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2013 December Voices from the Middle, v21.2

Non-Member Price: $18.75

NCTE Member Price: $6.25

Issue Theme: Feed-Forward: Linking Instruction and Assessment

Note: This is a PRINT copy of the issue.

Level(s): Middle, Secondary

ISBN/ISSN: 1074-4762


Voices from the Middle
Volume 21, Number 2, December 2013
Issue Theme: Feed-Forward: Linking Instruction with Assessment

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Editors' Message
Doug Fisher, Nancy Frey, and Diane Lapp

Tough Teacher Evaluation and Formative Assessment: Oil and Water?
W. James Popham
Abstract: Although empirical and experiential evidence continues to indicate that the formative-assessment process improves students’ learning, many of today’s teachers are reluctant to employ it. This reluctance stems from their warranted concerns about the increasingly rigorous teacher-evaluation programs that almost every teacher in America will soon be undergoing. Clearly threatened by these federally stimulated teacher-appraisal procedures, many teachers are loath to try anything new—including formative assessment. Yet, because federal guidelines for state-level teacher evaluation programs call for significant reliance on evidence of students’ learning, when teachers employ formative-assessment in their own classrooms, they are more likely to promote the very sort of student growth that will result in positive teacher evaluations. This analysis describes the formative-assessment process, examines the nature of federally spawned teacher evaluation, and suggests how the two can happily coexist.

Assessment: The Bridge between Teaching and Learning
Dylan Wiliam
Abstract: Formative assessment is defined by crossing three key processes in learning (where students are going, where they are right now, and how to get there) with three kinds of agents in classrooms (teachers, peers, and learners). This yields a definition of formative assessment as comprising five key strategies: clarifying, sharing and understanding learning intentions; engineering effective discussions, activities, and tasks that elicit evidence of learning; providing feedback that moves learning forward; activating students as learning resources for one another; and activating students as owners of their own learning. Each of the five strategies is discussed in turn, and practical classroom techniques that middle school teachers of English language arts can implement in their classrooms are presented.

Develop a Student-Centered Mind-set for Formative Assessment
Susan M. Brookhart
Abstract: A teacher-centered mind-set focuses on formative assessment as a teaching method: it’s something teachers “do.”  A student-centered mind-set focuses on viewing learning—and formative assessment information—from the student’s point of view. This article illustrates these two approaches to formative assessment and shows how moving from a teacher-centered mind-set to a student-centered mind-set is the single most important thing you can do to improve both your use of formative assessment strategies and its effects on students.

A Tale of Two Authentic Assessment Tools
Katie Stover, Karen D. Wood, Erin Donovan, Jeanne R. Paratore, and Rachel McCormack
Abstract: With the pressures of high-stakes assessments in today's classrooms, it is not uncommon to find practices such as teaching-to-the-test and skill and drill. When only relying on traditional models of assessment that emphasize recall of facts and fixed responses, few opportunities exist to link instruction with student performance. Instead, ongoing authentic assessments allow students to demonstrate their knowledge in meaningful ways and help teachers make instructional decisions to foster continued student growth. This article describes and illustrates two alternative approaches to high-stakes and summative assessments, including SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Outcomes, and Threats) and Free Associational Assessment.

Formative Assessment and the Common Core: Blending the Best in Assessment
Laura Greenstein
Abstract: The word assessment means to gather and analyze information on the outcomes of teaching and learning. This is different from measurement, which produces numerical ratings to judge learning. In contrast, formative assessment is embedded throughout instruction. It is used to diagnose learning and provide feedback and correction with the intent of improving outcomes. It is this formative process, used throughout teaching and learning, that will strengthen the Common Core. This article describes the importance of combining formative assessment with the Core and illustrates ways to plan and manage this union.

Living and Learning: Formal Assessment in a Middle Level Classroom
Amanda M. Sass-Henke
Abstract: In this article, a middle-level language arts teacher writes of her choice to incorporate formative assessments into her life and teaching philosophy. Her purpose in using formative assessment is to better inform student learning and teacher practice. Formative assessment is defined, and lessons from living the model are highlighted. Lessons include: 1) Get Support, 2) Don't Scrimp on the Planning, 3) Bend like a Tree in the Wind, 4) Do What's Best for the Student, and 5) Celebrate the Successes. The article concludes with the author reflecting on her evolution as a teacher and expressing optimism about formative assessments and their ability to better inform her practice.

Assessments That Inform and Shape Instruction within a Reading Workshop
Denise N. Morgan, Gayle Marek Hauptman, Barbara Clark, Jeff L. Williams, and Scott Hatteberg
Abstract: This article examines the benefits of writing list articles with students. Within a unit of study approach to teaching this kind of writing, students naturally meet many of the writing Common Core State Standards. Drawing from the writing experiences of 260 7th-grade students, the authors highlight what students gain from their opportunities to write list articles. Key points from this article are: 1) Teachers should consider writing list articles with their students as it is a well-known type of writing in the real world and an experience that students enjoy; 2) Utilizing a unit of study approach to teaching writing can help teachers naturally meet many of the Common Core State Standards; 3) Specifically, writing list articles honors students' interests and choice of topic as students engage in a recursive writing process; and 4) Students must make many deliberate decisions when writing their list articles, and they must engage in short research projects to obtain necessary information for their articles.

Sketching as Response and Assessment: From Misunderstanding to Better Instruction
Renita Schmidt
Abstract: Middle grade students enjoy responding to literature in a variety of ways: sketching, dramatizing, writing, and talking. Assessing and evaluating response modes that use multiple sign systems to extend thinking about issues presented in real-life texts, however, can be cumbersome and complex. This article addresses ways teachers might use artistic responses as a way to guide instruction and provide quality assessment feedback for students while also improving understanding and instruction. Misunderstandings are highlighted here as an important part of the meaning-making process and as an important assessment and evaluation tool for teachers as they prepare for effective instruction.

Young Adult Literature: Assessing Oneself: Young Adult Books for Middle Graders
Barbara Moss, editor
Abstract: This column explores ways middle graders can assess themselves through literature that examines their roles in their families, their society, and in relationships. Titles including The Fault in Our Stars (Green, 2012 ), Under the Mesquite (McCall, 2012) and Chickadee (Erdrich, 2012) are reviewed, and  discussion questions are suggested.

Teaching the Common Core: Common Core in the Middle: Making It Work Requires Solving a Riddle
Timothy Shanahan
Abstract: Shanahan couches a serious question within a playful riddle: What essential element is missing from the language of the Common Core State Standards? He offers clues, like “It is a word that appears no place within the Standards” and “If we don’t have plenty of this, we will likely fail with Common Core.” Ultimately, he reveals the answer and gives us one more weapon in our implementation arsenal.

CODA: Into the Future: Aligning Classroom Assessments to Promote the Dynamic Mind-set of Teachers and Learners
Jeff Wilhelm, editor
Abstract: Wilhelm’s vast experience working with students and teachers has led him to this question: How can teachers create classroom assessments, both formative and summative, that will help students meet the next generation of standards (like the Common Core) and prepare for the next-generation assessments? Participants in the Boise State Writing Project have developed some answers that are working for them, like involving students, moving toward peer- and self-assessment, collaborating with colleagues, and promoting a dynamic mind-set.

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