showed that we understood what was going on in class. We knew, even as children, that the assignments and assessments we were subjected to rarely helped us learn, they were just hoops to jump through. School is quite a bit different nowadays.

We’re more concerned with progress than perfection. We want to see students demonstrate mastery and understanding, but we don’t need stressful multiple choice tests to get that information. Formative assessments are quick, in-the-moment assessors of student understanding that have no impact on a students’ grade. We want to know what they understand, what they’re struggling with and how best to re-teach something if a student is having a challenging time with a concept.

In these graphics we see several dimensions of thought and intent that go into successful implementation of formative assessment. Notice the emphasis on goal setting, asking questions, and getting meaningful multifaceted feedback. With that feedback a teacher can adjust instructional strategies, re-teach, re-direct, or provide support to further challenge or assist a student. Students are empowered as part of the formative assessment process to evaluate themselves and each other. Far from anarchy, this is actually a closer analog to the adult working world where people are expected to self-monitor, self-correct, and be accountable to and for their colleagues.

Image result for formative assessment
Image result for formative assessment
Image result for formative assessment

Check out this video on Formative Assessments by Edutopia…

Teachers can use this information, gathered informally, to inform their instructional practice and fine tune their delivery to match student needs and preferences. This means more engaged students, less wasted time, less need for “tests” and more ACTUAL learning. It also means that, unlike other forms of assessment that must be graded and analyzed, teachers can get feedback immediately and make course corrections, even during class.

Some of the formative assessments I feel would work really well in a songwriting class are:
1. “Fist to Five” – A super simple assessment where students rank their level of understanding of a concept by displaying a fist for “I have no idea what you’re talking about” to 5 fingers for “I completely understand” and the variations in between. This quick feedback tool is most useful when determining whether to stay with a concept or move on.

2. 3 – 2 – 1 – Another simple activity where students write down 3 things they understand well, 2 things that surprised or interested them about the lesson, and 1 question they still have. The feedback from this activity can be used to modify the lesson for future cohorts and can also help determine the next day’s class content. If most of the class seems to get the concept and only a few students are struggling, this tool helps the teacher identify which students to pay special attention to.

3. Pictographs – An abstract form of assessment, but the student is supposed to take the concept and transform it into a pictograph that anyone who speaks any language can understand. It doesn’t sound like much but the underlying principle is pretty powerful. A student must really know the material well if they are able to abstract it and simplify it to the point where it fits within a single pictograph. It’s been said that a person doesn’t really know a concept unless they can explain it to a child…that’s what this is like. After making their pictographs, students are encouraged to share them and talk about them, essentially teaching each other and providing unique perspectives on the content.

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