Impact On Teaching And Learning Practice Education Essay

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This paper presents a review of the literature on classroom formative assessment, or assessment for learning. Several studies have shown evidence that the frequent implementation of formative assessment strategies can yield substantial learning gains. Student perceptions are considered along with an analysis of the formative strategies used by teachers in systemic approaches to teaching. There also follows a discussion on the nature of assessment for learning and its implications for the development of teaching practice.

2. Introduction

Assessment for learning is often referred to as formative assessment, and can be defined in various ways. To aid clarification, the definition of formative assessment used in this paper is meant to include:

'all those activities undertaken by teachers - and by their students in assessing themselves - that provide information to be used as feedback to modify teaching and learning activities. Such assessment becomes formative assessment when the evidence is actually used to adapt the teaching to meet student needs' (Black & Wiliam, 1998b: 140)

From this definition formative assessment can be conceptualized as consisting of five key strategies:

1. Clarifying and sharing learning intentions and criteria for success;

2. Engineering effective classroom discussions and other learning tasks that elicit evidence of student understanding;

3. Providing feedback that moves learners forward;

4. Activating students as instructional resources for one another;

5. Activating students as the owners of their own learning.

(Black & Wiliam, 2009)

The research into assessment for learning has led to the development of a theory of formative assessment which attempts to define all formative interactions as those 'in which an interactive situation influences cognition' (Ibid: 11).

The starting point of the work on formative assessment that is described in this paper was the review by Black and Wiliam (1998a). This review covered a very wide range of published research and provided evidence that formative assessment raises standards and that the assessment practices of the period were weak. However, there seemed to be very few resources to help teachers put the research findings into practice. Partly in response to this perceived lack of help, Black and Wiliam published the booklet Inside the Black Box (1998b), which served four main aims:

• To give a brief review of the research evidence.

• To make a case for more attention to be paid to helping practice inside the classroom.

• To draw out implications for practical action.

• To discuss policy and practice (Wiliam, 2011).

The review by Black and Wiliam (1998a) involved studying reviews of research published up to 1988 and then checking through the issues of over 160 research journals and books for the years 1988 to 1997 and their review drew on material from 250 sources. One of the priorities identified in evaluating the research reports was to identify and summarise studies that produced quantitative evidence that innovations in formative assessment can lead to improvement in the learning of students.

Since the publication of Black and Wiliam's review there has been a greater focus on issues surrounding assessment for learning and their potential benefits to teachers and students in raising classroom attainment. In 2008 the DCSF published The Assessment for Learning Strategy which presented the features and potential benefits of formative assessment as shown in the image below (DCSF, 2008:5).

It seems that there is now a consensus in many educational circles that assessment for learning is one of the most significant, ways of raising attainment within schools.

The aim of this paper is to review and critically analyse some of the most significant evidence that has been gathered regarding formative assessment, and whether it warrants the focus that is now being placed upon its use by teachers and students in our classrooms today.

3. Ethics

The purpose of this literature review is to analyse and assess the efficacy assessment for learning strategies on improving pupil attainment, and as such is designed to have a positive impact on teaching and learning practice, ensuring that teaching and assessment time is used as effectively as possible. As such, there are unlikely to be any negative or harmful consequences as a result of this paper. In its Ethical Guidelines for Educational Research BERA state that educational research aims to 'extend knowledge and understanding in all areas of educational activity and from all perspectives' (2011: 4), and this paper will attempt to meet these high aims.

In accordance with the BERA guidelines care will be taken, when reviewing studies, to ensure that the results are not used in any way other than was intended by researchers, and that was made explicit to participants so as not to impinge upon the terms of voluntary informed consent, right to withdraw and privacy afforded to them in the original studies.

The paper will consider the context and methodology of each research study, and will only include those which are deemed to meet the high ethical standards laid out by BERA (2011) in their Ethical Guidelines for Educational Research.

4. Methodology

Mainly quantitative research was considered and collated, across a variety of education platforms, and in a variety of regions of the world, and so the research has been analysed according to the following criteria, in order to aid selection and interpretation:

Focus - What was the intended focus of the research?

Context and coverage - Where was the study undertaken? At what level of education? How big was the sample size? When was the research completed? Where was the research undertaken?

Perspective - Is there neutral representation of the data or is there any bias toward a specific outcome?

Methodology - How was the research conducted?

Audience - What was the intended audience of the research?

Findings - Are the findings significant and can they robustly support the conclusions drawn?

Impact - What is the impact of the study and is it relevant to the review?

Limitations - What limitations or deficiencies exist in the research?

Areas for future development - Does the research lead to further areas that can or need to be researched in future?

Adapted from Randolph (2009).

