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AN ACTION RESEARCH STUDY:

ENGAGING IN AUTHENTIC FORMATIVE ASSESSMENT

A dissertation submitted to the


Kent State University College and Graduate School
of Education, Health, and Human Services
in partial fulfillment of the requirements
for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy

by

Bryan R. Drost

May 2012
© Copyright, 2012 by Bryan R. Drost
All Rights Reserved.

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A dissertation written by

Bryan R. Drost

B.A., Hiram College, 2005

M.Ed., Kent State University, 2007

Ph.D., Kent State University, 2012

Approved by

____________________________, Co-director, Doctoral Dissertation Committee


Teresa Rishel

____________________________, Co-director, Doctoral Dissertation Committee


James G. Henderson

____________________________, Member, Doctoral Dissertation Committee


Averil McClelland

Accepted by

____________________________, Director, School of Teaching, Learning, and


Alexa L. Sandmann Curriculum Studies

____________________________, Dean, College of Education, Health, and Human


Daniel Mahony Services

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DROST, BRYAN R., Ph.D., May 2012 CURRICULUM AND INSTRUCTION

AN ACTION RESEARCH STUDY: ENGAGING IN AUTHENTIC FORMATIVE


ASSESSMENT (205 pp.)

Co-Directors of Dissertation: Teresa Rishel, Ph.D.


James G. Henderson, Ed.D.

Effective teaching in the United States over the last decade has been based on

student performance on standardized tests (Darling-Hammond, 2010). Many school

districts, in attempts to make gains on standardized assessments, have implemented

standardized formative assessment procedures that dictate intervention for students not

making gains (Popham, 2011). It is my contention that in some cases, standardized

formative assessment procedures have negated authentic formative assessments where

teachers interpret any classroom activity, such as observation, teacher-student

conversation, and teacher-student interaction, to adjust instruction to ensure that all

students are making progress. I believe that there are two specific problems associated

with standardized formative assessment: standardized formative assessments may not

honor nor cultivate the teacher-student relationship inherent in transactional relationships

(Ryan, 2011) and may not allow teachers flexibility of method to solve classroom-based

problems in a practical way (Schwab, 1970). The purpose of this action research study

was to describe the pedagogical strategies of an authentic formative assessment process

my classroom. This study also explored how an authentic process can be a viable

alternative to a standardized one within one classroom.

Three major findings are present from the study: multiple strategies could be used

to determine curricular needs for students; authentic formative assessments could honor
and cultivate teacher-student relationships; classroom life was improved for me and my

students when rigorous investigation into the assessment practices of the classroom were

explored.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

The completion of this degree would not have been possible without support from

so many people within my life.

I am grateful to the young adolescents who participated in this study and who

have shaped me as both teacher and researcher. For those students who I have had in

class for more than three years, know that you forever have touched me and that the

world is expecting great things from you. What you all have taught me about

adolescence and teaching is immeasurable.

Dr. Teresa Rishel nurtured me as a person and a scholar throughout the entire

dissertation process. If it was not for her guidance, I would still be at the exam stage.

Her jokes, sanity checks, immediate e-mail responses, and encouragement helped make

this a worthwhile process. I am indebted. Dr. James Henderson was always available

with feedback that guided and challenged me as I progressed. As he wrote in the inside

cover of my now-worn, 3rd edition of TCL, “the passion and leadership” that he attributed

to me, started with him on that fateful starting date in August of 2007 when he showed

me what scholarship looked like.

Dr. McClelland, forever Averil to the first e-cohort at KSU, has pushed me to

“keep thinking” even when she did not know me as an undergraduate student. Her

guidance over the years has been exceptional. “Rubrics” cannot describe the support she

has given.

Over the years, I have had the pleasure to work with and learn from amazing

colleagues and friends. Diane Kumley has forever kept me on the right path; Laura Ross

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has always pushed me to be a better teacher during our late-afternoon venting sessions;

Drs. Cheryl Ward and Ann Spurrier, since those first conversations back in your offices,

you have inspired me to do “what’s best for kids.” Paula Hardy, Stephanie Bettinger,

Aaron Jeter, Andrew Pinney, Mary Ann Miller, and Davara Potel are all inspirations. If

all teachers and students had your support and guidance, studies like mine wouldn’t be

necessary.

Dr. Kathy Feather started me on this journey to excellence in teaching. You

nurtured from Day 1 when I was a first-year on campus and I still have a “soapbox

moment” every time that I set foot in the classroom, as do the other graduates to whom

you have touched. This began with her.

To my Hiram fans, Eileen Vance, Dr. Nikki Cvetkovic, Dr. Debra Rodriguez, and

Dr. Jen Miller, your friendship and collaboration has been invaluable since I was an

undergrad.

To my fellow doctoral students, Terry Kindervater, Anita Levine, Lisa Bircher,

and Maria Boyarko, your advice, writing tips, humor, and support always saved the day.

As we’ve often said, the “best dissertation is a done dissertation.” Mine is now done and

all mistakes are my own.

To my family, your understanding over the last few years has been great. I can

now go take a break. To BLJ, your support over the years has been incalculable. Bailey

Jones, it’s time for a long walk.

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TABLE OF CONTENTS

Page

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS ................................................................................................. iv

LIST OF FIGURES ........................................................................................................... ix

LIST OF TABLES ...............................................................................................................x

CHAPTER

I. INTRODUCTION TO THE STUDY.............................................................................. 1


Background ............................................................................................................. 2
Purpose Statement ................................................................................................... 7
Research Questions ................................................................................................. 8
Definitions............................................................................................................... 9
Assumptions.......................................................................................................... 10
Limitations and Significance ................................................................................ 11
Summary and Organization .................................................................................. 12

II. REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE ............................................................................ 14


History of Standardized Assessment .................................................................... 14
Literature Related to Formative Assessment ........................................................ 18
Criteria for Inclusion ........................................................................................ 18
Terminology and Historical Underpinnings..................................................... 19
Quantitative Studies ......................................................................................... 21
Theoretical Research ........................................................................................ 25
Synthesis of Formative Assessment Literature ................................................ 27
Curriculum Studies Literature and Authentic Formative Assessment .................. 31
Middle Childhood Theory and Authentic Formative Assessment ........................ 37
Summary ............................................................................................................... 40

III. METHODS AND PROCEDURES............................................................................. 42


Research Questions and Paradigms ...................................................................... 42
Justifications for the Use of Action Research ....................................................... 44
Justifications for the Type of Action Research Employed ................................... 49
Research Plan ........................................................................................................ 51
Research Site .................................................................................................... 52
Class Profile ..................................................................................................... 54
Teacher-Researcher Profile .............................................................................. 56
Data Collection and Management Procedures ...................................................... 57
Data Sources..................................................................................................... 58
Data Management ............................................................................................ 65
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Data Analysis ........................................................................................................ 65
Notes on the Design of Study ............................................................................... 66
Summary ............................................................................................................... 69

IV. DATA ANALYSIS ................................................................................................... 70


Research Question #1: What are the Emergent Pedagogical Strategies of
an Authentic Formative Assessment Process in This Middle Childhood
Classroom? ........................................................................................................71
Defining Pedagogical Strategies of Authentic Formative Assessment .............73
Graphical Data in Relationship to Research Question #1 .................................75
Pedagogical Strategy #1: Variety ......................................................................85
Pedagogical Strategy #2: Feedback ..................................................................91
Pedagogical Strategy #3: Conferencing ............................................................96
Pedagogical Strategy #4: Out-of-Class Supports ............................................101
Pedagogical Strategy #5: Interactive Activities ..............................................105
Pedagogical Strategy #6: Transparency ..........................................................110
Pedagogical Strategy #7: Pacing .....................................................................115
Pedagogical Strategy #8: Student Ownership .................................................118
Summary of Research Question #1 .................................................................121
Research Question #2: How Might Knowledge of the Emergent
Pedagogical Strategies of the Authentic Formative Assessment Process
Help Improve the Way Assessment is Planned and Enacted for This
Middle Childhood Classroom? .......................................................................122
Modified Pedagogical Strategy #1: Format of Feedback (Pedagogical
Strategy #2) .................................................................................................124
Modified Pedagogical Strategy #2: Pacing (Pedagogical Strategy #7) ..........128
Modified Pedagogical Strategy #3: Transparency (Pedagogical Strategy
#6) ...............................................................................................................131
Summary of Research Question #2 .................................................................134
Research Question #3: Does an Authentic Formative Assessment Process
Provide a Viable Alternative to a Standardized Assessment Process in
This Specific Classroom?................................................................................136
Purpose of Standardized Test Data in the Research Context ..........................137
Data Analysis of Common Assessment Results .............................................139
Summary of Research Question #3 .................................................................145
Conclusion ...........................................................................................................145

V. DISCUSSION OF THE FINDINGS........................................................................ 147


Major Finding 1: Multiple Strategies Used to Determine Curricular Needs for
Students .......................................................................................................... 148
Major Finding #2: Cultivating and Honoring Teacher-Student Relationships ... 155
Major Finding #3: Improved Classroom Life ..................................................... 160
Summary of the Findings .................................................................................... 168
Limitations .......................................................................................................... 169
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Implications......................................................................................................... 171
Conclusion .......................................................................................................... 182

