Academic journal article Science and Children

Scoring a Goal for Learning: Initiating Formative Assessment Practices in Kindergarten Informs Teaching and Learning

Academic journal article Science and Children

Scoring a Goal for Learning: Initiating Formative Assessment Practices in Kindergarten Informs Teaching and Learning

Article excerpt

Students in Mrs. Cornell's kindergarten class shared their observations about what happened when drops of water were placed on different types of wood. The students were engaging in a science lesson focusing on the observable properties of wood, an activity from the FOSS Wood and Paper science module (Lawrence Hall of Science 2005). This lesson is one of many that Mrs. Cornell designed to lay the foundation for the second-grade disciplinary core idea, PS1.A., Matter exists as different substances that have observable properties. The lesson also begins to develop an understanding concerning the strengths and weaknesses of materials, something that can be used later when students participate in design challenges as specified in the performance expectation K-2-ETS1-3 (Achieve Inc. 2013; see Connecting to the Standards). Not only were the students engaging in inquiry, but they were also working toward meeting the learning intentions set forth by their teacher.

Teachers of kindergarten through grade 4 have been implementing research-based formative assessment strategies in their daily practice as a result of attending a weeklong Institute for Assessment provided by ASSET STEM Education through a federal Investing in Innovation grant. In this article, we focus on the role that formative assessment plays in one kindergarten classroom in Berlin Brothersvalley School District in Somerset County, Pennsylvania. We also take a look at the assessment tools used by the teacher to gauge student understanding as well as different products of assessment that provide evidence of student learning.


During the institute, all participating teachers were introduced to five key strategies of formative assessment: learning intentions and criteria for success, questioning, feedback, self-assessment, and peer assessment (Leahy et al. 2005; Wiliam 2011). The design of the institute was aligned with Dylan Wiliam and Paul Black's meta-analysis of assessment research. Their work showed "that innovations that include strengthening the practice of formative assessment produce significant and often substantial learning gains" (Black and Wiliam 2010, p.1).

Mrs. Cornell infuses many of these strategies into her daily practice with each science lesson and stretches them across the curriculum into all the subjects she teaches. Every teacher's ultimate goal is to make sure that students understand the learning intentions. To establish motivation to meet those learning intentions, Mrs. Cornell uses the visual of a soccer ball and goal, because soccer is a sport with which all of her students are familiar. They know that to "score" in their learning, they need to get the ball into the goal. Therefore, when Mrs. Cornell aims the students' attention at this goal, she knows the students will take ownership of their learning and work toward achieving the goal, ultimately scoring (see Figure 1). By implementing formative assessment practices in kindergarten, she is laying the foundation for students to become "self-regulated learners" (Brookhart and D'Arcangelo 2008, p. 3).

Assessment Tools in Practice

Mrs. Cornell began the lesson by reviewing the properties of wood with the students. She asked, "What can you tell me about wood?" The students responded: "The wood is strong," "We can use it to build things," and "It is hard." To generate interest in the lesson, Mrs. Cornell asked the students if they could think of a time when they saw wood getting wet. She provided time for the students to share their thinking with each other and listened for common themes to gauge their prior knowledge. While making her observations, she heard students mention times where they observed wood getting darker and feeling wet when water came into contact with it. It was at this time that Mrs. Cornell used the formative assessment strategy learning intentions and criteria for success to introduce the students to what they would be learning during the lesson. …

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