Inspiration article link(s)


A link for my colleagues who wish to read “Inside the Black Box: Raising Standards Through Classroom Assessment” Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam, 1998

Presentation summary: Thinkers who have influenced my beliefs: A journey full of fear and excitement

My dad was the most influential thinker in my life…not a pedagogue in the Merriam-Webster definition “ a dull, formal, or pedantic teacher “ but in the sense that he was an educator of young people. He was man who spent his entire life learning and as a result, became a model of its  importance to his oldest daughter, me. He always expected me to do my best; he showed me how to learn and left the “what” up to me. While my dad was a professional educator in the field of library management, he was not an “educator” in the sense required for this exercise so I had to move on and find inspiration elsewhere.

I had hoped to leave the dreaded terms “pedagogical” and “pedagogy” with my memories of teacher training, along with the other teacher jargon that I so despised. My memories of Vigosky and Gardner have faded and I am not sure who inspires my teaching. This assignment required me to revisit those days to see if anything stuck. Then I remembered a class with S, an assistant superintendent in my district. I can’t remember the course he taught, but I do remember some discussions we had around assessments. We discussed assigning 0 to work and deducting marks for late work, practices that he disagreed with as do I. I emailed S. and asked him who influenced his practice and he connected me with work by Rick Stiggins, which I am continuing to research (waiting for a book) as well as Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam’s “Inside the Black Box: Raising Standards Through Classroom Assessment” which I will share with you today.

Originally published in 1998, this 2010 reprint focuses on the role of formative assessment as a way to raise achievement. Supported by extensive research evidence, Black and Wiliams see the teacher’s task as “engineering learning opportunities so that learners can become more expert and more responsible in guiding and furthering their own learning” (Black and Wiliam, 2009). This echoes the concerns shared by me and my colleagues about our students as passive recipients of information rather than active learners.

The authors compare the classroom to a black box where inputs from outside are fed in (parental and administrative expectations, high stake tests, etc.) and outputs (knowledgeable students, no failures, satisfied teachers) are supposed to result. Teachers are expected to raise standards without support; the authors suggest that it is the responsibility of policy makers and others to support change in the class.
Why do it?

Formative assessment uses information (observation, discussion, written work and student self-assessment) to adapt teaching to meet student needs. The authors provide evidence that improving formative assessment raises overall achievement and that it helps low achievers more than other students (these are kids who have opted out, given up,  who don’t believe they are capable).   The benefits of formative assessment include improved motivation and  self-esteem (Black and Wiliam, 2010).
Is it being done?

“A poverty of practice’’

Marking does not offer ways to improve,…it reinforces the status quo. Tests (my multiple choice and the high-stakes Provincial exams) encourage rote and superficial learning. Competition rather than personal improvement seems to be the focus. Collection of marks is given higher priority than analysis of student’s work to discern learning needs.

Researchers found high-stakes external tests always dominate teaching and assessments (similar pressures in the States as well as the UK).

How can we improve?
    “Students are content to get by” (Switzerland)
Pupils are the ultimate user of assessment information. Focus on grades = look for ways to boost mark rather than improving learning (honours…focus on marks not knowledge).
By reducing competition and fear of being wrong, a culture of success can be created. ‘“Feedback should be about the quality of work, with advice on how to improve and should avoid comparisons with others.” Low achievers, with only poor marks and no feedback on how to improve, become stuck in a cycle of low achievement… a self-fulfilling prophesy of failure.
(Opportunities to improve = test corrections in my class)

    1. Provide a clear picture of target, desired goal.
    2. Provide evidence of where they are at relative to that goal.
    3. Understand how to bridge the gap.

    • Leads to more committed and effective learners.
    • Leads to discussion and reflection.
    • An essential component of formative assessment.
    • “ If formative assessment is to be productive pupils should be trained in self-assessment so that they can understand the main purposes of their learning and thereby grasp what they need to do to achieve.” (Black and Wiliam, 2010)


    •     Students may resist. F.A. emphasizes thinking for yourself, not working harder (Honours…work hard but don’t think).
    •     Take more class time to change the outlook on learning and working methods of students. Requires risk taking by teachers…status quo of delivery and coverage with poor understanding is pointless and can even be harmful.
    •     Requires a teacher committed to a culture of questioning and deep thinking, where pupils learn from discussions with teachers and their peers.
    • Requires a teacher who believes that all students are capable of learning, and of learning more effectively obstacles to learning.

    Now what?

    •     Each teacher must find his/her own way to incorporating lesson and ideas into classroom work as well as into the culture of the school.

     “Assessment is a deeply social and personal issue”.

    • “Teachers clearly face difficult problems in reconciling their formative and summative roles, and confusion in teachers’ minds between these roles can impede the improvement of practice.”
    • This is me…I am so focused on covering the material that might be on the Provincial that I lose focus of the day-to-day learning.
    • Validity of these formal tests is in question because that are unlike the conditions of everyday performance. What are we testing? …How well students write tests???
    • Slow process, not a quick fix. Requires support and professional development. Need to see examples of what this means in practice (what I am looking into now… Reflections on Expressive Writing in the science class).

Exciting…a way for instructional design to create increased understanding.
Exciting…the troubles I feel in my practice is because of the conflict between the teacher I want to be and way I practice now. Now I have validation, a rationale to follow that can help both my students and myself.

Fear… where do I start?  More research.
I have started using reflections in class. I need more concrete examples. (Research)
I have returned work with suggestions for improvement… given students opportunities to discuss the how with their peers and I will assess their learning again. I am trying to focus on the learning outcomes and have the students connect with what they know and need to learn.
Scary, overwhelming but exciting and powerful!!!

Speaking of failure and fear of failing.

JK Rowling on the fringe benefits of failure, and the importance of imagination in her 2008 Harvard commencement speech.

“So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential…. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.

You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.”

My research question : How can I help/enable my students to fell capable and in charge of their own learning?
    How does incorporating reflection into my lessons affect the above question?

How does using formative assessment/assessment for learning help achieve student success?

What does formative assessment look like in my class?

How to I train myself and my students in formative assessment?


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