APPENDICES ................................................................................................................ 184


APPENDIX A. COMPARISON OF AUTHENTIC AND
STANDARDIZED FORMATIVE ASSESSMENT ..................................... 185
APPENDIX B. CONSENT FORM .................................................................... 187

REFERENCES ............................................................................................................... 190

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LIST OF FIGURES

Figure Page

1. Number of students who identify a particular coded strategy in e-


questionnaires for Research Question #1 ...............................................................79

2. Percentage of coded questionnaire results in relationship to total number


of codings ..............................................................................................................80

3. Number of coded lesson cycles (days) within teacher-research journal


indicative of a particular pedagogical strategy ......................................................82

4. Percentage of coded journal entries aligned to emergent pedagogical


strategies of authentic formative assessment in relationship to total number
of codings ...............................................................................................................83

5. Percent difference in terms of prevalence of authentic formative


assessment strategies between total number of questionnaires and total
number of coded entries per day in teacher-research journal ..............................84

6. E-copy of a lesson plan identifying activities that students completed to


help check progress for the unit’s learning goal ....................................................88

7. Example activities (left) with total counts of student usage and games
(right) from the class website...............................................................................102

8. Number of students who identify a particular coded strategy as needing


improvement or adjustment .................................................................................124

9. An electronic copy of two consecutive lessons showing how the authentic


formative assessment process was modified with specific changes to
pacing. ..................................................................................................................129

10. Students’ response to the questionnaire question, “The changes made in


our FA process was helpful in supporting the learning process”.........................135

11. Common assessment results by class achievement level percentage .................141

12. Number of students testing at various achievement levels per assessment .........144

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LIST OF TABLES

Table Page

1. Key Literature in Formative Assessment .............................................................. 28

2. Participant Profile ................................................................................................. 55

3. Data Collection Timeline ...................................................................................... 58

4. Example Data to Support Labeling of Pedagogical Strategies Through


Coding Process...................................................................................................... 76

5. Examples of Varied Activities Used During the Authentic Formative


Assessment Process .............................................................................................. 89

6. Common Assessment Results for Three Units of Instruction............................. 140

7. Percentage Difference of Common Assessment Results for Three Units of


Instruction ........................................................................................................... 143

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CHAPTER I

INTRODUCTION TO THE STUDY

As schools are being constantly pressured to meet higher and higher achievement

goals as set forth by No Child Left Behind (2001), school districts have been

implementing rigid assessment programs within their schools (Ayers, 2004;

Darling-Hammond, 2010; Janesick, 2003; Noddings, 2007; Ravitch, 2010; Sleeter, 2007;

Spring, 2010). Assessment programs are tools within the classroom that are designed to

describe student progress toward meeting a learning target (National Middle School

Association [NMSA], 2010; Popham, 2008). Standardized formative assessment has

become increasingly used in middle childhood classrooms as it has been shown to

improve student achievement (Black & Wiliam, 1998; Wiliam, 2010). Standardized

formative assessments are tests given at the end of a defined period of instruction to

determine how much a student has learned or retained in relationship to a particular group

of skills; the results of the test are then used to sort students with the goal of improving

instruction for the students before high stakes tests (see Appendix A).

The implementation of standardized formative assessments in middle schools is

not without criticism. As this curriculum procedure requires each student to be handled

in the exact same manner, teachers are unable to utilize their knowledge and skills to plan

curriculum experiences for students as a one-shot test determines a student’s curriculum

needs. As Schwab (1970) argued, this is problematic as effective curriculum decisions

consider the “arts of the practical,” where curriculum decision-makers, such as teachers,

have the opportunity to consider what action, if any, is best for a particular situation all

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things considered. Secondly, standardized formative assessments negate the important

teacher-student relationship that allows teachers to create meaningful learning

experiences for students (Dewey, 1980, 1988; NMSA, 2010).

At the same time, theoretical research has indicated that authentic formative

assessments—assessments where teachers determine curriculum needs by considering

teacher observation, interactions with students, conversations with students, and

providing feedback to the learner—may be one way in which we can create an effective

model of assessment within the classroom (Black & Wiliam, 1998; Popham, 2008).

Unfortunately, after conducting a thorough literature review, limited research exists

regarding pedagogical strategies that can be used with authentic formative assessment

within the classroom. Additionally, there is also no research indicating if authentic

formative assessment can be as effective as standardized formative assessment. This lack

of research on authentic formative assessment points to the need to document and

describe the various pedagogical strategies that teachers can use within authentic

formative assessment.

This chapter includes background information regarding the study’s purpose,

research questions, assumptions, potential significance, and a chapter summary.

Background

The usage of standardized formative assessments has become prevalent in middle

childhood classrooms as these assessments have been shown to improve student

achievement on standardized tests (Black & Wiliam, 1998). Standardized formative

assessment is commonly defined by schools as “testing students in the midst of an


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ongoing instructional sequence and then using the test results to improve instruction”

(Popham, 2008, p. 3).

In 2006, my middle school defined standardized formative assessments as a

formal, paper-and-pencil quiz or test tied to 40% of the report card grade. The purpose

was to sort students into two groups: students who understood and could demonstrate the

learning goal and students who did not understand. For the students who did not

understand, the teacher was expected to work with them, often outside of class, until they

did understand, and then retest the students until they showed 80% mastery.

The implementation of standardized formative assessment in my school was

problematic for me as an educator for two reasons: first, prescriptive educational policies

never completely capture all of the complexities of a curriculum problem within a

classroom that must be considered when making curriculum decisions. As Schwab

(1970) articulated, prescription is not a “defensible decision” as no one theory can

address all “commonplaces” (pp. 1-2). In the context of assessment, these commonplaces

are students with specific prior knowledge, abilities, needs, and interests and teachers

with specific beliefs, knowledge, skills, and experiences. In his argument for the “arts of

the practical,” curriculum decision-makers such as teachers have to consider what action,

if any, is best for a particular situation all things considered. Under the standardized

formative assessment approach in my school, the 80% mastery score dictated the

instructional decision to be made.

This orientation to standardized formative assessment is also similar to what the

French philosopher Jacque Rancière described as a “hierarchical relationship” where a


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high test score trumps the knowledge of those working directly with the student

(Chambers, 2010, p. 63). Hierarchical relationships are “oppressive” because they define

“ways of doing, ways of being, and ways of saying; they determine who counts and they

decide that some do not count at all” (Chambers, 2010, p. 63). Two problems emerge

when teaching is viewed through such a lens. First, there is an assumption that only a

few “wise” individuals, those that determine mastery scores, have knowledge about what

students know. Second, hierarchies deskill teachers and silence students, as teachers lose

the ability to determine the goals and purposes of their instruction and adapt instruction to

the local contexts and needs of their learners.

A second reason that standardized assessment was problematic for me in my

classroom was that our standardized formative assessment process did not support the

development of the relationship between teacher and student, a relationship that is built

when a teacher analyzes classroom events, such as discussion, interaction, or observation,

to determine what curriculum experiences students need (Black & Wiliam, 1998;

Popham, 2008). By acting in such a manner, Dewey articulated that educators create

schools that are useless as the education that is produced renders the student unable to

utilize their knowledge later in life. To solve this, as he argued in Democracy and

Education (Dewey, 1980) and Experience and Education (Dewey, 1988), teachers must

be allowed to capitalize on their own knowledge as well as student interests and

concerns. By doing so, teachers can create learning experiences that allow students to

connect to who they are, who they have been, and who they are striving to become, as

well as learn valuable content knowledge.


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Similar concerns with standardized formative assessment are also echoed in the

position statement of the Association for Middle Level Education (AMLE; NMSA, 2010)

as well as by assessment scholars. The AMLE identifies that successful schools use

“varied and ongoing assessments” (pp. 24-25), “emphasize individual progress rather

than comparison” (p. 26), and do not use assessments for sorting purposes. Black and

Wiliam (1998) and Popham (2008) indicated that there will only be small gains in

achievement as long as standardized formative assessment is used as a one-shot test used

to sort students.

Knowing these shortcomings of standardized formative assessment, I needed a

formative assessment process that addressed my two concerns: honoring and cultivating

the student-teacher relationship that develops when a teacher observes and interacts with

students to determine instructional needs, and the freedom to consider what instructional

action, if any, is best for my students. One type of assessment that can address these two

shortcomings is authentic formative assessment. Authentic formative assessment is

defined as a planned process in which a teacher interprets any classroom activity to gain

information about student learning and adjust instruction (Darling-Hammond, 2010;

Dell’Olio & Donk, 2007; Ormrod, 2003; Popham, 2008). It consists of teachers

determining curriculum needs for their students by relying on observation and

interactions with students to plan instruction, provide the learner with specific feedback,

help the student learn content, and improve learning strategies (Black & Wiliam, 1998).

