engaging students through formative assessment in science

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  • This article was downloaded by: [University of Florida]On: 05 October 2014, At: 03:31Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

    The Clearing House: A Journal of Educational Strategies,Issues and IdeasPublication details, including instructions for authors and subscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/vtch20

    Engaging Students through Formative Assessment in SciencePamela B. Childers & Michael LowryPublished online: 03 Apr 2010.

    To cite this article: Pamela B. Childers & Michael Lowry (1997) Engaging Students through Formative Assessment in Science, TheClearing House: A Journal of Educational Strategies, Issues and Ideas, 71:2, 97-102

    To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00098659709599334


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  • Engaging Students through Formative Assessment in Science


    t the beginning of the 1996-97 school year, we-two A teachers at The McCallie School in Chattanooga, Tennessee, a college preparatory school for boys-designed a series of year-long writing activities using portfolios to improve an eighth-grade science course. We are Pam, the director of the schools writing center and writing across the curriculum program, and Michael, teacher of the course, Conceptual Physical Science (CPS). Our intention was to develop formative assessments to encourage growth on the part of students and teacher and to expand content instruc- tion. Formative assessment best served our purpose because it is a form of process-oriented evaluation aimed at improvement of teaching and learning (Kiefer and Faust 1996; Patton 1990). We followed a constructivist portfolio model of contextualized and collaborative assessments (Murphy and Grant 1996) that was centered on having the students revise their writing in the context of the physical science class.

    The goals for our class assignment (see figure 1) were the following: to learn what impact the assignment would have on student understanding of course content; to have the portfolio act as a separate and authentic assessment tool, a means to explore students understanding; to develop activ- ities that challenged students to be self-reflective; to demonstrate how such assignments are rigorous by hav- ing students grapple with major course concepts; to assess course instruction; and to assess course content.

    We wanted to create portfolio assignments evaluated by both of us that would also be authentic assessment (Wiggins 1989; Wiggins 1993; Zessoules and Gardner 1991)-that is, that included the students in assessing the instruction, cur- riculum, and the learning process. The multiple portfolio submissions (Belanoff and Elbow 1986; Pearson and Valen-

    Pamela B . Childers is Caldwell Chair of Composition and Michael Lowry is on the Science Department faculty, both at The McCallie School, Chattanooga, Tennessee.

    cia 1987; Yancey 1992) helped us address individual stu- dent differences and improve student learning and instruc- tion (Herman, Aschbacher, and Winters 1992; Angelo and Cross 1993). By using student questionnaires and a feed- back process similar to small group diagnosis (Coffman 1991), we adapted the instructional input ideas of Weimer, Parrett, and Kerns (1988).

    The assignment balances required components and elec- tive submissions. It includes visual aspects in relation to writing and learning as part of the required submissions (Childers, Hobson, and Mullin 1998), a letter requiring stu- dents to explain a physics concept to real audiences (Wat- son 199 1 ), recommendations for course and instructional improvement, and a changing element to help students reflect on and apply knowledge learned since the last port- folio (Murphy and Grant 1996).

    During the year, we changed some requirements to paral- lel what was going on in the class. For instance, for the first two portfolio submissions, requirement five asked students to Submit a list of recommendations for learning activities for the class. For example, you may suggest that students role play the discovery of a new element. Because students undertake a research project during the second semester, we changed requirement five to Submit a list of recommenda- tions for an extended research project. Explain your ideas for this research activity that would demonstrate your knowl- edge of a particular aspect of science. You may choose to create the research assignment and evaluation criteria. By the last formative portfolio submission in March, require- ment five was changed to Submit recommendations for your final examination of this course. You have an opportu- nity to help design your own assessment of this course, so take it seriously. These changes empowered students to assess the teaching and learning in the course, to suggest new ways of learning, to participate in their own learning processes, and to design parts of their own final evaluations.

    As another second semester modification, we changed requirement two to allow for a new audience: three twelfth- grade tutors from the writing center (see pages 103-105 for





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  • 98 The Clearing House NovemberlDecember 1997

    FIGURE 1 Constructivist Portfolio Model


    Portfolios can be important learning tools if they are used correctly. We will be using four portfolios as for- mative assessment tools to determine what and how you are learning, how I as your teacher may improve your learning, and how you as a student see yourself as a learner. The portfolios will also allow you time to reflect upon what you have learned between the time you start and finish each portfolio. The last portfolio will be used as a summative assessment tool to determine what and how you have learned during the entire course of the year, how you have grown as a learner, and how I have helped your learning process. Because visual and written communication are an important part of your learning process, you will be asked to submit many items, some required and some optional. If you have any suggestions for improving or revising this process, please let us know. We will consider all suggestions and make changes in the requirements as necessary.

    The portfolios will be due on the following dates: October 3, 1996 November 7, 1996 February 13, 1997 March 27, 1997 April 24, 1997 Your portfolios may be kept in the Caldwell Writing

    Center. You may check with Dr. Childers or Mr. Reno to find out exactly where they are and when you may work on them. You will be responsible for keeping all materials current and complete. On any given day, I may stop by the Caldwell Writing Center and spot check portfolios.

    Requirements-Submit all of the items listed below:

    1. A visual (picture, diagram, drawing, etc.) and writ- ten description of a conceptual physics process. The visuals should be pictures demonstrating physics in action. Some of them will be used for classroom lessons.

    2. A letter you have written to a classmate, a seventh grader, or one of your parents explaining a new CPS concept you have learned since your last portfolio.

    3. A copy of your favorite lab report. Include an expla- nation of why you chose it and what you learned from it.

    4. A journal entry or a reflective paper in which you

    reflect upon your own learning in this class. You may write the reflective paper in the form of a let- ter to me.

    5. A list of recommendations for learning activities for the class. For example, you may suggest that stu- dents role play the discovery of a new element.

    Student Opt ions40 at least one of the following:

    1. Submit your favorite writing assignment since the last portfolio. Include an explanation of why you chose it.

    2. Make a list of specific questions that relate to CPS that you have collected. They should be questions that you thought of during a class, a lab, a home- work assignment, or a reading or while you were doing just about anything. For instance, after a lab experiment, I might write, What if that experiment had been done without the e