Formative assessment in teaching graphing skills in investigation lessons: a study of teachers’ goals, strategies, assessment criteria and feedback
London South Bank University, United Kingdom
Research studies on students’ graphing skills show that students experience difficulties in drawing, interpreting and using graphs in enquiry activities. The research presented examined the instructional and assessment practices that science teachers employ when they teach and assess graphing skills in enquiry lessons. Secondly, the purpose of this empirical study was to explore the extent to which science teachers employ formative assessment practices in teaching graphing skills.
The study was motivated in two ways: One is the teaching and assessment of graphing skills informed by the cognitive aspects of graphing embedded within the socio-cultural constructivist perspective of learning. The other is the formative assessment perspective of teaching and learning as discussed in the major review of research by Black and Wiliam (1998a), which provided evidence of the utility of formative assessment for enhancing the attainment of students.
A year-long study with nine secondary science teachers in four schools in the greater London area was designed. The participant teachers were observed over the course of their ordinary teaching of investigation lessons and they were interviewed twice. Also, copies of students’ coursework were collected to look at teachers’ marking and the written feedback that teachers may give.
The data and analysis reveal the complexity of teachers’ understandings involved in judging students’ coursework, allocating grades and assisting students to improve. Only a few of the participant teachers implemented some elements of formative assessment practices. Most teachers were not skilled at saying how a piece of coursework could be improved. Rather, for most of the teachers teaching and assessment were two separate ‘events’. Seven teachers distinguished between ‘usual’ science teaching (e.g., teaching theoretical knowledge, concepts and facts) and coursework teaching. They also distinguished between marking ‘usual’ science work and coursework. There was a variation in assessment criteria on which they based their judgements about students’ coursework. Findings indicate that science teachers have a poor understanding of the criteria related to graphs and the evaluation sections of the investigation reports.
The argument put forward is that making judgements about students’ achievement in graphs and subsequently, about how to support students to ‘get better’ at graphs is an issue of a more professional judgement that has to be informed by teachers’ subject knowledge and ‘pedagogical content knowledge’. The implementation of formative assessment practices requires teachers to have a good understanding of the quality of performance informed by investigation task analyses and an understanding of progression within graphing skills.
Gioka, O. (2004). Formative assessment in teaching graphing skills in investigation lessons: a study of teachers’ goals, strategies, assessment criteria and feedback. Unpublished PhD thesis. London: London South Bank University.
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