Formative assessment…I am in formative assessment mode as a supervisory officer…identifying gaps in understanding for the educators with whom I have the privilege of working. Our Leadership Learning Team (LLT) took place last week (and yes, it snowed AGAIN but everyone arrived safely) and the leaders reminded me that they continue to struggle and to wonder about the Assessment Framework Cycle as tool to enhance motivation and engagement. I appreciated this honesty so very much and when I reflect back on our Growing Success Implementation Project, I realize that, three years ago, when we engaged in this learning, perhaps we weren’t quite ready. We didn’t know what we didn’t know. We had identified student engagement and motivation as two crucial areas in need of support as absenteeism was very high (and rising), students were often not completing tasks, and educators were feeling frustrated.
This was THE urgent need for us at the time (and continues to be), and we began to explore the Assessment Framework Cycle as a possible solution, as the use of the structures in this cycle (Learning Goals, Success Criteria, Feedback, Peer/Self-Assessment and Individual Goal Setting) were identified as key in engaging students, encouraging learning and independence. These structures, critical to the formative learning phase (I acknowledge that there are some subtle differences between Assessment for/as Learning and Formative Assessment), are used ONLY in the Assessment for/as Learning/Formative phases of learning – the PRACTICING phases – provided us with a new way to think about learning – and made us realize that our classrooms needed to change just like our learners had changed. We were spending significant time teaching and evaluating, rather than learning and assessing. If students didn’t achieve “success” the first time, often it was a dead end, which may have explained the lack of engagement and motivation.
The journey began with the Growing Success Implementation Project, where educators learned about the Assessment Framework Cycle structures. We learned that, “When teachers join forces with their students in the formative assessment process, their partnership generates powerful learning outcomes. Teachers become more effective, students become actively engaged, and they both become intentional learners” (Moss and Brookhart, Advancing Formative Assessment in Every Classroom, 2009, pg.5); thus students become increasingly independent and learning is improved. We ensured that the use of assessment to improve learning became the foundation of our Board Learning Plan; thus the shift from a focus on teaching to a focus on learning (hence our Learner Centered Pedagogy and Environment). The following key goals (from Wiliam, Embedded Formative Assessment, 2011) were adopted:
- Learners are actively involved in their own learning processes
- Effective feedback is provided to learners
- Teaching activities are adapted in a response to assessment results
- Learners are able to perform self-assessments
- The influence of assessment on learners’ motivation and self-esteem is recognized.
And we recognized that “Five Major Assessment for Learning Strategies” (Wiliam, 2011) needed to be embedded into our practices as they were vital in creating learning centered environments and pedagogy:
- Clarifying and sharing learning intentions and criteria for success
- Engineering effective discussions and other learning tasks that elicit evidence of learners’ understanding
- Providing feedback that moves learning forward
- Activating learners as instructional resources for one another
- Activating learners as the owners of their own learning.
We were beginning to understand how Assessment for/as Learning was a key piece to the Learner Centered Pedagogy and Environment that we are working towards achieving in every classroom.
As the project continued, we recognized that the Conditions for Learning in our classrooms, trusting relationships, the ability to take risks and to collaborate, may not yet have existed, and that these conditions were vital to the Assessment Framework strategies being successful…always wondering however, that if we explicitly taught and fostered the Conditions for Learning within the Assessment for/as Learning Cycle, would we see the engagement and motivation increase? We began to understand that the use of this Assessment Cycle would help us to accomplish the goal of learning so that students were ready to demonstrate their thinking independently and in a new context in the Assessment of Learning (similar to Summative Assessment) phase.
Today, our LLT participants had the following wonderings that were very specific to the Assessment Framework Cycle:
How do we write effective Success Criteria?
What is the time allotted to developing Success Criteria with my students?
How do we best balance Learning Goals, needs of the individual with those of the group, and time limits?
How does the learner know when they have achieved an understanding?
While others may be indications of a surface understanding of the Assessment Framework Cycle and its purpose:
How do I arrive at a balance in assessment of learning?
How can we support learner centered environments?
How do we ensure we use/model conditions for learning in our schools?
How do we encourage students to participate in the Conditions for Learning for one another?
Why are some students so resistant to believing in themselves?
How do I promote risk taking?
How do I promote non-judgemental thinking?
This information (as well as much other formative information from District Support Visits, PLCs, etc.) is telling us that while many are practicing specific strategies of the Assessment Framework Cycle, we are a ways from fully implementing all components of this cycle in a connected manner (for example, are we giving feedback using the language of the co-constructed success criteria, and then gradually scaffolding student learning so that they can, when ready, provide feedback using that same language in peer and self-assessment?). We continue to have many questions about how, by using this cycle in our practice (ensuring that we are carefully applying the nuances of each stage of the cycle), that we may solve our urgent motivation and engagement learning needs. So, for the next several weeks, I am committed to making both the thinking of researchers in this area and my own thinking visible (modelling risk taking) in a responsive way (another C4L) in an effort to continue this conversation…to provide additional clarity and understanding about HOW the Assessment Framework and our Conditions for Learning, when fully implemented (thus achieving a Learner Centered Environment and Pedagogy) are the HOW of achieving increased learner motivation and engagement.
Until next week…formative assessment is the umbrella for the Assessment for/as Learning strategies…and digging into Success Criteria.