The Best Formative Assessment for Accelerated Learning in Student Centered Classrooms

Student working virtually with peers

To help students achieve accelerated learning in the classroom, teachers need to improve how we set and communicate our expectations. In student-centered learning, students choose what they will learn, and they set the pace. Teachers become classroom facilitators when their students take the lead in an accelerated learning program. Implementing formative assessments in a student centered classroom will improve outcomes because students better understand the expectations because they are getting continuous feedback in the moment.

What's the difference between formative and summative assessments? Formative assessments occur in the moment as students are engaged in making sense of phenomena. This real-time approach allows students to incorporate the feedback into their thinking and their work, becoming more aware of their own learning process and refining their skills in the moment. In a formative assessment, the teacher's role is an interested skeptic, engaged in the student's argument but pressing for evidence and reasoning. A formative assessment requires a shift in responsibility. Instead of a student trying to guess what the teacher wants, the student is productively struggling to develop skills and content knowledge, with support/coaching from the teacher. Summative assessments are more high stakes and occur less frequently, typically at the end of a lesson or unit.

Formative assessment definitionThe benefits of student centered teaching is clear. Students take the lead in classroom discussions and hands-on assignments. To improve outcomes, accelerate learning, and give students the tools to succeed, formative assessments help make sure they are on the right track. They give teachers the opportunity to measure whether students understand the concepts they need to learn before moving on to the next step in the lesson. Whether you are using KnowAtom's next generation science standards (NGSS)-designed curriculum in your classroom or not, the importance of formative assessments remains the same.

Types of formative assessment techniques

There are different types of formative assessment techniques that instructors can use during student centered instruction. These include reflective listening, literal interpretation, analyzing consensus, fast forward, rewind, extend meaning, connect-clarify, and speech to text. Let's look step-by-step at how you can use each of these individual strategies.

List of checkpoint examples

1) Reflective listening requires actively listening to a student's ideas and explanations, with the goal of understanding their meaning and then offering the essence of what they said back to them in your own words. For example, "I hear you saying (blank), Did I miss anything?" This check-in helps teachers identify, "Does the student stand behind what they said when they hear it repeated back to them?" It also helps the student to understand, "Did I say what I meant?" This is a good assessment to use in student centered instruction if a student's meaning is clear, but they do not have the vocabulary to express what they mean.

2) Literal interpretation requires taking a student's words at face value and then verbalizing back to them the literal meaning of what they said, with the goal of getting them to recognize vagueness, inconsistencies, or conceptual misinterpretations in their text. For example, Teacher: So, I pour all the water into the bottle? Student: No, I meant pour 1 liter into the bottle. Using this in student centered teaching allows the teacher to identify, "Can the student figure out what needs to change in order to be more precise in their language?" Teachers should implement this assessment when a student is vague or inconsistent verbally or in their written text, for example, when developing a procedure. It also helps teach students the importance of being precise.

3) Analyzing consensus gives students the opportunity to engage respectfully in scientific argumentation with their peers, using evidence to either support or contradict claims. To begin, the teacher can prod the group with, "Do you agree or disagree with what (name) said? Why? What evidence would support your claim?" This strategy helps strengthen the in-depth understanding of the entire group on the subject. Instructors can implement this during Socratic discussions by asking teams or groups if they agree or disagree on the ideas or explanations posed and why. It teaches students that arguments should be supported with evidence.

4) In fast-forwarding, teachers question the anticipated effect of something with the goal of getting students to visualize the possible outcome of something the group has planned. For example, ask the student group, "What effect would (blank) have on (blank)?" This helps ensure students have thought through the cause-and-effect relationship of what they are working on. It teaches them to pause or reflect before they introduce a change, either conceptually or physically, to their project (i.e., before adding a component to an engineering prototype). Applying forward-thinking is an important career skill for students to learn.

5) Use rewind when a student's plan or thinking indicates an incomplete or incorrect understanding. By asking questions, teachers can get the student to "rewind" their thinking to a point that is conceptually sound, and then use evidence to reconstruct their plan or thinking. Use this when a student gets unexpected data after carrying out an experiment during student centered learning to help them learn that assumptions can bias reasoning. This assessment technique encourages students to consider possible causes that could explain an effect they are observing.

6) With extend meaning, teachers ask student groups to substitute one variable for another in a scenario to see if their perceived ideas are consistent. To implement this check-in, ask, "We've just been talking about (blank). Now think about this new scenario. Would (blank) still occur in this context?" This helps the teacher identify whether the students can generalize the scientific concepts they've figure out about one phenomenon to another. It can be used to test students' depth of understanding across multiple contexts and help students learn that the scientific concepts that explain a particular phenomenon can be used to explain similar experiences or observations in the world around them.

7) Connect-clarify asks students to connect different ideas posted by the group to the larger question/theme/core idea being explored in the lesson. Ask, "How does (name) 's idea connect to the problem we are trying to solve?" You can use this to see whether the students are making connections in your student centered classroom that you had not considered. Use it when students are sharing ideas that have wandered from the lesson's core ideas and it's time to refocus.

8) Finally, speech to text revisits what students said by capturing it in writing (i.e., on chart paper) to track how the group's thoughts have changed throughout the lesson. Use it in a group student centered setting when documenting students' thinking about phenomena is appropriate, such as during scientific discourse, planning, and conclusion sharing. This is a great way to highlight the important lesson that understanding and thinking can change as a result of new evidence gathered.

These are eight ways of formatively assessing your students. Let's reflect for a minute on how this could change your student centered classroom. With these formative assessment techniques, you will be get more insight into your students' thinking. You'll develop your students' three-dimensional thinking capacity. They'll be gaining deeper levels of thinking and making stronger connections between concepts and lessons. You'll also get an ongoing diagnosis of misconceptions instead of waiting until the end. When we finish the lesson, the unit, the year – that's too late to realize something is wrong! Instead, you'll be capturing those misconceptions before they continue.

Finally, as you incorporate student centered teaching in your classroom, you'll be releasing some of your responsibility because students will own their own learning process and see themselves in charge of their learning outcomes. The students are in collaboration with you as the teacher, but they're still in charge of the outcomes.

If you try these formative assessment techniques and you've had some real success with them, you'll see that this can really change the culture of your accelerated learning program. But don't be discouraged if, in the beginning, this feels a little awkward. Like anything new implemented in your classroom, this is a routine that you will develop and improve over time.