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 is 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.
Before we discuss this point further, we need to remember a key point. It is not required that all activities are to be ‘formally’ assessed, graded and included in the report card. The CBSE circular of March 04, 2011 states this clearly.
It is important to assess students through activities. It is vital that students need to/must be familiar and comfortable with the activities through which they are to be assessed. Thus, the teaching learning process must include such activities. For example, if we are to assess students through a role play then students need to know what a role play is, how it is to be done and presented, and on what criteria it will be assessed. It is imperative that first we help students learn what a role play is before we ‘give’ that as an assessment task. How can we assess students on something unless we have taught it to them and given them adequate practice? How can we tell students to do a role play and assess them on it unless we make them do role plays, teach them role plays and give them practice on it. This has important implications. Assessing through different activities means a change in the teaching learning methodology.
When such a teaching methodology is followed, we will effectively assess as required in CCE and also be able to complete the syllabus.
Let us understand this further.
As per CCE guidelines assessment should be ongoing, through the academic year, and it should be learner centred –i.e. it should check if each learner has learned well – understood, not just memorised, the concept. The assessment should be stress free; students should not have a fear of assessment. CCE guidelines say since learners learn in different ways, we need to use varied assessment tasks and activities (i.e. use different tools of assessment) to cater to the different styles and ways of learning. It also says that each tool of assessment has specific strengths and limitations, no one tool is sufficient and so a variety of tools is needed. Thus, we need to assess students using different activities and tasks, both to make assessment stress free and stimulating for students and to ensure that all students are assessed in ways that they are comfortable with, giving all chance to show their learning and to improve it.
Looked at carefully, this means that the teaching learning must be in the form of and through varied tasks and activities. If the focus is on the student (learner centred) then the teaching learning must focus on the learner and actively engage him/her with the teaching learning process.
How do we teach and assess through activities and complete the syllabus in a timely manner. It is perhaps true that if a teacher directly explained the concept, put all the points on the blackboard, she would ‘complete the syllabus quickly’. But does this necessarily mean that it will result in effective learning. Remember, as mentioned above, we mean learning as understanding, enduring understanding of the concept. And this is true not just in CCE but across all teaching.
I am going to discuss here a two ways to engage students and assess them during the teaching learning process.
Look at the following conversation in a class. A teacher is trying to teach the concept of ‘clapping‘ to a class.
The teacher claps three to four times
Teacher (T): What am I doing?
Students (S): Clapping
T: What is ‘clapping’?
S: ‘It is a sound.’ ‘It is making a noise.’
T: is it a ‘sound’ or an ‘action’? Or is it an action that makes a sound?
S: ‘It is both an action and a sound.’ ‘You do an action and the sound is made.’
T: Okay. How do I make this sound?
S: ‘You join your hands’. ‘You bring your hands together/close to each other.’
T: (‘joins’ her hands-brings them together, palm touching palm): I have joined my hands. Did I make a sound?
T: So how did I make the sound? Did I join my hands with strength/force (demonstrates) or did I just bring my hands together? (demonstrates)
S: You joined the hands with strength and force.
T: Right. So now can you explain what clapping is?
Students give their responses. The teacher collates them and presents a clear definition and explanation of ‘clapping’ to the class.
Compare this with the following:
T: Clapping is an action that is made when the hands are brought together with some force.
What is the difference? In the first, there is a conversation between the teacher and students, through this interactive form the students work with the teacher and with each other to come to an understanding of the concept, ‘clapping’. The students think, work out the concept, actively engaged in the learning. In the second way, the teacher gives a direct definition; the students will mechanically remember the concept but are unlikely to fully grasp it and assimilate it.
During the first instance, the teacher is assessing along with teaching or rather, during in the teaching learning process. What is she assessing or what can she assess? To name a few – how the students are observing, noting, drawing conclusions, expressing themselves, listening to each other, connecting ideas. (Note how higher order thinking skills and many Co-Scholastic skills of CCE are being developed here).
So as teachers we need to adopt such a method of teaching – facilitating learning through specific, pointed questions and make students active learners and co-creators of knowledge. This is a key element of CCE and of effective teaching.
Suppose, as per the syllabus, the following aspects or sub-topics had to be studied in Clapping: What is clapping, factors that affect clapping, techniques of clapping, effective clapping, volume of sound produced in clapping, factors affecting this, types of clapping, history of clapping. Through such questioning and demonstration, the students will understand all the aspects of the concept that need to be included as per the syllabus.
Do note that the teacher has assessed students as mentioned above but has not ‘formally’ recorded any marks /grades. A key point to understand here is that all checking of learning is not needed and not recorded. The CBSE circular of March 2011 clearly states this.
