Formative Assessment and How People Learn

The article by D. Royce Sadler, “Formative assessment and the design of instructional systems” delves deeper into an issue brought up in previous posts and SI643 classes, expertise.   Sadler tries to understand the disconnect in some students from accurate feedback and actual improvement of skills thereby leading to a student’s deeper knowledge.  The hope is that this deeper knowledge will one day lead to expertise in a given field.

Sadler believes that the disconnect is tied to the difficulty in assessing products in a simple +/- matrix.  Many student projects are multifaceted and therefor cannot be assessed as either correct/incorrect.  This then leads to human judgement for assessment and expectations which may have not been properly explained prior to the submission.  Or, if expressed students focus so intently on the criteria that it leads to a poor performance.  So, students may not understand what is expected and they may not have the ability to properly self-assess their project against the standards, what Sadler calls multicriterion judgements.

I was particularly intrigued by Sadler’s idea of the transference of responsibility in making evaluative decisions from teacher to learner when students are expected to evaluate themselves (135).  I think that this a really strong idea.  I believe that when learners are given more responsibility they typically perform better and retain the information longer.  In addition, you are your own harshest judge because you know just to what extent you tried and pushed yourself.  However, this could pose a problem for students that have unrealistic expectations and anxieties.  This mode of learning could also pose problems for students from cultures where active partnered learning with self-critiquing assessment is largely unheard of.  While this may be challenging for the teacher and the students who are unfamiliar with these concepts, for this reason it could be the most beneficial.

So, how does this information translate into the work that I will be doing at public libraries?  How can I use formative assessment in library programming?  I immediately think of the short story from Chapter Seven in “How People Learn” where the authors describe the curriculum building and evaluation in Barb Johnson’s middle school classroom.  After the students answer two questions ‘What questions do you have about yourself?’ and ‘What questions do you have about the world?’, Johnson uses their collectively prioritized answers to build/guide the term’s curriculum.  Then students are asked to participate in discussing the most compelling issues, ways to explore the issues and then they start their ‘learning journey.'(156-7)  Toward the end of their journey the students are then asked to evaluate their experience through the lens of academic subjects, which subjects were touched on and in what way.  This draws the students’ attention to the subject and in a way their performance.  Having students as active members in the learning journey is an awesome experience.  In theory it could give them a greater respect for the planning process while also making them conscious of learning in general.  And what I think is the best reason for doing it, making learning fun and relevant to their needs.

I want to be more like Barb Johnson and am eager to get to that place of expertise, but am not there yet.  Time and experience are needed before I have mastered those types of knowledge (subject, psychological, and pedagogical).  I think that this method of teaching has many exciting applications for people of all ages.  It empowers them in their information journey while also making them aware of where they are going in the process.


About mainvils

I am a first year UMSI graduate student specializing in LIS and Preservation of Information.
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