Academic journal article T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)

Resolving the Formative Assessment Catch-22: Teachers Often Have a Hard Time Embedding Assessment in Their Instruction, but Some Technologies Are Making It Easier

Academic journal article T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)

Resolving the Formative Assessment Catch-22: Teachers Often Have a Hard Time Embedding Assessment in Their Instruction, but Some Technologies Are Making It Easier

Article excerpt

THERE ARE FEW challenges in K-12 education quite as problematic as formative assessment. This process, through which teachers evaluate how well their students are learning while they are teaching them, is almost universally regarded as a best practice. And yet, as researchers Neil T. Heffernan and Kenneth R. Koedinger so eloquently expressed it in their recently published paper ("Integrating Assessment within Within Instruction"), it is a practice that can put teachers in a bind: "They are being asked to assess students to drive instruction, but every minute spent on assessments is a minute lost to instruction."

This pedagogical Catch-22 might explain the relatively slow evolution of tech tools in this category. Even as online learning environments and instructional systems add increasingly sophisticated features for summative assessment (periodic evaluation used to measure student growth after instruction--D in other words, tests), the technologies that support true formative assessment are advancing more slowly.

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But they are advancing. A case in point: the student response systems (SRS), better known as classroom "clickers." Clickers started out as modest student polling devices, but the latest generation of the technology is integrated with what amounts to formative assessment platforms that include everything from interactive whiteboards to iPads. Some vendors are even supporting students' responses to interactive questions via their own mobile devices. Companies like i>clicker, Smart Technologies, Turning Technologies iRespond, Engaging Technologies, Renaissance Learning, and GoSoapBox, among others, are clearly a part of this trend, along with what has been called "data-driven differentiated instruction."

Ingrid Oyen, a third-grade teacher at Stella May Swartz Bementary School in Oakbrook Terrace, IL, has been using one of the latest incarnations of the SRS in her classroom for the past year, eInstruction's Insight 360, which integrates a mobile interactive whiteboard, the Mobi 360 for iPad application, some advanced software, and two versions of student response pads that she uses in the classroom.

"They're very powerful tools for formative assessment," Oyen says. They allow me to respond to a [missed] concept, teach to that, and move them on immediately, instead of two days later when I get through grading a stack of papers. What's the question that most kids missed? I know that right now and can teach to that right now."

Mark Hupp, technology director for Oyen's district, Salt Creek School District 48 District, says the SRS has come a long way in recent years. "The new system we're using from eInstruction is a lot more accessible and easier to use," he says. "It has two ways you can use it: a kind of ad hoc, verbal mode that requires almost no preparation from the teacher, and script mode that allows you to prepare your lessons by using your old digital content, and then tag a keynote slide or a PDF file with an answer.

"You can line up all your digital content in the sequence in which you want to teach your lesson in a highly scripted way, and embed questions strategically throughout there. Teachers like Ingrid will use the verbal mode a lot; others in higher grades may script their lessons much more," Hupp says. "This is a logical conclusion (to the evolution) of the traditional clickers."

Oyen says using the clickers has improved her students' test scores, especially in math, and reduced the amount of time she wastes in class. "I think it has taught them to read carefully, commit to an answer, enter it, then adjust, learn it, commit again, and just keep going," she says. "They get immediate feedback, and I get immediate feedback.."

A noteworthy feature of the eInstruction product is one that's becoming more common: integration with a substantial database. Insight 360 comes with a CD containing approximately 9,000 teacher edition textbooks, says Eric Rohy, eInstruction's vice president of product management, with lists of assessment questions. …

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