Formative Assessment . . .
A key issue within Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE) that teachers talk about is that of syllabus completion, pointing how with the all activities to be done in Formative Assessment, it becomes extremely difficult to complete the syllabus. CCE emphasizes the use of varied tools of assessment and assessment tasks. And it is this that is seen as causing a challenge to the completion of the syllabus. But the issue with syllabus completion arises because most of us do the activities and tasks after we teach a concept; at the end of a chapter or Unit. What is needed is assessment during the teaching learning process. Assessment is to be embedded in the teaching learning process – as we teach, we assess and based on the results we modify the teaching to ensure effective learning.
In the last article, I talked about how assessment is to be done during the teaching learning process, that it is to be embedded in the process of teaching, and not done only after teaching a chapter or topic. Assessment done this way ensures effective learning and teaching and also helps with completion of the syllabus. I discussed a few strategies for this and emphasized how planning was critical for effective implementation of a strategy. Broadly, the planning includes the What, How and Why. In this Part, I will look at a few more strategies –subject specific ones – and discuss the Why of an activity/task –why is an activity/task done or chosen to be done. A teacher wishes her students to learn ‘Perimeter’. An effective strategy is to use a geo board for this. The teacher demonstrates how to form shapes with a rubber band on the board and then asks the students, in groups or individually, to form a square shape on the board. On completion of this, the teacher asks the students to count and note down (in their notebook) the number of knobs of each side of their square, the length of the side of the square. She then asks them to count and note down the number of knobs within the shape. The teacher asks her students to do this about two or three times , each time making a square with a different side length/ size- and each time, count and note down the number of knobs on each side of the square in each square made. The teacher now asks her students to study the notes they have made for each square and through questions, help them to work out the formula of the perimeter of a square. This approach can be followed for other specific shapes too and each time the students work out the formula of the perimeter. This activity can be done with a graph paper with big squares, if a geoboard is not available.
Such an activity in which the students work out the formula themselves will ensure a clear understanding of the concept of perimeter. Through the set of activities (which should take about 20 minutes), the students learn the concept; the teacher is not teaching, nor imparting the information but enabling the learning.
As the students become comfortable with the task, the teacher can do a formal assessment (i.e. recording the marks/grades), during the process. She asks the students to make a specific shape with specified dimensions (on the geoboard/graph) and work out the perimeter. She must share with the students the criteria she will use to observe and assess them. Similarly, if a teacher needs her students to learn ‘Symmetry’, she can through different steps note the symmetry: studying their reflection in a mirror, folding a piece of paper as per the teacher’s directions, making ask her students to place the cutout of the butterfly on a graph paper (after drawing the X and Y axes on it) along its line of symmetry, and mark, name and note the coordinates of the butterfly cutout on one part of the graph paper. The teacher can then pose a question –which points on the opposite sides of the line of symmetry are equal and which are opposites. The students will study the points/ coordinates they have noted and work out the principle –that the Coordinates on the X axis are equal and those of the Y axis are opposite. Again, the students through doing, work out the principles of the concept. The teacher does not just give this information to them through a lecture or an explanation. Thus, the understanding, the learning will be sound. The student will always remember and retain what she has learned.
During the teaching learning, the teacher is assessing – asking students the Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) focused question – which coordinates are equal and which are opposite. She can do another quick formal assessment on this. As the teacher moves forward with the teaching of the topic, ‘Symmetry’, she continues to engage her students in activities to collaborate, observe, discover, find out, work out concepts and assess them at each stage, doing set of tasks and grading the students on specific ones. Note how the assessment is both efficient and effective, stress free and through activities (not a pen paper test) for both the teacher and the students. Critically, learning is sound and stimulating for all the students.
In the same way, concepts in Science can be taught through experiments and hands on activities. What stops us, for example and for a ‘simple’ concept, from taking students into the school garden or a nearby public garden to study the parts of a plant? This can also be done by bringing in pots of plants into the classroom. How much easier and interesting the learning is through such activities than a study of diagrams in the textbook. As the students study and observe the plants, the teacher can assess them by asking questions. The students can draw a plant given to them and label the parts right as they are observing and the teacher can grade the work and simultaneously discuss the answers to clear doubts and ensure all have gained the requisite understanding.
In today’s world, we have very good multimedia (Computer based) resources which have inbuilt assessment tasks in the concept presentation and teachers should try and use these. Progressive teaching learning practices and CCE emphasizes the use of varied and multiple resources and forms of assessment in the classroom. Multimedia is the technology of today’s students and we should use it for learning (of course, as teachers we need to ensure they are educationally sound).
