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Discussion: Developing and discussing classroom assessment strategies

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posted by: Mack McCary on March 21, 2000 at 3:30AM
subject: Cultural change to support formative assessment/inquiry
I'm Mack McCary, Assistant Superintendent in
Elizabeth City, NC and co-PI of the MIPS project, Math
Improvement thru Problem-Solving, a K-8 project in
five rural NC counties. I've been working with
classroom assessment for about 10 years, and the
issues of how to assess student understanding,
teachers' use of questions to promote inquiry, and
grading practices have become important topics in our
grant. Though we are working with mathematics, it
seems like some of what we are learning would be
relevant to science as well.
Cultural change: During our early work in piloting
the Connected Math project at the middle school level,
we discovered that teachers believed they were
implementing the program when they taught the lessons
using the materials, but observation showed that often
they unintentionally changed an inquiry task providing
a high level of cognitive challenge into a routine
procedural task with a low level of challenge. One
factor seems to have been how well we had taught
children to play the game of school: just play
helpless long enough and the teacher, out of caring,
will change the task until it becomes easy!
A consultant helped us change this culture in
several ways. First, she taught teachers a process
for reflecting on lessons by videotaping a lesson she
modeled, and then leading a reflection discussion.
This reflection focused on examining student
understanding, whether teacher questions kept the
cognitive demands high, and posing what questions
would have kept the inquiry at a high level. She then
recruited some of the veteran risk takers to allow her
to video their lessons and lead a similar reflection
process. The teacher-leaders involved felt the
videoing was a bit too threatening for novice
teachers, so with the consultants' help, they
established a practice of asking teachers to keep a
reflective journal of the lessons they taught, and
bringing the journal and samples of student work to
their meetings.
Our teacher-leaders have kept up this routine,
using department meetings every other week to reflect
together on videos, journals and student work, along
with alignment, pacing and other issues that come
before the group.
We have learned from this experience in trying to
implement similar processes K-5 in implementing
Trailblazers math. At this stage, one of our MIPS
teachers-on-loan is visiting schools with a video of
herself modeling a lesson, and leading a teacher group
to reflect on student understanding and the kinds of
questions which will advance student inquiry.
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