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  • Elizabeth Barrett-Zahn

Assessment. Yes, I did say Assessment (S&C Editor's Note)

Updated: Aug 4, 2020

Assessment, in recent years, has become a loaded term in education and often carries punitive connotations for all involved. Yet, assessment is at the heart of exemplary teaching and learning because we must start with insight into what our students know and can do before we are able to successfully advance and expand learning.


How many times has a classroom discussion come to an abrupt halt when one student shouts out a science term such as “gravity,” “evaporation,” or “conservation”? With the attention now on the word, teachers will often, mistakenly, reward those with instant vocabulary recall yet how often do we later discover that the students, including the vocal student, have very little understanding of the key concepts invoked. Formative assessment allows for a deeper dive into student thinking, beyond cursory terms and phrases and instead focuses on evidence-based explanations and connected reasoning.


This month’s issue will focus on formative assessment and how the information gathered from students’ thinking can and should be used to develop lessons. Formative assessment is key to finding out what students know, how instruction can be adjusted to meet needs, and can reveal essential information about students’ progression of understanding. Knowing what students know or what misconceptions are lingering, arm the teacher with valuable information that can allow them to carefully create the classroom situations for more in-depth learning.


We here at Science and Children have been lucky to have Page Keeley’s Formative Assessment Probe column since __Date needed__. The inclusion of formative assessment probes has been a natural fit for our readers, as elementary teachers are routinely looking for opportunities to check in on student learning. But how often are we using the information gathered from the formative assessment to guide our instruction? Finding ways to access information about what students know and what they can do, essentially helps us create three-dimensional goals so that specific performance expectations can be met. Students need to think dynamically, using content information to help solve problems and connect big ideas. It is essential for teachers to find out about any content gaps, process roadblocks, misconceptions, or vocabulary pitfalls.


Embedding formative assessment throughout the learning module will supply teachers with ongoing, authentic information about their students’ understandings. Whether you are listening in to student “science talks,” using video to memorialize key learning thresholds, or asking students to express themselves in model-eliciting responses; teachers will find that the teaching and learning can become more meaningful, differentiated, and authentic when formative assessment is part of the pedagogy

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