Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Thoughts on Formative Assessment

It has been many months since I have written something here. I am no longer in the classroom observing and noticing and so am not sure I have things to contribute I haven't already written.

Last week I observed some classes and I noticed something, something I think is worth sharing.
This was a second grade class in a very good school, with a good teacher. The students were capable and attentive. They were learning addition strategies. The context was fascinating to me.

Each student had a page with photographs of fish. They were excellent photographs and the page was welcoming to a reader. Next to each fish was an identifying letter, from A to K, the length of the fish in inches and the weight of the fish in pounds.

The teacher posed the following question:"If fish E ate fish B, how much would fish E weigh?"  Students thought for a moment and then the class decided that the appropriate strategy was to add the two weights. The teacher was diligent about units, so when a student said add 4, she admonished the student to say 4 what, until the student said 4 pounds. I really liked this aspect of the activity. It emphasized the importance of units as well as reminding students they were talking about weight.

They then did another problem just like it. This was followed by the following question, " If fish F ate a fish and then weighed 64 lbs. what fish did fish F eat?" I was pleased with the direction of the discussion, and especially impressed when many of the students quickly answered the question correctly.

The students then were asked to do several more similar problems, on their own and in groups.When they were done, they were asked to create their own question. I then walked around the room and noticed that the students were able to answer the questions, show their work, and create a new question.  I decided to interject something a little different, so I asked one table  the following question: " If fish K ate fish B, how long would fish K be?"  I expected laughter. They did not laugh. Some of them added the weights. I asked about units and what question I had asked, and they agreed that the answer would be the sum of the lengths of the fish. I went to another table and had the same experience. Teacher then got the attention of the class, and I asked the question to everyone. No one got the correct answer to my question. I asked them if they had ever eaten Twizzlers? Many had. After some discussion we agreed that a Twizzler was about a foot long. I asked them if they then got a foot taller. A few said yes, most said no, but no one wanted to change their answer to the fish story.

I will let you draw your conclusions from this experience, but I reiterate, these were able students who were being well taught. I conclude that this would happen in most first grade classrooms. I am not sure why but I find it a bit frightening and am not sure what we can do about it.I m curious to read comments from others. Please help me to understand.