Formative Assessments: What Not to Do

I clearly remember the excitement I felt in my first workshop about formative assessments.  I was thoroughly convinced that by giving quizzes over each (grammatical/vocabulary) learning goal, re-teaching the students who scored less than 80% on these quizzes, and then retesting them on the same material, I would ensure that all of my students would be successful in learning the language. Always willing to reinvent the wheel, I dutifully began setting measurable goals, writing several different formative assessments for each goal, planning remedial activities for the students who scored less than 80% on the quizzes, and developing enrichment activities for the students who had mastered the goal the first time.  I felt like I was doing what I was supposed to do and my administrators were happy to check the “uses formative assessment to guide instruction” boxes on my annual evaluations.

If only I could contact each one of those students and apologize for putting them through that process!  The students who struggled with grammatical accuracy continued to suffer through boring exercises while those that had mastered the verb conjugations, pronoun substitutions, adjective agreement, etc. were able to spend time on the authentic reading and listening activities that I had developed so that they would have something “fun” to do while I worked with their classmates.   The problem was that even when the “low achievers” were eventually able to show mastery on the structural learning goals on the objective formative assessments, these skills did not translate to a high level of proficiency on the performance-based summative assessments. To make matters worse, these students never had the opportunity to spend time on the interpretive activities that would have no doubt increased their proficiency in a more meaningful way that the “drill and kill” activities I used for remediation.

It now seems to me that the mistake I made was not in accepting the value of formative assessments, but in failing to consider what the terms “data” and “differentiation” would mean in a proficiency-based classroom.  At that point in my understanding, I defined data as a numerical value, leading to my mistaken assumption that my formative assessments needed to have right and wrong answers so I could determine my arbitrary 80% cutoff score. Furthermore, I considered differentiation to refer to dividing students into separate groups based on their score and to give each group entirely different types of assignments.  While these understandings may have worked in other subject matters, they did not lead to greater language proficiency!

As my understandings have involved, I have modified my definition of data and differentiation.  Rather than a score on a grammar quiz, I will now derive data by completing a rubric on performance-based formative assessments.  By providing feedback rather than a score on their work, I hope to encourage my students to focus on their learning and not their grade.  Differentiation is inherent in this new framework, as the individualized feedback provides the information the student needs to progress along the proficiency path.  Students will be given multiple performance-based formative assessments throughout the unit, and then encouraged to use the feedback they receive to set goals for the summative assessment.  As an added benefit of these new grading practices, I am no longer correcting stacks of grammar quizzes or entering multiple columns of scores into my gradebook.  Instead, my students will now submit a portfolio showing their achievement on a formative assessment for each proficiency-based learning goal.  I will assign a score only on the portfolio, which will be based on both the quality of the performance and the student’s goal-setting.

Click here to see the rubrics I use for formative performance-based assessments: Formative Rubrics

Click here to see the portfolio guide that I use for student goal-setting: Portfolio de Progrès 

How do you use formative assessments in your class?

 

10 thoughts on “Formative Assessments: What Not to Do

  1. Lauren Bartels

    I saw this on French Teachers in the US and I followed the link. I have a question. Do you staple a rubric on to each formative assessment and make checks or circles, then hand it back to the student?
    Merci

    Reply
    1. madameshepard Post author

      Hi, Lauren. Thanks for reading my blog! If I’m planning on assessing all of the students on a particular activity, I think I’ll include the formative rubric right on the document with the activity itself. (Unless I’m assessing their speaking, in which case I need to have it separate so that I can mark on it as I listen to them. However, I’m going to try doing more selective formative assessments this year. If my students are engaged in learning tasks that incorporate all three language modes on a daily basis, there is no way I could grade everything! I’m thinking about randomly choosing a few students to grade each day. They won’t know in advance whether they will be “graded”, so I hope that they will each always do their best work. I will keep track of which students receive feedback each day, so that I can make sure that everyone has at least a couple of formative assessments in each mode per unit. In this case, I’ll just have a stack of rubrics for each mode, and just fill them out for the students I’ve chosen to assess. I hope this makes sense, but if not just let me know. I’m sure I’ll post about whether or not this works out after school starts!

