Students take control of their own learning

Students need to learn to always ask these three questions (and answer them!)
  1. Where am I going? (What's the learning target?)
  2. Where am I now? (What do I currently know?)
  3. How can I close the gap?

Quiz: When you don't do well on a formative assessment, what's your next step?
  • A) Get help from a teacher or peer tutor.
  • B) Re-study the material that you didn't do well on.
  • C) Find an alternative source of information on the topic - maybe a computer website - and learn from it.
  • D) Try an academic game, learning kit, laboratory activity or other hands-on approach to learning the material.
  • E) Any of the above. The key is to adjust your learning strategy and keep trying.

In Classroom Assessment for Student Learning: Doing it Right – Using it Well, Rick Stiggins, Judith Arter, Jan Chappuis, and Steve Chappuis, provide an approach for students to look carefully at the results of quizzes that are used as formative assessments and decide what their next steps should be. If you buy the book (or borrow it from the ISD), look at the handout called "Goal Setting with Tests". The basic idea is this:
  1. You should know which learning targets (HSCEs, GLCEs) are the basis for each item on the test. Your teacher should give you a list of all items and the corresponding content expectations.
  2. Using a chart that lists all the items, check off the ones your got right and the ones you got wrong.
  3. Look at the items you got wrong and recognize those learning targets as your strengths!
  4. For the items you got wrong, determine if you made a simple mistake or if you didn't really understand that content.
  5. For the content that you don't really understand, decide what you will do to help yourself learn it better - what your next steps will be to ensure that you know this content before the summative assessment at the end of the unit. If you missed a couple items that are all based on the same HSCE or GLCE, that content would be a high priority for you to study.

For example, using Amber's Algebra II Assignment and Assessment Plan from the Learning Targets page, a quiz might have some items on exponential growth and decay situations, like population growth or the decay of radioactive isotopes. One of the learning targets is:
  • E1: Students will recognize exponential growth and decay functions by their equations and by their graphs. They will graph exponential functions by hand and identify their domain and range. -Here's an example, in case you're forgetting your algebra. :)

After the quiz, they might use a chart like this:

This kind of chart works for some math quizzes. Other kinds of charts would be necessary for writing assignments, since feedback is more detailed than just right/wrong/simple mistake. See the page on Feedback.

The basic idea is that formative assessments provide feedback during the learning process that students can use to modify their learning tactics, so that they get themselves well-prepared for the summative assessment at the end of the learning process. One of Amber's students talks in these videos about retaking tests after studying just what he needs to learn.

Teachers also use the results from formative assessments to change instruction as needed, especially if the whole class is misunderstanding something. They also use this feedback to differentiate instruction or provide extra help for small groups of students. See "Feedback for teachers."

Task: Create a chart like the one above for your next assessment, or modify it for a writing assignment. Have students use it to determine what they still need to learn. Have each student determine a learning strategy for themself. Write a reflection on the discussion tab about how well this works to improve student learning. (You might have to do this several times to let students get used to it.)