Formative Assessment of Language, Content, Thinking Skills, etc.

Effective teaching depends on effective formative assessment practices. Formative assessment means a lot of different things to different people, so I will just focus on a few key aspects that focus on what we can learn from student conversations. 

Assessing Conversations
How can we learn from observing conversations? Here is a list of the important dimensions of learning and development that we can see in student conversations during a lesson. ( Singer & Zwiers article on assessing conversations for more information).

  • Constructive conversation skills: Can a student work with another student to build up ideas of value? How well do students use the skills needed for building ideas, which include clarifying, supporting, negotiating, and evaluating ideas? How well does a student “think together” with others (Mercer, 1995)
  • Content understandings and thinking skills: What understandings or misunderstandings of a concept do students have? To what degree does the student grasp the content objective? How well is the student using the thinking skill(s) emphasized in the lesson/unit?
  • Oral language skills: How well does a student articulate his thoughts orally? What language choices does the student make? What strengths and challenges are evident with respect to using oral academic English to communicate?    
  • Listening skills: How well does a student listen to others?  What does she do or say to show listening?
  • Perspectives and connections: What diverse perspectives or solutions do students bring that we haven’t considered? What connections do they make to experiences beyond school?   
  • Learning approaches and engagement: How does the student approach learning in this discipline and learning in general? How engaged in the topic is he? What questions does he ask?