Due to the sheer number of studies into the effects of assessment for learning The difficulty in performing this review was in selecting the most appropriate works and research studies that have been conducted and written to this point, and also in collating the findings appropriately. Student progression and attainment can also be measured in various ways, but an attempt at synthesis has been made in order to provide the reader with useful and robust data to support the conclusions of the paper.

The following section reviews the literature that was selected using the above methodology. The studies chosen were all based on quantitative comparisons of learning gains, and for being rigorous in using pre- and post- tests and comparison of experimental with control groups. It is not implied, however, that useful information and insights about the topic cannot be obtained by work in other paradigms.

5. Literature Review

In this section summarised accounts will be presented of research which was selected and reviewed according to the criteria outlined in Sections 3 and 4, and which illustrate some of the main areas and issues involved in research which aims to secure evidence about the effects of formative assessment.

The first project considered was a project in which 25 mathematics teachers from Portugal were given training in various methods of self assessment during a 20 week educational course, which they went on to implement into their teaching practice with 354 students aged between 8 to 14 years old (Fontana & Fernandes, 1994). The pupils of an additional 20 teachers, who were taking a different course in education, acted as the control group. Both of the groups were given pre- and post- tests to determine their level of mathematics achievement, and both spent the same amount of time in class on the study of mathematics. Both groups showed significant gains over the period, but the experimental group's mean gain was roughly twice that of the control group's gain. The main focus of work was on regular self-assessment by the pupils, which involved teaching them to develop a level of understanding of both the learning objectives and the assessment criteria, giving them opportunity to choose learning tasks in which they had an interest and using tasks which gave them the ability to assess their own learning outcomes.

This research showed robust evidence of attainment gains when using formative assessment strategies. The authors of the study reflected that additional work was required to look for long-term outcomes and to explore the relative effectiveness amongst the various techniques employed in together and in isolation of each other. In this study the two outstanding elements found were the focus on self-assessment and the implementation of this assessment. It was not conclusive that one or other of these features, or the combination of the two, was responsible for the gains that were found.

The second example had its origin in the idea of mastery learning, but departed from the mainstream ideology in that the authors of the study began with a belief that it was the frequent testing that would be identified as the main reason for the increase in the learning achievements reported for this approach. The project was an experiment (Martinez & Martinez, 1992), in which 120 American college students in an introductory algebra course were placed in one of four groups, two experimental and two control groups. The experimental group were tested three times as often as the control group throughout the course and the results of a post-test showed a significant performance increase for those tested more frequently over the less frequently tested control group.

It could be questioned as to whether frequent testing really constitutes formative assessment and this question would need to assess the quality of the teacher-student interactions regarding test results and on whether test results actually could be considered as constituting formative assessment in the sense of it leading to intervening action taken to close any gaps in performance (Ramaprasad, 1983).

The third study reviewed here was involved formative assessment strategies used in the teaching of kindergarten children who were aged 5 (Bergan et al., 1991). The authors of the study held a thesis that focused attention to the early acquisition of basic skills is essential for children. The project involved 838 children drawn from mostly disadvantaged home backgrounds in the USA. The teachers of the experimental group designed and carried out a measurement and planning system which required an initial assessment input to be able to inform and influence teaching practice at the individual level, and further diagnostic assessments to constantly monitor progress and adapt the teaching and learning throughout the 8 week period of its course. The teachers used primarily the observations of skills to assess progress and attainment. At the conclusion of the study, outcome tests were then compared with the initial assessments of the same skills. Analysis of the data showed that the experimental group achieved significantly. It is important to note, however, that of the control group, on average 1 child in 5 was referred as having particular learning needs and the corresponding figures for the experimental group were 1 in 17 and so this may indicate an area of weakness in the balancing between control and experimental groups within this study.

Another example of research in this area involved work to develop an inquiry-based middle school science-based curriculum and was conducted by Frederiksen & White (1997). The teaching course focused primarily on a practical inquiry based approach to learning within a designated area of science, and the work included 12 classes of 30 students across two different schools. The classes were taught to a rigorously constructed curriculum plan in which scientific issues were explored through practical experiments and computer simulation, using an inquiry cycle model that was made explicit to the students. The work was carried out in collaborative peer groups, with each class being split into two halves. Half of each class acted as a control group using portions of the lessons for the general discussion of issues surrounding the topic, whilst the other half acted as the experimental group and spent the same time on structured collaborative discussion, designed to promote reflective assessment, using techniques such as self assessment and peer assessment of class presentations. All of the pupils involved in the study were given the same basic skills test at the outset and the same post test to measure attainment and progress. On the outcome scores, the experimental group showed a significant overall gain; however, when the results were compared to the initial pre-tests it was found that students who initially scored lower, saw the biggest gains from the formative assessment strategies implemented in the study, with the highest ability pupils improvement was less marked. Amongst all the students in the experimental group, those who showed the best understanding of and ability to implement the self assessment processes achieved the highest scores.

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