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Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Conference Take Aways


You’ve probably had this experience: there is a conference that you’ve been looking forward to attending. There are speakers that inspire you, workshops that are invigorating, networking with colleagues from across the state or country. You come back refreshed with dozens of ideas that you want to implement right away! And then you see that pile of exams to grade, emails to answer, prep to do, and suddenly the tyranny of the everyday life of a teacher takes over.

What to do?

Some of my favorite conferences have been the ones where I am asked to reflect deeply on my role as an educator, especially how I address issues of equity in the classroom and on campus. In sessions like this I often walk away with ideas that I grapple with for a while, continuing to think about, and usually have an a-ha moment later in the conference or even when I am back on campus. The same kind of thing can happen in one-on-one conversations with colleagues from other institutions (why networking is so important!!) As an example, it was over breakfast one time that a colleague shared her research findings (primarily dealing with new college students who are not well-prepared for what we often call the rigor of college, but many are now calling the unwritten rules of college). She said that students ask 3 questions when they walk into your classroom: Can I do this? Is it relevant? Do I belong here? That very brief conversation stuck with me, and has become the focal point of my conversations with faculty. And it all happened in 15 minutes.

So my big conference take-away to share with you is that while you may learn new activities to implement in your classes, it’s often the conversations before, after or between presentations that have the biggest impact on the way we think about teaching. At your next conference, invite a new friend to coffee!

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Are Formative Assessments an Equity Tool?


First, let’s define assessments, and then formative assessments. An assessment is a tool used to provide information about the thinking, achievement or progress of students. Usually when faculty think about assessments, summative assessments come to mind. These include exams, quizzes, projects, or papers. And usually, this type of assessment comes with a grade. An instructor might give an exam at the end of a chapter or unit and use it to evaluate progress against a benchmark. A formative assessment, on the other hand, is a check-in with students that can be used by the instructor to modify classroom practices and learning activities. Formative assessments are assessments for learning rather than of learning. A subtle but importance difference. Can they be used as an equity tool?

We know that effective assessment must be a balanced system. Yes, grades are important (and required!) but formative assessment techniques (FATs) help to tell the rest of the story. Let’s ask students what they think! It’s way better than relying on body language! Think about the times you thought you were delivering a brilliant lesson…students were nodding like they were following, smiling, seeming to hang on every word, understanding every word. Then the test reveals otherwise.
Let’s look at this from the Transparency Framework* perspective:

Purpose: The purpose of formative assessments is to learn the whole story. Is learning taking place in your class? And are you adapting to the needs of your students?

Task: Choose a formative assessment technique (like the 3 Minute Pause) and use it several times during the term. When you collect data, report back to students what you heard.

Criteria: Look for the trends in the student feedback, and make adjustments to your classroom practices as needed.

So, you might be asking, how is this an equity tool? FATs give us an opportunity to hear from ALL students. It emphasizes getting all students to the same start and finish line of understanding. Because it helps all students, it helps our underserved populations to a greater degree.

Formative assessments also help develop a sense of belonging in your classroom. Research tells us that having that sense of belonging improves student confidence, and not having a sense of belonging can have an emotional impact on students and can lead to failure to learn and stay.  Formative assessments help us shift from a one-way communication path (as the instructor I have all the information and I will deliver content without thinking about how it’s being received) to a two-way path (students, I hear what you are saying and I will adapt classroom practices to help more learning take place as well as develop a greater sense of belonging).

Want to know more about what formative assessments are easy to use? Check with your faculty development professional on your campus! 

*Transparent design increases student academic confidence, sense of belonging, and persistence rates. Winkelmes. Liberal Education 99, 2 (Spring 2013) Winkelmes et al. Peer Review 18, 1/2 (Winter/Spring 2016)