I feel like I read this quote on Matt's site but I couldn't find it when I looked through the archives. Essentially the gist was that all conversations with teachers inevitably end up focused on the gradebook.
So here's the nit that I need to pick:
Allowing your kids to retake their tests does not automatically make it a formative assessment.
I'm not accusing Karl or Matt of making this assumption and both of them definitely understand the distinction. Along with not grading homework, this seems to be the thing that educators get hung up on as the way to call something formative. There is no single method that will make the class/teaching/assessments formative. Ungraded homework isn't formative. Retaking tests isn't formative. Exit slips, response systems, quickwrites, minute papers aren't formative. Standards-based grading isn't formative. Your entire class could consist of ungraded, infinitely retaken tests and it wouldn't be automatically formative. Formative assessment is the entire culture of your class.
What does that mean?
Your students should, at all times, be able to answer these essential questions.2
- Where am I going?
- Where am I now?
- How can I close the gap?
Question 2 we also pay some attention to. Where we usually go wrong is by not framing a student's current level in terms of the ultimate learning goal. To steal a simile from a previous post, it's like looking out of the window of your car to see where you are. It's nice to know your location, but really what you want to know is where you are compared to your destination and if you're going in the right direction.
Question 3 is where most of us fail. It's certainly my weakest area.
Typical almost formative teacher statement:
You scored a 75% on Adding and Subtracting Fractions. Learn it and come back after school and I'll replace your score.To parallel that statement, here's what the state tells my school:
You scored a 714 on last year's API. Increase it to 800 this year. Come back in May and I'll replace your score.We know where we're going. We have a sense of where we are in relation to that goal. We just have no frikkin' idea how to get there. Part of the problem is that, like the state of California, we have no idea what is causing the gap. We can make assumptions based on previous experiences, but we're dealing with so many students/schools it's impossible to know the specific cause of every single problem that every single student/school encounters.
The larger, and less forgivable, reason is that it's simply easier to set goals and diagnose. Helping students/schools close the gap is the hard part.
Telling a student to go learn something, without giving him/her the proper tools to do so, is the hallmark of the almost formative teacher.
How do we solve this?
As I said, this is certainly my weakest point so I'd love to hear what you say. The first step is always awareness. If you find yourself saying, "Go learn this" and the student gives you a confident nod and heads off with purpose, you're probably alright. Often they'll hesitate, stare at me for a second longer than they should, and trudge back to their seat. Those kids have no idea how to go out and learn whatever it is they need to learn.
Two things need to be directly addressed to solve the problem: metacognition and time.
The biggest help for my kids so far has been a double megadose of self-assessing and reflection. I try to directly teach a whole lot of different strategies. I'm not 100% at this, and perhaps it needs to go on my checklist, but I've tried to communicate the different methods we've used to learn different concepts. You know all those super cheesy teaching strategies you learn when you're in your credential program? Give one, get one. Think Pair Share. Jigsaw (my personal hell), Pair Coaching, etc. Those "How did you learn it?" questions we ask them are much more valuable when they can say learned really well when we used reciprocal teaching or rally coaching.3 I would like to get to the point where they have created their own master list of strategies that work best for them and they can just select one and go. Unfortunately, most of my kids are still stuck with "Find a kid who gets it and ask" or "Go look in the book." They'll never close the gap if they never learn how to learn.
The second necessity is time. I understand that at some point we all have to move on and say come after school. However, we also have to devote a substantial amount of class time to gap closing to break out of almost formative purgatory. Telling your kids to come after school usually only helps the kids who are motivated (self or externally). I tell many of my kids to come after school for help. Many can't. Others aren't interested.4 We need to schedule time in class. Put it into your curriculum map. I'm not talking about taking an extra day when the class bombed a test. Look at your yearly plan. Every 4-6 weeks insert a week of remediation/acceleration. Let the kids who are behind work on what they've fallen short on. Maybe they picked up a new strategy or maybe seeing the whole picture has made things more clear. Directly teach to targeted groups of kids. Teach them how to teach each other. Challenge the rest of the kids with something that will lead to equal amounts of elation and frustration.
I think it was Chris Lehmann who said that in schools, what we value privilege with time. If you value creating a culture where students are not punished for learning at different rates, you will privilege that with time.
Schedule time to teach them how to think. Schedule time to give them a chance to do so.
1: Liking a site is not equal to agreeing with everything, but they make me think. That's why we're here.
2:I first read it in Atkin, but were made famous by Stiggins. I don't know if Atkin got them from somewhere else.
3. I struggle with getting them to separate the things that helped them learn the best versus the things that they had the most fun with. These are often the same, but not always.
4:If TMAO were still blogging I like to think he'd point to our insistence that anyone who didn't get it the first time needs to come after school as a contributor to the achievement gap.