Saturday, May 11, 2013

Should we do away with Summative assessments?

Should we do away with summative assessments?

A few months ago, I remember my twitter community engaged in a discussion about the need for summative tasks. Why was it so important to have one if the formative assessments were thorough? Why check again when we have been checking all along and have data to prove that students have met the learning objectives?

Formative tasks assess little bits and pieces. A skill, knowledge on a certain topic, the learner profile, an attitude. A summative task on the other hand, is all about the big picture. Are students able to synthesize their learning? Are they able to unconsciously use the skills and attitudes as they demonstrate content knowledge? The summative task should provide an authentic scenario; a simulation of real life.  Sitting at a desk and regurgitating data denies students the experience of being able to "create" something with their newfound knowledge and skills. It undermines their intelligence.
And guess what? The irony of it all is that a summative assessment inevitably becomes a formative one for students and teachers who realize that learning never stops! There will always be gaps in understanding. We need to allow a few days after the summative task to address these misunderstandings.

Which brings me to my Grade 3 classroom. I would like to talk a little bit about the importance of being thorough with formative assessments. The inquiry cycle is a wonderful guide for all teachers. However, one should not mechanically follow the arrows from one stage to the other! During the sorting out stage, I slow down. I have mini inquiry cycles going on.  The students are making sense of it all. Analyzing data, asking questions, eliminating unnecessary data, reflecting, going back to the questions, and so forth. I believe in using a few tools repeatedly in order to make learning easier for my students. I used ”Framing Routines" this term. Using the framing routine helped students organize and prioritize their work while creating extended pieces of writing based on the unit, Water and Air. The link between language and inquiry was seamless.

As the students were hard at work, I focused on their collaborative skills. I had created the groups based on individual needs. It took time me quite a while to find a right partner for the students, but the effort paid off. They worked brilliantly with each other. Right down to my naughtiest one!

Though the summative  task was highly demanding, they worked in a safe and relaxed environment. It was undeniable hot and once a while tempers frayed. But we survived…and triumphed. Students had to create board games based on their knowledge of water and air; their properties; how people use and misuse it; and sustainable actions that can help preserve our natural resources. Their games were creative, fun, and replete with salient information which kept the players engaged for a long time. We had a surprise visit from DP students and the administrative staff. The students had  finally got a real life audience and this experience was all the more meaningful for them. We were also joined by our principal, PYP coordinator, members of the staff and students from other classes.

A stimulating summative task ensures students will always remember what they experienced and learnt during a unit. 

So, ladies and gentlemen, I say yes to summative assessments!

Notice how the students categorize the main ideas.

The student used the framing routine to organize and present an argument.

Instead of squabbling, they were helping one another. Here, the students are creating an instruction for their board game.

Each member of the group was engaged.

Here is a glimpse of the summative task. It was engaging; it provided an authentic life experience and audience.

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