In Physical Education (PE), Art and Craft / Painting, Music, Drama we say the learning is practical as the students learn by doing. The assessment too, we say, is through activities – the students perform or do what they are taught and there is no pen paper test in these subjects. True. Yet in these subjects too, we need to carefully plan our lessons and assessment and work out varied activities that call for a spectrum of skills, including HOTS. In PE, we can give an actual situation of a Cricket match e.g. this is a T 20 match between X and Y, there are Z overs left and so on and ask the students and ask them to work out a response –e.g. the field placement, the kind of bowling and so on. They should be asked to simulate this on the school cricket field or work out the situation on a chart paper drawing the field placement etc. or dramatizing it (in the event of inclement weather). The teacher can assess the students on such activities. So here is a HOTS activity and in a subject not considered ‘academic’ enabling a lot of meaningful collaboration, communication, critical and creative skills and certainly, deepening and practicing cricket concepts. The teacher can take this activity to a new level by showing students a You Tube video of the actual match whose situation was given to the students or a You tube video of a match that had the situation created by the teacher and follow it with discussion on the match seen and the students’ responses in their simulations/ dramatisation/ drawing on the chart. And similar creative assessment tasks can be done in all subjects. Get students to do a group painting, for example. Or study a set of paintings of a particular historical period/ a school of painting /by a painter and work out the specified features.
Clearly, it is up to the teacher on What activity/task she wants to use and How she wants to implement it.
A critical question remains: Why? Why a particular activity? Why the one chosen and not another one for a topic ? (Why role play and not project? Why quiz not enactment?) Why is it implemented in a particular way? Why group work? Why individual work? Why at a particular stage of the teaching learning process –beginning/middle/end?
All these ‘Whys’ will be and must be based on the learning objectives – the concepts and skills the teacher wants her students to learn. While studying the Law of Gravity, a teacher set this assessment task for her students: Research Newton’s life and make a presentation on it.
She divided her students into groups and told each group to make the presentation in one of the following ways:
+ act out the key episodes
+ in a power point
+ collage of pictures
+ a timeline
+ a talk
To her colleagues, this seemed a very good assessment activity – it was in the form of an activity (not a conventional pen paper assignment), there was research, choice and group work (all the CBSE buzz words). The teacher who set the task said her students had had a lot of ‘fun’ doing this task and everyone had enjoyed it.
The task was presented to the Head of the department (HOD), and the following conversation followed:
HOD : What topic were you teaching ?
Teacher (T): The law of gravity.
HOD : Have all the students understood it?
T : Most have. They know the definition of ‘gravity’ and can state the law.
HOD : That is good that most know this.
What about those who do not know this?
T: I have told them to pay attention in class and take notes from those who know it and then learn it.
HOD: Can the students explain ‘gravity’ in their own words? Can they explain what is the importance of it in their lives?
T: I did not ask them .
HOD : How many periods did you take for this activity?
T: Two, as it is a big class.
HOD : What did the students learn from the presentation?
T: They had a lot of fun. All the students took part in it. They all know that Newton discovered the law of gravity when he saw the apple fall from the tree.
The topic as identified by the teacher was the law of gravity and yet, as the teacher said, all the students seemed to have learned Newton’s discovery of it. And two periods were taken up for it.
The teacher thought over the conversation with the HOD, understood the point she was making and developed a new assessment activity for her students. This was her new assessment task:
Research on the law of gravity. Explain in your own words
+ what is gravity
+ describe at least one way in which gravity affects our lives
This is group work. You are to work in a group of four and make a presentation on the topic. You can make the presentation in one of the following ways:
+ act out the way gravity affects our life
+ in a power point
+ a talk
Here the enactment is linked clearly to the learning objectives.
We often go wrong with our use of dramatization and role play as assessment activities. A few meaningful ones:
+ Enactment of a story to show comprehension of the storyline and character behaviour, an episode
+ Acting out key scenes of India’s freedom movement to show understanding of the different events, the pace of the movement and the role of different leaders and the people
+ Acting out the Maths operations – addition, subtraction, multiplication, division; estimation.
We have seen above examples of dramatization in PE and Science. It is vital that any activity we do, and this includes an activity for assessment, is related and linked to the learning objectives, the target concept. Only then will it be a meaningful activity. Activities cannot be done for the sake of doing activities or just to have ‘fun’. The objective of school is learning and time is at a premium so it needs to and must be used well for the learning. The ‘fun’ is the student engagement with the learning, the magic of discovery, the challenge of doing, grappling and finding out. With clear planning, we can complete the syllabus and do all the activities CCE wants us to do! And when all the students are engaged with their learning, classroom management becomes easier.