Moving beyond the traditional methods of summative assessment create many challenges for us as educators. Especially in the math class where so much emphasis is traditionally placed on the final outcome. We fight traditional practices, grading expectations, and a mentallity that focuses on the final answer.
This summer my wife and I have spent significant time driving around our beautiful state of Vermont in search of covered bridges. (there are 114) The gorgeous drives on the way to these bridges taught me to focus less on the final destination and begin to appreciate the journey there. Math is a similar, if less visually stunning, experience.
We need to guide students to focus on and appreciate the journey so that they can become more creative, intuitive, efficient, and effective problem solvers. To do this we ourselves need to focus our assessment on the journey, their work. By infusing our math instruction with formative methods of assessment we shift attention from the final solution to the journey. Where one correct final solution in no way helps us to solve another problem, the methods used, when focused on, can be reused in similar problems. It simply makes sense to focus more on the process and practice than the final solution. We do it in every other area of our lives, why not math? Think about it. Here is a sports analogy.
In sports there are spectators, fans, and team owners. In education, we have overseers like high level administrators, legislators and the general public.
In both cases, they focus heavily on the end result. They care little for the day to day coaching that goes on at practice/classroom. That's the coaches job. Well, that's us, coaches/teachers. While the coach focuses practice time on drills and activities that prepare a skill set to produce success, we as teachers do the same thing. We 'coach' skills that will eventually produce success on the measures that the administration/legislators give us.
The coach is constantly evaluating the progress. He/she does not wait until the end of a game to make decisions on proficiancy. We should do the same, evaluating and recording multiple sets of data from multiple sources; jounals, short 5 min. check-ins at the beginning of class, exit tickets, performance tasks, projects, etc. All of these and more give us the needed insight into each child's thought process, current progress and most importantly, most effective next step to take.
So, here is the question for all you math teachers out there.
What methods of formative assessment do you use to gather data about your students during a unit and how do you use it to decide what to do next? Please include grade level and subject. (geometry, algebra, etc. if high school)
Coming next week: Part 2, Tech Tools that Help