Despite the terrible weather, I headed to Manhattan on Sunday February 12th to attend the First Annual Touro College Faculty Learning Strategies Exchange Conference. Although geared toward Professors, I figured there would be content that librarians could benefit from since we teach information literacy, and I was right. I learned a lot that I can apply to make my classes more effective.
The keynote speaker was Harry Ballan, new Dean of the Touro Law Center in Central Islip, Long Island. His topic was formative assessment. I had no idea what that meant, so I will share what I learned with you. According to the NY State Education Department glossary, “Formative assessment is a process used by teachers and students during instruction that provides feedback to adjust ongoing teaching and learning to improve students’ achievement of intended instructional outcomes.” So in contrast to a final exam, which is a summative assessment used at the end of course, formative assessments are used throughout the course. Professor Ballan stressed the importance of formative assessments for understanding what your students already know and tailoring your lesson based on the ongoing assessments. He recommends the assessments be “low stakes” and “embedded” into classroom activities regularly. He also talked about this type of assessment as one way for students to participate more actively in their education to promote more effective learning. He showed us several clips from the movie “Dead Poet’s Society” in which Professor Keating (played by Robin Williams) gets his students engaged in learning by standing on their desks to see the world from a different angle or by reciting a line of poetry as they kick a ball on the soccer field. (These aren’t examples of formative assessment, but I wanted to share the clips he showed because its fun).
Two of the break-out sessions I attended gave demonstrations of ways to add formative assessments to your teaching. Meredith Miller’s presentation on “Clickers in the Classroom” showed how easy, useful, and actually fun it can be to use the new clicker technology to find out if your students understand the lesson. I have lost count of the number of times I’ve stood in front of a class and asked “Does everyone understand this?” and I get just some head nods or I ask “Does anyone have a question?” and I get blank stares and no response. I’m sure you know what I mean. I don’t blame the students; when I was a student I responded that way too. But using clickers eliminates this problem with getting feedback. Since it is anonymous and low stakes, students are generally happy to participate. Professor Miller says that most days, she poses a question on the screen at the front of the room when the students arrive to class and they need to get out their clickers and answer the question. She says it’s a great way to transition into class. Instead of students chatting about what they watched on TV the night before, they begin talking amongst themselves about the question being posed. As the students submit their answers, the results are projected on the screen which shows everyone if they are all on the same page or if they have different understanding of a topic from other students. It is also her method for taking attendance. Professor Miller has her students purchase their clickers. The clickers and the software are inexpensive. Using formative assessment in your classroom requires you to be more nimble and flexible as you teach. You may have to switch direction away from your prepared lesson, based on the feedback you get on the spot. Professor Miller says that in the beginning of her teaching career that idea may have been daunting, but now as a seasoned teacher she feels confident that she can lead the discussion in whatever direction it needs to go. I would imagine this keeps the job interesting and challenging, and prevents teacher burnout.
Professor Rachel Cope showed another option for formative assessment in her breakout session ‘Using Google Forms to identify Muddiest Points’. She uses Google Forms to create simple survey questions about the material she is teaching. Then she asks her students to access the survey from their computer or mobile device and answer the question. She embeds the link right into Blackboard or shows it up on the screen during class. This is a simple way that we could all try formative assessment without purchasing anything.
To learn more about formative assessment, turn to your Touro Libraries! We have a large number of resources available including, books, ebooks and streaming video. Follow this link to our catalog to see all the titles about formative assessment and this link for an ebook on Clickers in the classroom.
Formative assessment wasn’t the only topic I learned about. For more on the conference, stay tuned for part two!
Contributed: Laurel Scheinfeld, Librarian, Bay Shore