Friday, May 31, 2013

Informal And Formal Assessment With Multi-Ability Classes

by Richard D Boyce

Formal assessment often creates fear within the student such that it prevents them from performing at their best.

Therefore, it is important for the teacher to give students practice assessment items to allow them to gain experience in doing assessment under exam conditions to ease that fear.

This informal assessment helps both the teacher and student gauge how they are progressing and what they need do to prepare for the real thing.

In classes with a wide range of ability, there are strategies you can use to help prepare all your students to do well in formal assessment by using your informal assessment as preparation.

Below are ideas to consider as part of your informal assessment:

  1. It is important to find out what understanding of each new topic your class has as a starting point for your teaching.
  2. Use frequent, quick, short tests to consolidate the basics.
  3. Practice any new assessment task before you use it formally.
  4. Make sure the format of your informal assessment reflects the formal assessment format.
  5. If you divide your class into ability groups, set tests to reflect their progress.
  6. You might read the questions aloud to the lower ability groups to help them understand what has to be done.
  7. If you set a common test for the class, you could set different starting points for each ability group. This would allow all students to gain some success and the more able to progress to the more challenging questions.
  8. Alternatively, consider testing each ability group separately with their own test or section of the main test.

When it comes to formal testing, consider the following. If you are responsible for your class's total assessment program, then some of the ideas below will give you more flexibility than you would have if the assessment program incorporated many classes.

  1. In formal testing, separate the testing of the basics from problem solving. This reduces stress on students allowing them to perform at a higher level more confidently.
  2. Make sure each unit of the test begins with an easy example and progress through a range of difficulties. This means most students will get a start.
  3. If you are prepared to be adventurous, you might set a test, graded in difficulty, to allow the students to choose where they start and finish.
  4. With some less able students in your class, you might decide to give them a clue to get them started. You should record this on their paper and make adjustments to the marking scheme.
  5. All of the above may need to be tempered to the rules set up by the formal testing procedures mandated by outside authorities in upper high school year levels.
  6. Give separate skills and problem solving tests. The skills test would have a set time while the problem solving test might be more time flexible.
  7. Remind students that the basic skills are paramount to gaining a pass mark and are the essential basis for problem solving.
  8. Your assessment tasks should always reflect your teaching pedagogue.

Overarching these ideas are two important strategies that the teacher must engage in with their classes.

No student will do well in any assessment program, no matter how hard they work, unless they have an effective examination technique. Teachers need to teach their students how to do an examination and constantly review those techniques before each assessment task.

In addition, when reviewing the assessment task with their students, they must point out where students have made errors due to poor examination technique.

Finally, it is important for the teacher to model for students how to actually do each different type of assessment by using one of each and discussing how they would go about doing that type of assessment task. This should not be a one-off.

This article is one of many written by our author who had over 40 years' experience in the classroom. In his final years of permanent teaching, as Head of Mathematics, he was responsible for the total assessment program in his school.

All of his experience on many examination and assessment topics can be found in his eBook, "The Exam Book" on the website

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