We need, though, to record marks/grades. In the example here on Clapping, does it mean the teacher will assess for purposes of formal recording of grades when the full topic, Clapping, is completed? Not at all. Such assessment and recording of grades will and needs to be done during the teaching learning of the entire topic.
How do we do this?
Let’s go back to the conversation above. The teacher can first ask students to clap individually and give them feedback on their performance, explaining what is right and what needs improvement. She can tell them she will assess them on defined criteria and assess them and give and record the marks on this. She can
- Hold an oral or written quiz (10-15 minutes)
- Set students a task of demonstrating ‘loud’ and ‘soft’ clapping; clapping with rhythm and grade students individually or in groups based on clearly worked out criteria which are shared with the students
- Set a task to students to explain clapping in any form -through writing or drawing on a chart paper, their note books.
(For the quiz the teacher can ask students to do a self or peer assessment as she calls out the answers.)
The teacher can do any task at the beginning, the middle or at the end of a lesson and any time that she sees is required to check if the learning is taking place effectively and identify and implement steps she needs to take to help ensure the requisite learning . The assessment can be for any marks and of any duration.
Peer teaching and Self Learning
Let’s take another example. The chapter First War of Independence 1857 is to be taught to students. The teacher wishes to use the textbook for this.
She can divide the class into groups and allocate a certain number of paragraphs, say 1 or 2, of the chapter in the textbook to each group. As she does this, she should state what each section focuses on.
For example –
‘Group A –You will study paragraph 1. This discusses the situation in India before the First War of Independence. Group B- You will study paragraph 2. This discusses the main cause of the First War of Independence.’ And so on.
The teacher gives the meaning of difficult words in the chapter in the textbook to the students, in the form of a handout, by writing them on the blackboard /chart paper or through a power point presentation.
She asks the groups to study the assigned paragraph and identify the key points in it. The teacher demonstrates this – she reads out a paragraph herself and shows how to identify the key points, pointing them out and making students underline them in the book. She notes the key points on the board /chart paper and shows the students her work. Through such a demonstration /exemplification, the students will understand what is required and how it is to be done. This enables a successful completion of the task.
If the teacher feels the students need more help, she can tell students the number of key points in each allocated section e.g. paragraph 1 has 3 key points; paragraph 2 has 4 key points and so on. Again, this is an enabling support for students.
The teacher gives a fixed amount of time to the group to study the allocated section, say ten minutes. The teacher explains how the students are to note down the key points on a chart paper or on a sheet of paper or in their notebooks. They are to select a member of the group as the presenter who will then present the points to the class. The presentation, she says, is not to be longer than two minutes.
While the students study the allocated text, the teacher goes around observing the students at work, helping clear doubts, give quick inputs if required.
Each group will present their points to the class.
During each presentation, the teacher can help with inputs if a point is not clear or she can let each group complete its presentation and then collate all the points of all the groups at the end of the presentations and through a power point presentation/chart paper explain them to the students, asking questions and encouraging them to ask her and each other questions for clarifications.
Through such an activity, students learn to work in groups, study independently (with some structured guidance—word meanings, information on number of points in each allocated section), in a timed way (10 minutes for study, two for presentations), and make a presentation to their class.
Such a practice means that the chapter is being completed as required with students learning how to make presentations. So when the teacher asks them to make a presentation for grading and recording, the students know what is to be done and can do so well. So we have taught using an activity, helped students learn the task (presentation) through which they can be assessed next time for recording purposes. (Note the CBSE Circular referred to above – some tasks are only for teaching, some for ‘assessment’- i.e. for recording for inclusion in the report card) We have also ensured a timely completion of the chapter, a step toward syllabus completion.
What is to be noted here and which we should affect is to time each section – here the teacher gives ten minutes for study and two minutes for presentation. Such timing ensures students remain on task, the work is completed timely and effectively and students are prepared for future timed assignments like ‘tests’ and the Summative Assessment papers.
Critically, the task /activity must be very clearly explained with examples and demonstration so students know what exactly they are to do. Such clarity of instruction goes a long way in ensuring successful attempt of the task/ activity and learning.
Of course, one does not need to mention the need for planning by the teacher. She needs to fully plan out each task and activity, the different sections, how each is to be done, in what way and for how much time and the purpose. Thus, the What, How and Why of each activity needs to be thought through and planned. (I will talk of the ‘why’ in the next article).
With some changes in teaching learning strategies, we can ensure both varied assessment and completion of the syllabus. More on this, in the next article!
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