      Reply
  2. Angela Drake

    Thank you so much or publishing all that you have created for those us who are thinking along the same lines, but a bit intimidated about getting started. I admire the hard work you have put into this profession, and your commitment to advancing your students’ proficiency. You are an inspiration. Merci bien, Madame, de m’avoir donné le courage d’essayer quelque chose de nouveau!

    Reply
    1. madameshepard Post author

      Oh, my gosh, Angela. Your comment brought tears to my eyes! I can’t believe that a little over a week ago, I did a search on “How to write a blog” and here it is a few days later and I’m already meeting such a wonderful group of colleagues! It can be so isolating to be a French teacher–so many of us are singletons in our buildings–and it’s so nice to know that there are others out there with the same goals. I’ll look forward to collaborating with you this year!

      Reply
  3. Becky

    I must echo Angela’s response. I have been trying to balance the use of a book( at least in scope and sequence) with the idea of Performance-based and Portfolio assessment. With four preps, a trip completed last month, and an exchange in two months, I’m overwhelmed at just the thought of going back to school. Just being able to look at what someone else did is SOOOO helpful. I am constantly trying to get the students watch current material and complete real-life activities. It’s the consistent structure I lack. I love our group of Facebook and I hope that one day, I’ll be able to offer materials of this quality. Bon Courage to you and our whole group as we head back.

    Reply
    1. madameshepard Post author

      Hi, Becky! Thank you so much for taking the time out to reply to my post! As a brand-new blogger, it means a lot to have this kind of feedback. I just love the Facebook page, too! I think it’s especially important for those of us who teach French to have a place where we can share resources. I know that I often feel somewhat isolated as the only French teacher in my school. I’m looking forward to collaborating with as many colleagues as possible through this blog, the Facebook page, etc. Bonne rentree!

      Reply
  4. Denise

    Hi Lisa,

    I know this is an old post, but I am slowly working my way through your blog & had a question for you after reading this post. Do you feel that there is a place for any type of formative practice of discreet vocab and/or grammar items when following a proficiency model? Thanks, and I enjoy reading your blog!

    Denise Wagstaff

    Reply
    1. madameshepard Post author

      Hi, Denise. Thanks for reading! Yes, I do think there’s a place for practicing vocab and grammar, especially with novices. It seems to me that if they are communicating with “memorized words and phrases” that it is our responsibility to help them memorize these words and phrases. I also find that well-chosen activities can add variety to the “authentic lesson cycle” that I use. I think it’s possible to practice grammar and vocab in a contextualized way, though. I think the kids have to attach some meaning to new structures before they memorize the rules. Unfortunately, we never have enough time to give out students everything they need. I don’t think occasional discrete practice is wrong, it’s just that any time we spend on those exercises takes away from the time they could be communicating. Being new to all of this myself, I’m still formulating my ideas so stay tuned! What are your thoughts?

      Reply
  5. Denise

    I would like to say that there is a place for practice/memorization (I’m thinking along the lines of using Conjuguemos to practice verb conjugations or Quizlet to memorize vocab), though the lesson shouldn’t be driven by memorizing a whole bunch of forms. Using “memorized words and phrases” is very different from memorizing a bunch of conjugations and is reflective of the proficiency philosophy. The thing I am having a hard time wrestling with is how I can make use of my student textbooks, which our district has invested a lot of money in, and still adopt a proficiency mindset. Also, there are still tests out there that many of our kids take, such as National French Contest & SAT II, that do require some discreet knowledge of grammar and vocab. Perhaps that will change, but I do think we have an obligation to teach them the skills required on those assessments too, even if just to a small degree.

    Reply
    1. madameshepard Post author

      I think you make great points Denise. I’m not required to use a textbook, so that helps, but I know what you mean about the other tests. Fortunately, the AP test is more proficiency-based (but difficult!). It’s really a challenge to try to figure out how best to help our students!

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *