Academic journal article Science and Children

Teaching in Real Time: Integrating Continuous Formative Assessment into Inquiry-Based Classroom Instruction

Academic journal article Science and Children

Teaching in Real Time: Integrating Continuous Formative Assessment into Inquiry-Based Classroom Instruction

Article excerpt

Any assessment activity can help student learning if it provides information that both teachers and students can use as feedback in assessing themselves. However, such assessment only becomes formative assessment when teachers actually use the feedback to adapt their teaching to meet the learning needs of students (Black et al. 2004). Additionally, formative assessment is not a test but a process that can inform instructional decision making (Bennett 2011). Although there is strong empirical evidence that suggests that improving formative assessment raises student achievement, many teachers feel pressure from students, parents, and/or administrators to utilize summative assessments that result in more grades in the grade book (Crumrine and Demers 2007). However, overemphasis of summative assessments can lead to what Wiggins and McTighe (2005) call the "teach, test, and hope for the best" learning cycle. In this cycle, assessment happens before teachers develop a sense of how well students understand testable information, thus they must hope that their instruction yields desirable measured outcomes.

While summative assessments certainly hold a place in education, there are several formative assessment strategies that teachers can effectively integrate into their classroom instruction, such as: (1) using questions or formative assessment probes (Keeley and Harrington 2014) to elicit students' preconceptions; (2) providing feedback to students through comments and questions; (3) reviewing reflection exit tickets; (4) engaging students in peer work and assessment; and (5) collecting and recording anecdotal data based on student observations. Although most teachers are familiar with these five formative assessment strategies, in our 17 years of classroom experience in teaching and providing professional development programs to both preservice and inservice teachers, we have found that many teachers often have questions about how to effectively use formative assessment to modify instruction in real-time and have difficulty envisioning how to integrate formative assessment continuously into their classroom instruction.

Accordingly, in this article we demonstrate how these five specific types of formative assessment strategies can be effectively integrated within the 5E (Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, and Evaluate) learning-cycle model (Bybee 1997). We also illustrate for teachers how instruction can be modified based on formative assessments in real-time to immerse students in a range of inquiry-based science experiences and to provide students with an opportunity to refine their thinking and reflect on how their ideas have changed.

Our Approach

Here we demonstrate how our approach of integrating continuous formative assessment within the 5E learning-cycle model can help teachers to facilitate inquiry in the science classroom by using basic principles of magnetism as an example. This topic fits well into an elementary school science curriculum and is specifically connected to the NGSS (NGSS Lead States 2013).

We have facilitated the following 5E lesson in a third-grade science classroom that is beginning to learn about magnets. The lesson takes three 45-minute classes, assuming that most student groups complete the Engage, Explore, and Explain stages in the first meeting, the Elaborate stage on the second, and the Evaluate stage on the third. Throughout the manuscript, we have indicated any instances of eliciting students' perspectives in italicized text.


Ms. Luna engaged students in the topic by performing a simple "magic trick" using a newspaper, a paper clip, and a bar magnet. Sitting in a chair, she carefully placed a newspaper on top of her lap and then put a paper clip on top of the newspaper. Ms. Luna explained to students that she can move the paper clip with her mind. Squinting her eyes, she focused intently on the paper clip and made it move around slowly by secretly moving a bar magnet underneath of the newspaper directly below the paper clip. …

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