Authentic formative assessment is also a “practical” process (Schwab, 1970) that

allows teachers to use their professional knowledge, skills, and a variety of different
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types of evidence from a variety of sources to make decisions. Such an assessment

strategy has been theorized to foster meaningful learning for students (Black & Wiliam,

1998; Popham, 2008). Meaningful learning is founded on the premise that by reflecting

on our learning experiences, we “construct” our own understanding of the world

(Ormrod, 2006; Solomon, 2009). This means that students actively take in many separate

pieces of information, adapt this information from prior learning and experience, and use

the total amount of information, referred to as a mental model, to create an understanding

or interpretation of the world around them (Brooks & Brooks, 1999; Fosnot, 1996;

Piaget, 1928).

In the way that authentic formative assessment is contrived in the previous

paragraphs, authentic formative assessments are to be viewed as honest experimentation,

as a form of trial and error, to work in conjunction with students within the classroom. It

allows for multiple interpretations and approaches to solve classroom problems. These

relationships are referred to as transactional (Ryan, 2011). Transactional refers to the

epistemological stance where what we know is inseparable from how we come to know

it. It is a dynamic stance where individuals have the ability to behave in ways that

modify an environment through a circuitous process that begins with a doubt about our

reality, which positions us in a place to do something about it through investigation

(Ryan, 2011, p. 41). From a classroom-assessment standpoint, this means that teachers

proceed with their teaching and unconsciously assume that their students understand

(referred to by Ryan, as “nonreflective experience,” p. 27). At some point during the

instructional process, a teacher may begin to doubt that all students understand the
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learning target; this may occur, for example, when a student incorrectly responds to a

teacher’s question during a discussion. Following the incorrect response, as the teacher’s

worldview has now changed, the teacher redirects his attention to find alternative ways to

ensure student success. In determining a plan of attack to solve the problem of a learner

misconception, the teacher creates tentative ideas or hypotheses to re-orientate the

student. Once the student has been redirected, the process repeats. This cycle, as

contrived by Ryan, creates a transactional relationship where the teacher cannot exist

without the student and the student’s environment and the student and the students’

environment cannot exist without the teacher.

Unfortunately, there is no research on the pedagogical strategies that can be used

with authentic formative assessment within the classroom. There is also no research to

show if authentic formative assessment can be as effective as standardized formative

assessment. The lack of research on authentic formative assessment points to the need to

document and describe the various pedagogical strategies that teachers can use within

authentic formative assessment.

Purpose Statement

The purpose of this action research study was to describe the pedagogical

strategies of an authentic formative assessment process within one classroom. The study

also explored how an authentic process can be a viable alternative to a standardized one

within one classroom. This study provided an in-depth description of my ninth grade

Spanish class’s experience with authentic formative assessment. Action research, as

described by Holly, Arhar, and Kasten (2009), supports these research purposes as the
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various data collection tools that the methodology uses, such as focus groups and

questionnaires, provided valuable insight the emerging pedagogical strategies of

authentic formative assessment. Action research as contrived by Holly et al. is a public,

critically reflective form of teaching that helps teacher-researchers develop various

classroom procedures. Its primary goal is to bring one’s practice in line with one’s values

and aspirations on a particular classroom situation with an end goal of changing those

procedures to agree with the data obtained so that they are more effective for all involved

(Elliott, 1991).

Under Holly, Arhar, and Kasten’s (2005, 2009) interpretation, action research was

viewed as a powerful, structured, systematic, rigorous research process that helped

structure professional growth and development for lifelong learning while maintaining an

ethical commitment to improving practice and realizing educational goals. A detailed

explanation of this action research model is provided in Chapter 3.

As a result of the purpose of this study, research questions were devised to

explore pedagogical strategies of authentic formative assessment within the classroom

and to examine how authentic formative assessment can be a viable alternative, in terms

of student achievement, to a more standardized assessment process.

Research Questions

The following research questions provided a focus for this study:

1. What are the emergent pedagogical strategies of an authentic formative

assessment process in this middle childhood classroom?


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2. How might knowledge of the emergent pedagogical strategies of the authentic

formative assessment process help improve the way assessment is planned and

enacted for this middle childhood classroom?

3. Does an authentic formative assessment process provide a viable alternative to

a standardized assessment process in this specific classroom?

Definitions

Action Research is a powerful, structured, systematic, rigorous research process

that helps teachers collect data on various classroom procedures with an end goal of

changing those procedures to make them more effective for all involved (Elliott, 1991;

Holly et al., 2009).

Authentic formative assessment is an assessment process where a teacher relies on

observation, discussion, and interactions with students to plan instruction, provide the

learner with specific feedback, help the student learn content, and improve learning

strategies (Black & Wiliam, 1998).

Constructivism is a pedagogical theory that holds the student as the center of

learning and the teacher as a facilitator of learning (Ormrod, 2003). Constructivism holds

that humans are continually building mental representations that they use to make sense

of their interactions with the world (Ormrod, 2006).

Middle childhood/Middle school refers to the educational practices, pedagogy,

and organizational structure serving students ages 10-15 (NMSA, 2010).


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Standardized formative assessment are tests used to determine how much a

student has learned or retained in relationship to a particular group of skills where the

results of the test are used to improve instruction before high stakes tests (Popham, 2008).

Standardized management paradigm is a term used to describe the dominant

decision-making orientation in education where teachers and administrators feel

continuous pressure to improve their practice based on the results of selected

standardized assessments (Henderson & Gornik, 2007).

Assumptions

Inherent within the methodological design of any study are assumptions.

Assumptions are defined in action research as the teacher-researchers’ realistic

expectation that data analysis will yield clear-cut and interpretable results (Reason &

Bradbury, 2008). In this study, three assumptions exist. First, action research throughout

this study is viewed as useful methodology to collect student and teacher data on

authentic formative assessment; by collecting this information it is possible to implement

change (Holly et al., 2009; Reason & Bradbury, 2008). By working through Holly et

al.’s (2005, 2009) interpretation of action research, it is believed that a classroom

environment can be created that fosters authentic formative assessment while negotiating

the demands of the standardized management paradigm of curriculum decision-making

(Henderson & Gornik, 2007). Second, it is understood that middle childhood-age

students are adequately able to provide data related to school and classroom policies and

procedures (Anfara & Stacki, 2002; Beane, 1997; Black & Wiliam, 1998). By describing

what students think by listening to what they say and observing what they do, say, and
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create, researchers are able to approximate students’ true opinion that may at times be

stifled due to the students’ lack of knowledge or vocabulary (Anfara & Stacki, 2002;

Holly et al., 2009). Lastly, it is believed that a teacher-researcher can improve classroom

assessment experiences for middle school students through triangulated data collecting

tools (Eisner, 1998; Hatch, 2002; Hesse-Biber & Leavy, 2006; Holly et al., 2009;

Morgan, 1998).

Limitations and Significance

This study reflected the experiences of one group of students, in one particular

district, in one particular school. However, the purpose of any action research study is to

provide description of a particular situation and not necessarily one generalizable truth

(Holly et al., 2009). Future studies in different contexts with different methodologies

would of course add to the transferability of the data (Creswell, 2007). Despite this

limitation, this study still provides valuable data that helps identify emerging pedagogical

strategies of the authentic formative assessment within one particular classroom and

shows how the authentic formative assessment process can be a viable alternative to

standardized assessment processes within this classroom. Together the data from these

research questions identify ways in which an authentic formative assessment process can

be used to improve the planned assessment practices for middle childhood classrooms.

The study will help to fill the literature gap on individual and teacher experiences of the

authentic assessment process and potentially begin conversations on how to improve

formative assessments within the classroom. This may in turn further the conversation on

potential ways to improve middle grade student curriculum experience.


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As with any qualitative study, no matter how carefully planned, some elements of

bias remain. In this study, some of the data were comprised of student self-reporting

through focus group interviews in the form of class discussions and questionnaires. As

such, the data reflect students’ own biases and their ability to express their true beliefs

(Morgan, 1998). In addition to student bias, there was an inherent bias on my part as the

researcher as is to be expected with all empirical studies (Hatch, 2002). As I am the

classroom teacher within the contexts of this school, a deep, layered knowledge (e.g.,

likes, dislikes, familial situations, interests) about these students and community will

always be present in the findings (Holly et al., 2009). Although this may be seen as a

negative, it can also be seen as a positive, as it is only the classroom teacher who is in a

position to describe and adjust instruction based on student response (Black & Wiliam,

1998; Good & Brophy, 2003; Gruhler, 2004).

Summary and Organization

The purpose of this action research study was to identify pedagogical strategies

that can be used within authentic formative assessment processes within one classroom.

The study also explored how an authentic process can be a viable alternative to a

standardized one in the same classroom. Chapter 2 offers a critical review of the

literature concerning theories of authentic formative assessment and standardized

assessment, as well as how these issues are viewed in the fields of middle childhood and

curriculum studies. Chapter 3 examines the use of action research as the methodology

and design utilized for exploring and analyzing the data. Data from the study is analyzed
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in Chapter 4. Chapter 5 provides a discussion of the findings, as well as limitations and

implications, and lines of inquiry for future research.


CHAPTER II

REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE

The purpose of this action research study was to identify pedagogical strategies

that can be used within authentic formative assessment processes within one classroom.

The study also explored how an authentic process can be a viable alternative to a

standardized one in the same classroom. In this chapter, literature related to this purpose

statement is explored. The chapter is organized in the following manner. First, I explore

the historical reasons for why the interpretation of standardized assessment results has

become the prevalent method for making instructional decisions. Second, I examine the

literature related to formative assessment. Next, theoretical literature related to

curriculum studies and middle childhood is explored to identify how these two relevant

fields can inform authentic formative assessment. The conclusion describes a summary

of the literature in relationship to this action research study’s problem statement.

History of Standardized Assessment

In the federal report titled, A Nation at Risk (ANAR; National Commission on

Excellence and Education, 1983), the American educational system was decried a “rising

tide of mediocrity” (p. 1). Garnishing support from the general public through alarmist

language and references to societal problems such as lower SAT scores, falling numbers

of students enrolled in advanced math and science classes, and a high loss of jobs due to a

failing economy, ANAR has been cited as the key document that began the current era of

reform in American schooling (Darling-Hammond, 2010; Noddings, 2007; Ravitch,

2010; Sleeter, 2007). As defined by the Oxford English Dictionary (2002), reform refers

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to the improvement or transformation of an institution with the purpose of removing

societal ills. This is accomplished through a repurposing of goals.

Through ANAR’s recommendations, American schools were asked to reformulate

their goals in order to help solve societal problems. Schools were now being asked to

provide an effective education that produced a sufficient workforce for a growing global

economy to ensure international economic superiority. A Nation at Risk indicated that

this goal could be achieved by having schools increase graduation standards, utilize better

quality textbooks produced by experts in the field, raise student behavioral standards,

provide more training for teachers, add more days of classroom instruction, and mandate

rigorous academic courses for all students.

Although these curriculum improvement suggestions were created to improve

international rankings, these rankings still remained low as ANAR was only a federal

recommendation and not legislation (Darling-Hammond, 2010). Various other

interventions, such as a pledge by President George H. W. Bush in Goals 2000 that the

nation would use a standardized testing system related to student performance, still did

not produce the economic gains sought by politicians (Ravitch, 2010; Sleeter, 2007).

In an attempt to further rectify lagging achievement and ensure economic

superiority, George W. Bush signed into law the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).

This federal law has been described as the farthest-reaching educational reform ever to

impact local schools as it ties federal money in all states to specific levels of assessment

performance, with an overall goal of 100% proficiency by all students in the areas of

math and reading by 2014 (NCLB, 2002; Spring, 2010). To improve rankings and
16

maintain economic control, states were responsible for setting academic standards at all

levels of K-12 education and creating an accountability system that regularly assesses

student achievement towards meeting those standards. For schools failing to comply or

meet these newly prescribed levels of achievement, a series of progressively more intense

sanctions were created, such as school restructuring, state takeover of failing schools, an

entire staff replacement, and lastly, the eventual closing of low-performing schools

(NCLB, 2002; Noddings, 2007).

Curriculum decision-making under NCLB is informed by a particular

interpretation of the Tyler Rationale (Tyler, 1949, p. 1), a theory organized around four

curriculum questions:

1. What educational purposes should the school seek to attain?

2. What educational experiences can be provided to obtain these purposes?

3. How can the experiences be organized?

4. How can we determine whether the purposes are being attained?

In relationship to the Tyler Rationale, the purpose of schooling under our current version

of school reform is related to U.S. economic conditions (Question 1). By having students

master basic skills, schools would be able to transform a nation suffering from a shortage

of jobs, lagging achievement, and a growing racial gap (Darling-Hammond, 2010). This

goal is measured through higher scores on standardized tests as prescribed through

federal law (Question 4). In order to organize this information for students, state

curriculum documents need to outline basic skills in all content areas (Question 3). This

document, made accessible to all stakeholders, such as parents, teachers, administrators,


17

and students, lists every learning goal (Question 2) that a student must acquire per subject

and grade level and is aligned to achievement tests (Sleeter, 2007; Spring, 2010).

Schools have further organized these standards (Question 3) into day-by-day instructional

guides, known as pacing calendars or guides (Jacobs, 1997).

Through these strict accountability systems (Question 4; Tyler, 1949), educators

have been mandated to make decisions about curriculum on the basis of student test

scores. By having teachers base their decisions on interpretations of standardized test

scores, politicians believe that schools will demonstrate quality education and in turn

improve international rankings (Darling-Hammond, 2010; Sleeter, 2007). With this

political referent, a specific approach to high performing schools and quality education

has evolved. High performance has come to mean that teachers and administrators make

data-based decisions. This means that they are able to demonstrate through improved

student performance on a high-stakes test that all students are meeting predetermined

achievement levels.

Interpreting data on standardized assessments to ensure achievement has been

further mirrored in the classroom. To ensure that teachers are making appropriate gains

with their students, administrators have mandated that teachers utilize formative

assessments and intervene with students who are not making adequate gains in their

learning as formative assessments have been shown to improve achievement on

standardized tests (Black & Wiliam, 1998; DuFour et al., 2005; Ohio Department of

Education, 2004). Formative assessment is a process where evidence of students’

learning is used by teachers to adjust their instructional procedures. These


18

procedures—as described in Chapter 1—have become rigid assessments with cut scores

set at 80% mastery that do not allow for flexibility of use in the classroom (DuFour et al.,

2004; Ohio Department of Education, 2004). The following section explores the

literature related to formative assessment.

Literature Related to Formative Assessment

This section begins by identifying the criteria used to determine the formative

assessment literature that was included within this review. Next, key terms found in the

research are presented to help guide the reader because researchers who have historically

at times disagreed in their understandings of the terms evaluation and assessment have

created overlaps in research and terminology (Eisner, 2002). For purposes of this section,

K-12 research literature that is consistent with the formative assessment definition

provided in the previous section—a teacher-student process where evidence of students’

learning is used by teachers to adjust their instructional procedures—is included. The

literature discussion follows and is organized by research methodology, quantitative and

theoretical, as each area adds a different insight into the problem statement of this

research study. Lastly, the research is synthesized to describe what is commonly known

about formative assessment practice.

Criteria for Inclusion

In order to analyze the related literature on formative assessment in K-12

education, I traced the term formative and its synonym, assessment for learning,

throughout key publications and research journals. I began with The Journal of

Educational Assessment, the leading reference on assessment, and bridged to the


19

following areas: (a) The Handbook on Formative Assessment (Andrade & Cizek, 2010);

(b) the ERIC Clearinghouse on Tests, Measurement, and Evaluation, the major index of

federally-funded studies on assessment; (c) a meta-analysis conducted by British

researchers Black and Wiliam in 1998 that indexes significant research over a 30-year

period; and (d) Educational Leadership, the leading instructional reference for current

trends in schools, which makes specific reference to the four previous areas. This British

study is included as the Association for Middle Level Education (NMSA, 2010) and

formative assessment experts (Andrade & Cizek, 2010; Popham, 2008) cite the study as

the key referent for formative assessment processes in the United States. One

post-secondary study (Natrielo, 1987) is discussed as it is cited as influential in the

British seminal study by Black and Wiliam (1998). It is important to recognize that there

is a gap in empirical research study (1989-2004) as the U.S. research agenda was more

focused on summative assessment due to the standardized assessment movement

(Popham, 2008, 2011).

Terminology and Historical Underpinnings

It is important to note that research experts do not always distinguish between

formative evaluation and formative assessment, thus creating an overlap at times in

terminology and research (Black & Wiliam, 1998; Brookhart, 2008; Eisner, 2002;

Popham, 2008; Wiggins & McTighe, 2005). Formative as defined for this study and

literature review is any classroom activity that allows a teacher to adjust instruction with

reference to the target goal and gives feedback to students about their own learning. It is

a process between the teacher and student with the end result being growth in both the
20

teacher and student. It contrasts with summative which is an activity given at the end of a

defined period of instruction with hopes of determining how much a student has learned

or retained. These two areas can further be subdivided into evaluation and assessment.

Assessment is a process whose end result is growth; its purpose is to continue learning

for both the teacher and student and focuses on both the teacher and the student.

Evaluation on the other hand is a method of reporting progress to stakeholders (e.g.

parents, community members, governments) with an emphasis on teacher responsibility

and educational accountability.

Although Scriven (1967) was the first to use the term formative, educators have

always used formative assessment processes in their classrooms (Eisner, 2002; Guskey,

1985). Scriven, in his attempt to put language to an observable phenomenon, coined the

term to describe curriculum decisions that were made by educators that resulted in

mid-programmatic changes. In evaluating the new curriculum programs of the 1960s,

Scriven stated that a formative describes a change made by a school district or curriculum

writer when it is clear that a curricular process is not working as intended (a mid-

programmatic change). He contrasted this with summative which occurred when a

person made a programmatic change after the evaluation process was completed. This

definition spurred a significant amount of quantitative research that showed whether

various curriculum materials were working or not. The contents of these studies are not

important to the discussion at hand as they relate to the physical materials of curriculum,

such as textbooks, and not the teaching-learning process.


21

The first study to show that formative assessment was a process that teachers can

use to drive instructional decision making, in other words, the first application of

Scriven’s (1967) definition to classroom teaching, was completed in 1971 by Bloom et al.

Functioning out of their research on mastery learning, Bloom et al. believed that teachers

could mark each step of the learning process as effective or not in relationship to the

learning goal. Although the teachers did not specifically make the changes the

researchers were looking for, this theory became the theoretical basis for later research as

relatively strong relationships existed between the performance of students on two or

more formatives and performance on standardized assessments (Bloom et al., 1971, p.

viii). Working from this vantage point, a large number of quantitative studies were

devised.

Quantitative Studies

The primary assertion from quantitative studies on formative assessment suggests

that teachers who use formative assessment in their classroom will improve their

students’ achievement on standardized tests. This statement is supported by three studies,

Fiel and Okey (1974), Block and Burns (1976), and Black and Wiliam (1998). Basing

their premise on Bloom et al.’s (1971) work, Fiel and Okey asserted that formative

assessment coupled with teacher adjustment in instruction (referred to as intervention

periods) improves student achievement on summative assessments. In other words,

students in the formative assessment group were more likely to have a greater

understanding of what needed to be learned, resulting from the teacher’s feedback and

intervention period in comparison to a control group. They concluded that intervention


22

periods following instruction were the key to improving scores. Block and Burns (1976),

in an attempt to summarize the 17 studies that tested Fiel and Okey’s concept of an

intervention period, showed that formative assessment is effective in improving student

learning as formatively assessed students exhibited greater learning, on average, than

their counterparts. In addition, they ascertained that students who experienced formative

assessment processes also have higher retention after a few weeks due to the formative

assessment process. These conclusions were also tested in special education populations

by Mirkin and Deno (1979, 1980). They too agreed that formative assessment improved

student achievement, and that for special education populations, a more-is-better

approach is more likely effective.

To quantify these achievement effects, in the seminal study on formative

assessment, Black and Wiliam (1998) showed that by using formative assessment,

teachers can improve their students’ achievement with a standard deviation gain from .5

to 1. This gain is seen when teachers change instruction based on the results of the

assessment and provide feedback to the students. In cases where an increase was not

seen, teachers avoided giving descriptive feedback, developing a relationship with

students, adjusting instruction, and assessing quality towards a criterion standard.

A second conclusion from the quantitative studies on formative assessment

indicates that teachers must provide feedback for students after a formative assessment.

The first study to test this idea was constructed by Natrielo (1987). Although this study

explored contexts in higher education, it is included here as many of the theoretical

literature pieces described in the next section make reference to it, as did Black and
23

Wiliam’s (1998) seminal study mentioned previously. Natrielo indicated that although

more research needed to be performed on the various factors involved in formative

assessment, feedback in the formative assessment process was essential to ensuring

higher achievement. Testing this concept in the K-12 spectrum, Crooks (1988) also

concluded that formative assessments are in-class processes that must be coupled with

systematic feedback for students. In a follow-up study, Sadler (1989) identified that

feedback for students needed to tell them what they are doing well, where they should be,

and some tips for improvement. Sadler’s study also revealed that when teachers utilize

these types of feedback, they improve achievement because students are motivated and

learn to monitor their own work.

A third implication from quantitative study indicates that teachers may keep the

formative process informal, meaning it does not have to be a formal quiz, as long as the

process is accompanied by student feedback, fosters a teacher-student relationship, and

gives the teacher insight into understanding students’ thinking. Aschbacher and Alonso

(2006), in their attempt to determine how teachers use the formative assessment process

to improve achievement, indicated that when teachers are able to use the assessment as a

means to understand student thinking, they are able to produce greater gains in student

learning; this may be an informal process as teachers may gain insight about student

thinking simply from observing a student’s science notebook. Supporting this idea,

Ruiz-Primo and Furtak’s (2006) mixed method study shows that informal formative

assessment processes are effective when teachers understand that formative assessment is

a process and use the process to plan accordingly. Informal activities, such as
24

questioning or a game, can help teachers adjust their instruction while at the same time

providing appropriate student feedback.

The final argument derived from quantitative study shows that sometimes

formative assessment does not improve student achievement on standardized tests. As

Wininger and Norman (2005) identified, the lack of consistent improvement for student

achievement may be related to the fact that there is no consensus on what the term

formative assessment means or what it looks like within the classroom. This stems from

historical battles on the difference between assessment and evaluation, on key textbooks

with differing definitions that are used within teacher preparation programs across the

country, and from the fact that many teachers have simply had to follow mandates on

formative assessment without training. Two of the studies mentioned earlier, Ruiz-Primo

and Furtak (2006) and Aschbacher and Alonso (2006) concluded that achievement results

would have been higher if teachers had an understanding of the term; in addition,

participants (teachers) in both studies, stated that the formative process was extremely

confusing. Ruiz-Primo and Furtak and Aschbacher and Alonso also indicated that

teachers needed strategies to utilize formative assessment more effectively.

From quantitative study, four conclusions have been drawn to form formative

assessment theory: (a) formative assessment can raise student achievement; (b) it must be

accompanied by feedback; (c) it can be an informal process; and (d) the process can be

confusing to teachers. In the next section, theoretical research on formative assessment is

presented.
25

Theoretical Research

From a theoretical standpoint, two conclusions can be drawn about formative

assessment. The first conclusion identifies that formative assessment raises achievement

when formative assessment is viewed as a partnership between teacher and student. As

Guskey (1985, 1995) described, formative assessment is effective at raising student

achievement because it provides teachers with information about the effectiveness of

their instruction and students with knowledge about their misconceptions. With

formative assessment results, teachers know which students are doing well, which are

having problems, and exactly what problems those students are having. When teachers

have this information, they are able to give students clear ideas about how well they are

learning important concepts and what additional work is needed to learn them. This

creates a mutual instructional relationship between the teacher and student.

Popham (2008, 2011) further supported this teacher-student relationship as he

categorized the process as one in which both teachers and students gain an understanding

of student progress toward learning goals. When teachers view formative assessment as a

reflective style of teaching, rather than a particular piece of a paper or assessment,

achievement consistently increases. This is because teachers have developed the ability

to utilize a wide-variety of evidence of student understanding. When formative

assessment is viewed as an object rather than something done in conjunction with

students, formative assessments are likely to be ineffective. From both Popham and

Guskey’s theoretical perspectives, when a relationship is formed with students through

formative assessment, achievement increases.


26

A second implication from theoretical research indicates that certain types of

feedback are more effective for formative assessments than other types. As Brookhart

(2008, 2010), Gipps, (1994), Topping (2010), and Popham (2008, 2011) indicated, when

the formative assessment process does not work, there is a strong probability that the

feedback has not been effective for the students involved. This position is also supported

by a variety of articles produced by ASCD (Scherer, 2005, 2007) in Educational

Leadership where the editor indicates that in order for teachers to harness the power of

formative assessment, the principles of good feedback must be utilized. In other words, a

lack of understanding of the purpose of formative assessment and/or providing

ineffective feedback will produce teachers who are unhappy with results. Heeding these

words, Brookhart (2010) identified that effective feedback consists of the following

elements: that the teacher and student focus on the learning objective; there is comparison

towards the standard; it is clear; it is appropriately timed; it is specific; and does not

overwhelm the student. In addition, Topping (2010) suggested that teachers can also

incorporate peer feedback into their formative assessment processes as peer assessment

tends to be “high in terms of reliability and validity” (p. 72).

As discussed in this section, theoretically, formative assessment improves

achievement when a teacher-student relationship is formed within formative assessment

and when teachers utilize feedback. In the next section, the theoretical and quantitative

literature already presented is synthesized to form an argument for what is commonly

known about formative assessment.


27

Synthesis of Formative Assessment Literature

This section combines all of the literature discussed, as summarized in Table 1, to

produce a picture of the theories of formative assessment and then ends by addressing

gaps in the literature.

Numerically, as summarized from Black and Wiliam’s (1998) meta-analysis,

formative assessment helps teachers improve achievement with a standard deviation gain

from .5 to 1. In addition, teachers who use formatives and accompany them with an

intervention period and feedback produce higher levels of achievement (Black & Wiliam,

2008; Fiel & Okey, 1974; Popham, 2008). Second, teachers may use informal formative

assessment processes as long as it is accompanied with feedback and gives the teacher

insight into understanding the students’ thinking (Aschbacher & Alonso, 2006;

Ruiz-Primo & Furtak, 2006). I have also learned that the process can be extremely

confusing to teachers (Ruiz-Primo & Furtak, 2006; Wininger & Norman, 2005), that

there are certain components of effective feedback (Brookhart, 2008, 2010; Toppings,

2010), what makes a good formative assessment for teachers (Aschbacher & Alonso,

2006; Bloom et al., 1971), and characteristics of instructional adjustment (Brookhart,

2008, 2010; Crooks, 1988; Natrielo, 1987; Sadler, 1989).

In addition, formative assessments that are time consuming to create and

administer are likely to be ineffective (Bloom et al., 1971; Brookhart, 2008, 2010; Gipps,

1994; Guskey, 1985, 1995; Popham, 2008) and formative assessment rationales that do

not provide feedback to students or allow teachers to base decisions with students will

also most likely be ineffective (Black & Wiliam, 1998; Popham, 2011).
28

Table 1

Key Literature in Formative Assessment

Biographical Purpose Type Premises and Results

Bloom, To show that FA is Quant./ Functioning out of research on mastery learning,


Hastings, a process that Theoret. teachers can mark each step of the learning process as
Madaus teachers can use to effective or not in relationship to the learning goal;
(1971) drive instructional relatively strong relationships should exist between
decision making performance on two or more formatives and
summatives.

Fiel & Okey To show that FA Quant. Students in a FA group are more likely to have a
(1974) coupled with greater understanding of what needs to be learned,
intervention resulting from the teacher’s feedback and intervention
periods helps period in comparison to a control group; intervention
measure learning periods following instruction are key to improving
scores.

Block & Analyzed 17 Quant. FA is effective in improving student learning as


Burns (1976) studies on the Meta- formatively assessed students exhibit greater learning,
effectiveness of FA analysis on average, than their counterparts; those students
also have higher retention after a few weeks due to
FA intervention.

Mirkin & To determine effect Quant A more-is-better approach is most likely appropriate,
Deno (1979, of FA on special but requires further testing.
1980) education
population

Guskey To articulate the Theoret. With formative assessment results, teachers know
(1985, 1995) reasons why FA is which students are doing well, which are having
an important tool problems and exactly what problems those students
for teacher use are having; FA provides teachers with information
about the effectiveness of their instruction; FA gives
students clear ideas about how well they are learning
the unit’s important concepts and what additional
work is needed (pp. 98-100).

Natrielo To determine the Quant. A higher education study; indicates that little is
(1987) effect of FA in Meta- known about the multi-faceted process of assessment
post-secondary analysis and that we need more research; determines that
schooling feedback is necessary to ensuring higher achievement
in FA processes.

(table continues)
29

Table 1 (continued)

Key Literature in Formative Assessment

Biographical Purpose Type Premises and Results

Crooks To test the concept Quant. Determines that FA must be an in-class process that
(1988) of feedback during must be coupled with systematic feedback for
FA and when FA is students; more study is necessary related to types of
most appropriately feedback and such study will help students learn to
used monitor their own work.

Sadler (1989) To determine what Quant. Identifies that the best feedback for students needs to
kinds of feedback be one that tells them what they are doing well, where
are effective for FA they should be at, and some tips for improvement.

Gipps (1994) To explore why FA Theoret. Explains that when the process isn’t working, not
does not always enough feedback is given or students appear to be
raise student unmotivated; indicates that not all teachers understand
achievement what the process is set to accomplish.

Black & To summarize Quant. British study indexing seventy-five studies; indicates
Wiliam research on the Meta- that FA can help improve achievement with a
(1998) effectiveness of FA analysis standard deviation gain from .5 to 1. In cases where a
gain is not seen, teachers avoided giving descriptive
feedback, adjusting instruction, assessing quality
towards a criterion standard rather than quantity, and
negotiating the process between the teacher and
student. Effective formative processes are joint-
processes.

Wininger & To determine why Quant. Identifies that there needs to be more of a consensus
Norman the FA process is on what the term FA means if we want teachers to use
(2005) having difficulty the process more effectively given its mandated use;
being implemented this stems from a lack of consensus on key textbooks
in schools used in teacher preparation programs on the term FA.

Aschbacher To determine how Mixed Indicates that when teachers are able to use the
& Alonso teachers use the FA assessment as a means to understand student thinking,
(2006) process to improve they are able to produce greater gains in student
achievement learning; this may be an informal process.

(table continues)
30

Table 1 (continued)

Key Literature in Formative Assessment

Biographical Purpose Type Premises and Results

ASCD To help teachers Theoret. A series of articles about judging quality assessments
(Scherer, understand the (informal, non-graded, motivational), helping teachers
2005, 2007) process of FA understand that teaching is assessing, identifying ways
of giving proper feedback to students, and showing
how students can become a part of the process (hands-
on, differentiated instruction).

Ruiz-Primo To examine how Mixed Recognizes that teachers who understand that FA is a
& Furtak informal FA are process are able to plan accordingly and make higher
(2006) used in the achievement; more professional development is
classroom needed.

Brookhart To identify ways in Theoret. Identifies that effective feedback consists of the
(2008, 2010) which teachers elements of focus, comparison, function, valence,
should design FA clarity, specify, tone, timing, amount, mode, and
and how to give audience and that effective FAs are varied, in both
good feedback formal (quiz) and informal ways (game).

Popham To clarify the Theoret. Categorizes FAs as any activity in the classroom,
(2008) definition of FA accompanied with feedback, which gives both
teachers and students an understanding of student
progress toward learning goals and teachers
information on how to teach further lessons.

Topping To show that peers Thoret. Indicates that teachers should incorporate peer
(2010) can be an effective feedback into their FA processes as peer assessment
source of feedback tends to be “high in terms of reliability and validity”
during the FA (p. 72).
process

In summary, formative assessment has only been studied from the perspective of

the teacher in empirical studies and generalizes the positive effects of formative

assessments to students by arguing that there is a benefit to students as teachers are able

to report student growth on standardized assessments. Theoretical research has suggested

that when teachers develop a relationship with their students during formative
31

assessments, growth on standardized assessments is likely. As this study’s problem

statement articulated in Chapter 1, standardized formative assessment minimizes the

teacher-student relationship and places emphasis on a cut score of 80%. Authentic

formative assessment however values the teacher-student relationship as it is a process

that allows the teacher to rely on observation, discussion, and interactions with students

to plan instruction and provide the learner with specific feedback. There has been no

research on what pedagogical strategies can be used with authentic formative assessment,

and no research to show how authentic formative assessment can be a viable alternative

to a standardized formative assessment process.

The two caveats of authentic formative assessment indicate that teacher-student

relationships should be valued and that teachers should be able to make decisions about

learning based on the unfolding of classroom learning activities (Black & Wiliam, 1998;

Popham, 2008). Although assessment research is limited to conceptual, theoretical

understandings of how such a relationship can exist in classroom settings, ideas of how to

cultivate and honor this relationship have been a focus in curriculum study. In the next

section, curriculum study theories related to teacher-student relationship and the “arts of

the practical” are explored (Schwab, 1970).

Curriculum Studies Literature and Authentic Formative Assessment

Although none of the theorists that are discussed in the following paragraphs

directly mention authentic formative assessment, it is my contention that curriculum

study theories can guide teachers in the usage of formative assessments because effective

formative assessment processes value the relationship that develops between a teacher
32

and student and rely on teachers to be professionals who understand the needs of their

students (Black & Wiliam, 1998; Popham, 2008). For purposes of this literature review,

the teacher-student relationship in authentic formative assessment is formed through the

interactions and discussions that teachers have with their students and students have with

their teacher about learning content with the end result of a teacher being able to make

“practical” curriculum and instruction decisions (Schwab, 1970). Although assessment

research is limited to conceptual, theoretical understandings of how such a relationship

can exist in classroom settings, ideas of how to cultivate and honor this relationship have

been a focus in curriculum study since the early 1900s. These theories have been gaining

more credence in education as teaching has become to be understood as a practical art

(Schwab, 1970).

As John Dewey articulates in The School and Society (1976) in the early 1900s,

the American school system had resulted in a segmentation of the curriculum where

stakeholders were often concerned with sorting and stratification rather than

understanding. This is true even today, given the push for data-driven standardized

instruction under the 2001 No Child Left Behind (2002) Act that was discussed earlier in

this chapter. In terms of standardized formative assessment, teachers are being asked to

sort students into those who have learned a concept at 80% mastery and those who have

not (DuFour et al., 2002; Ohio Department of Education, 2004). By acting in such a

manner, Dewey articulated that educators create schools that are useless as the education

that is produced renders the student unable to utilize their knowledge later in life. To

solve this, as he argued in Democracy and Education (Dewey, 1980) and Experience and
33

Education (Dewey, 1988), teachers must be allowed to capitalize on student interests and

concerns and integrate them into the students’ already existing knowledge bank. By

doing so, teachers can create learning experiences that allow students to connect to who

they are, who they have been, and who they are striving to become, as well as learn

valuable content knowledge.

To encourage students in this manner, Eisner (2002, 2005) argued in his theory of

connoisseurship that teachers must illuminate, interpret, and appraise the qualities

contained within a learning experience. This means that teachers reflect upon learning

activities, make instructional adjustments, and discuss student progress in terms of

learning goals with students. By basing decisions on student response within the

classroom, a teacher is able to adjust his or her instructional practice and improve

instruction for the student. Such a teacher-relationship is invaluable as each perspective

in the learning process is honored and further cultivated since each member in the

learning process knows they have input.

In analyzing curriculum-instruction relationship between students and their

teachers, Henderson and Kesson (2004) indicated that teaching can be a process guided

by five forms of “authentic enactment”—collaboration, caring, character, challenge, and

calling (pp. 11-15). One of these terms, collaboration, is particularly important to

authentic formative assessment. As they articulated, the best approach to curriculum

problem solving is one that acknowledges the various diverse perspectives that exist in a

given context; by working with others to discuss matters of curriculum, the “democratic

good life is enacted during the decision-making process” as collaboration allows


34

everyone to have a voice (p. 13). Through the collaborative process, in the context of

authentic formative assessment, teachers can create curriculum processes that form a

bridge between where the student currently is and where the student might become

(Henderson & Kesson, 2004).

This articulation supports the teacher-student relationship that exists in authentic

formative assessments as it is through respectful, cooperative work that students can

assume ownership of their learning and do their own thinking in the subject such that the

subject is to be used in service of good living. Additionally, by allowing authentic

formative assessment to exist in areas of self-analysis with teacher-guided feedback, the

learning experience of the child and knowledge is in turn valued for its own sake. Such

an authentic process in formative assessment also increases the teacher’s ability to make

sound, critical decisions, as the teacher through the assessment process will be in a

position to determine what needs to be the next step for the students in front of that

teacher.

Critical-decision making, as Schwab (1970) identifies requires the “arts of the

practical.” The “arts of the practical” refers to the ability of curriculum decision-makers,

such as teachers, to have the ability to consider what action, if any, is best for a particular

situation all things considered. The “arts of the practical” avoids prescriptive theories,

theories that are not a “defensible decision” since no one theory can address all

“commonplaces” (pp. 1-2) within a classroom. In the context of assessment, these

commonplaces are students with specific prior knowledge, abilities, needs, and interests

and teachers with specific beliefs, knowledge, skills, and experiences. Schwab identified
35

that wise curriculum practices are the result of careful reflection that take into account a

variety of eclectic sources, such that a teacher is able to operate in a flexible, reflective,

and imaginative manner. This means that it is up to each individual teacher to determine

the best course of action for each student and that each teacher is given freedom to rely

on those pieces of evidence that are important to the individual when making decisions.

In terms of formative assessment, a wide selection of evidence from a wide variety of

sources, such as students, other teachers, resource materials, and personal knowledge, is

needed to make instructional decisions. Accordingly, in authentic formative assessment

processes, multiple data sources can encourage a teacher and a student to become more

refined in their thinking and to grow in their knowledge of understanding themselves as

well as content knowledge.

As teachers may rely on other people as sources of their knowledge at times, the

authentic formative assessment process can be viewed as constructive as well.

Constructivism states that meaningful learning occurs when we reflect on our learning

experiences as we “construct” our own understanding of the world (Ormrod, 2006;

Solomon, 2009). This means that students actively take in many separate pieces of

information, adapt this information from prior learning and experience, and use the total

amount of information, referred to as a mental model, to create an understanding or

interpretation of the world around them (Brooks & Brooks, 1999; Fosnot, 1996; Piaget,

1928). In terms of authentic formative assessment, constructive processes affect teachers

as they are constantly monitoring students’ understanding by asking questions,

encouraging dialogue with themselves and other students, and listening carefully to
36

students’ ideas and explanations, such that the teacher is able to address any

misconceptions.

Constructivist learning often occurs in consultation with others, whether it is

student to student or teacher to student. This type of learning is referred to as social

constructivism, as learning happens often in the form of dialogue and modeling

(Vygotsky, 1978). In social constructivism, students, with help from adults or children

who are more advanced on a particular learning task, master concepts and ideas that they

would not ordinarily be able to understand on their own through the natural dialoguing

and modeling that exists during the interaction. Through this interaction in authentic

formative assessment, students develop independent learning processes and grow in

terms of both personal development and school content knowledge (Sergiovanni, 1996).

As has been shown in this section, curriculum studies literature supports the

notion of authentic formative assessment as teachers and students can collaboratively

make decisions about learning based on the unfolding of classroom learning activities

contained within formative assessment processes. Capitalizing on interaction with

students is one way in which teachers can encourage the personal growth in their students

while at the same time meeting identified curriculum goals that formative assessments are

designed to measure. In the next section, I explore how authentic formative assessment is

supported by middle childhood curriculum practices, the classroom area of the research

context.
37

Middle Childhood Theory and Authentic Formative Assessment

This section shows how authentic formative assessments can support the best

curriculum practices advocated for by the professional agency for middle childhood

education. Following this discussion, the limited research on formative assessment in

middle childhood classes is presented.

The Association for Middle Level Education (AMLE; NMSA, 1980, 1995, 2003,

2010) indicates that teachers can improve the educational experiences of young

adolescents, aged 10-15, by meeting the integrated, exploratory, relevant, and

interdisciplinary curriculum needs of adolescents. Authentic formative assessments, as

discussed in this section, are one way in which teachers can help meet those needs.

Curriculums that are relevant, those that are student-centered in which central

themes are derived from a young adolescent’s personal concerns and issues with society,

are important for middle school students to experience. The middle childhood report

Turning Points (Jackson & Davis, 2000) and the AMLE (NMSA, 2003, 2010) indicated

that relevancy is accomplished through curriculum negotiation between student and

teacher (Anfara, 2001; Beane & Brodhagen, 2001; Brown & Knowles, 2007; Jackson &

Davis, 2000; Powell & Van Zandt Allen, 2001; Wiles, Bondi, & Tillier Wiles, 2005).

Through teacher-student negotiation, students have the opportunity to explore questions

and concerns related to themselves, the curriculum, and the world around them (Pate,

Homestead, & McGinnis, 1994, 1996). Such experiences move children beyond isolated

facts to analyze big, life-long ideas in depth helping students explain why “they need to

know this” (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 1999; Haberman, 1991). Authentic formative
38

assessments support the measuring of relevant curriculums since they enable teachers to

reflect with students on learning goals and experiences, guiding the student toward a

more meaningful education.

In addition to relevancy, integrated or interdisciplinary curriculums are also

necessary for middle school students (Beane, 1997). An integrated curriculum provides

opportunities to reflect on the totality of life experiences through teacher guidance

(Stevenson & Carr, 1993); it often exists in practice by developing a theme, such as

bravery, across all disciplines studied by a student. These curriculum experiences

involve students’ interests and personal choices such that they treat students with dignity,

as real people who live in the real world and care about its condition and fate. This is

accomplished through the cooperative, rigorous inquiry, thoughtful reflection, and

synthesis that exist when teachers and students interact together. Further articulating this

idea, Nesin (2000) argued that in integrated curriculums, teachers make their primary

goal the synthesizing of a multitude of resources to support teacher-student guided

decision-making. Such an orientation prepares students to participate later in this world

as self-directed learners. In order to accomplish such a curriculum experience, teachers

and students must communicate on the progress of their learning goals. Authentic

formative assessment is one way in which the teacher and student can communicate on

the learning goals as the process opens up space for multiple viewpoints to be considered

as authentic formative assessments promote the open exchange of ideas in relationship to

the learning goal.


39

Middle school students also require exploration (Waks, 2002). An exploratory

curriculum is one that allows students to discover their abilities, acquaints them with

enriching life-pursuits, and helps them to begin to discuss their contribution to society; it

is an “attitude and approach” (p. 20) that allows students to experience a wide variety of

academic disciplines that can develop the student into a well-rounded, engaged adult

(NMSA, 2010). As Rogers and Freiberg (1994) indicated, exploratory curriculums use

self-discovery approaches that appeal to the natural curiosity of the middle child student.

Authentic formative assessment processes support self-discovery as they rely on the

guidance that exists through feedback to help learners make connections about learning

content.

It is important to note that the majority of assessment practices in middle schools

are based on models adopted from secondary education research and that limited research

has been performed at the middle school level (Anfara & Stacki, 2002). No research has

been performed to date that addresses the goals of this study as described at the opening

of this chapter. The limited research that is available on middle childhood assessment is

related to motivation and self-analysis of student work. Through these studies,

researchers argue that assessments can be motivating for students and at other times can

produce low self-esteem. In Mitchell (1992), the researcher concludes that assessment at

the middle grades level cannot be used to sort students as such sorting practices lower

achievement since they produce students who are unable to explore areas of potential

interest. On the other hand, Darling-Hammond, Ancess, and Falk (1995) argued that

assessments can be used to motivate students to succeed as students can often see their
40

own growth through an assessment process. Strategies, such as student-directed

conferences (Stowell & McDaniel, 1997), self-analysis of work through rubrics and

portfolios (Thompson, 2002), and differentiated performance-based assessments and

instruction (Tomlinson & Eidson, 2003; Wiggins & McTighe, 2005; Wormeli, 2007) can

also improve achievement and increase students’ self-worth.

As the AMLE (NMSA, 2003, 2010) indicates in their position statement, research

data are needed to analyze the assessment best practices that are needed for middle grades

teachers. Authentic formative assessment is one area that can further the assessment

conversation in middle grades assessment as authentic formative assessments can meet

the integrated, exploratory, relevant, and interdisciplinary curriculum needs of

adolescents.

Summary

The purpose of this action research study was to describe the pedagogical

strategies of an authentic formative assessment process within one classroom. The study

also explored how an authentic process can be a viable alternative to a standardized one

within one classroom. There is little known about the pedagogical strategies that can be

used in authentic formative assessment since research has only focused on showing that

formative assessment improves student achievement. Curriculum studies literature

supports authentic formative assessment since authentic formative assessments seek to

value teachers and students who collaboratively make “practical” decisions about

learning based on the unfolding of classroom learning activities contained within

formative assessment processes (Schwab, 1970). In terms of this study, this means that
41

educators use their knowledge of adolescent students and their relationship with students

towards purposeful learning by relying on a variety of evidence. Authentic formative

assessment as discussed is also supported by the position statement of the AMLE

(NMSA, 2010). In this document, the curriculum needs of adolescents are identified as

needing to be collaborative and exploratory in nature. These needs can be met through

authentic formative assessment processes that cultivate teacher-student relationships.

Chapter 3 argues that action research was one productive methodology to gather

data to identify the pedagogical strategies of an authentic formative assessment process.

The chapter also shows that such a methodology enabled discussion on how an authentic

process can be a viable alternative to a standardized one.


CHAPTER III

METHODS AND PROCEDURES

The purpose of this action research study was to describe the pedagogical

strategies of an authentic formative assessment process within one classroom. The study

also explored how an authentic process can be a viable alternative to a standardized one

within one classroom. Action research supports these goals as rigorous methodology that

explores classroom practices with an end-result of improving practice and realizing

educational values (Holly et al., 2005, 2009). Data in this study was gathered through an

action research plan that consisted of a series of questionnaires, focus groups,

teacher-researcher journal analysis, and student artifact analysis. This chapter provides a

justification for the methodology used to conduct the study, data collection procedures,

data analysis procedures used, and a critique of the design, and concludes with a

discussion of the study’s validity and reliability.

Research Questions and Paradigms

As explained in Chapter 1, this study was contrived because of the increasing

problems I had with the formative assessment processes occurring in my school. After

exploring the related literature presented in Chapter 2, the following questions were

formulated to guide this research:

1. What are the emergent pedagogical strategies of an authentic formative

assessment process in this middle childhood classroom?

42
43

2. How might knowledge of the emergent pedagogical strategies of the authentic

formative assessment process help improve the way assessment is planned and

enacted for this middle childhood classroom?

3. Does an authentic formative assessment process provide a viable alternative to

a standardized assessment process in this specific classroom?

These questions led to the methodology used in this research study. As

Hesse-Biber and Leavy (2006) and Creswell (2007) indicated, many researchers choose

methodologies to fit the questions being asked and the problem being studied. Such an

orientation is based on a pragmatic stance of the world (Hatch, 2002; Patton, 1990). This

means that the researcher is concerned more with where the research needs to go, rather

than on sticking to a particular method, technique, or procedure, one to which the

researcher feels an affinity.

The research questions presented are best examined using one interpretation of a

qualitative research methodology known as action research. Action research is a public,

reflective form of teaching that helps teachers collect data on various classroom

procedures and issues (Holly et al., 2005, 2009). It has an end goal of changing those

procedures to agree with the data obtained so that they are more effective for all involved

(Elliott, 1991). In comparison to more traditional forms of inquiry, such as an

ethnography, phenomenology, case or narrative study, in action research, teachers act as

the primary researchers in their classroom while at the same time maintaining their

practitioner status (Creswell, 2007; Elliott, 1991). Through systematic investigation into

the data, the teacher-researcher is able to act on the problem and to do something
44

differently, thus realizing the teacher’s educational values and philosophies (Burns,

1999). The research process concludes when the results are reported to the public

(Elliott, 1991; Holly et al., 2005, 2009; Stenhouse, 1975).

Justifications for the Use of Action Research

In this section, a rationale for why action research was chosen for this study’s

methodology is provided.

Holly et al. (2009) indicate that one of the strengths of action research is that it

enables teachers to think “outside of the box” when a “system of thinking no longer

works and there is an anomaly that cannot be explained by current theory” (p. 31). This

study’s research problem began with a personal context, where I viewed the formative

assessment process as something that had gotten out of hand as our current

standardized-management orientation to curriculum had come to inhibit teacher decision-

making within the classroom (Henderson & Gornik, 2007). Upon studying the literature,

little could be found about authentic formative assessments. By studying this problem

through an action research lens, I gained a better understanding of how to capitalize on

the authentic and found a way to utilize “wiggle room” to institute change within my

classroom (Cuban, 2003). As Holly et al. (2009) articulate, action research is one

methodology that enables people to have a say in making their own lives better.

In exploring why action research is a valid research methodology, Cochran-Smith

and Lytle (2009) indicate that action research, unlike other methodologies, allows a

critique of teachers’ work and workplaces. This study serves as a critique of the current

educational system. As Chapter 1 indicated, the purpose of the educational system is to


45

increase student achievement as measured by standardized-test scores and educators have

been instructed to make decisions for students based on the results of standardized tests

(Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 2009). I believe that I should have the power as a teacher to

make decisions for my students based on observations and interactions with my students

as well as on all available evidence that I deem relevant as long as my students achieve.

This study’s problem statement, by using authentic formative assessment, reformulates

who and what gets to make decisions about curriculum and instruction. Cochran-Smith

and Lytle (2009) indicate that when a researcher’s purpose is based in a refocusing of

ends questions and a reformulating of who gets to make decisions about curriculum and

instruction, action research is the appropriate, systematic method of investigation since

action research allows a teacher to reformulate the classroom’s purpose.

At the same time that the classroom’s purpose is being refocused, this study’s

problem statement requires insight into a teaching technique that is presently unexamined

within the literature. Anderson, Herr, and Nihlen (2007), Reason and Bradbury (2008),

and Hubbard and Power (2003) indicate that action research is an appropriate

methodology to utilize when teaching techniques are unexamined within the literature

because action research methodology provides insight into how these practices are

implemented within the classroom and in turn in how the teaching practice can be

improved. Because teachers are the ones performing the research and are the ones

consistently implementing the procedures within the classroom, action research

methodologists believe that teachers can improve their circumstances and will produce

data that can be helpful to practitioners everywhere (Reason & Bradbury, 2008).
46

Based on the argument that action research produces data that can be helpful to

practitioners, Black and Wiliam (1998) indicated that action research should be used to

study formative assessment as empirical quantitative and qualitative study has

consistently produces the same result: achievement improves when teachers use

formative assessment. There is however no understanding as to why some teachers have

greater gains than others. By using an action-research lens, Black and Wiliam indicate

that we can document how teachers make changes to the curriculum, instruction, and

assessment triangle and determine why some teachers have greater gains in achievement

than others. This study sought to identify emerging pedagogical strategies of an authentic

formative assessment process and determine whether or not an authentic approach is as

effective as a standardized approach. This is a process that can only be understood by the

teacher as it is only the teacher who is able to understand the totality of the experience in

their classrooms—to identify data, adjust instruction based on that data, and guide

students in future learning. Accordingly, a methodology that merges both teacher and

researcher was necessary. Action research allowed the teacher-researcher to study a

process that could not be arbitrarily separated from the classroom context (Black &

Wiliam, 1998; Herr & Anderson, 2005; Holly et al., 2009).

Since formative assessment is a process that cannot be arbitrarily separated from

the classroom context or from students, it was important to find a methodology that

allowed the studying of multiple perspectives and viewed those multiple perspectives as

rich and meaningful. In explaining why action research is a legitimate methodology,

Cochran-Smith and Lytle (2009) indicate that action research is the only methodology
47

that allows all individuals in a research context to have a perspective reflected in the data.

Cochran-Smith and Lytle indicate that classroom problems often need to take into

account multiple perspectives and that traditional methodological frameworks, such as

case study, can minimize such complexity. Action research, on the other hand, is

premised on the belief that all individuals operating in a school context such as teachers,

students, administrators, parents, and assistants, can provide information to improve

teaching and learning (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 2009). This means that through varied

data collection methods, action research allows teachers to collect rich data that enable

the teacher-researcher to comment on the classroom process at hand. In this study, the

research questions related to authentic formative assessment required data from both the

teacher and student as formative assessments produce a co-curriculum relationship

between teacher and student that cannot be separated (Black & Wiliam, 1998; Popham,

2011). In this study, data were obtained from both my students and me to find out how

the assessment process worked; these data were then used to adjust the assessment

process and foster change within the classroom.

While action research allowed for the collection of data from multiple

perspectives within one classroom, it also allowed collection of data from the self, the

teacher-researcher. Because I have layered knowledge of the school context and am a

part of the context, studying my own students would traditionally be viewed as biased

(Creswell, 2007). However, I believe that the specialized knowledge I have of my

students, the formative assessment process, and my classroom, makes the study possible

because my observations of the process are specific and context-rich. As Gruhler (2004),
48

Black and Wiliam (1998), and Good and Brophy (2003) concluded, it is only the teacher

who can observe closely, reflect, and comment on students and instruction in order to

understand and ultimately make adjustments to improve classroom practice. Without an

understanding of the classroom context—from my vantage point as the teacher

interacting with my students that comes from action research—the research questions

would be unanswerable. Holly et al. (2005, 2009), Anderson et al. (2007), and Reason

and Bradbury (2008) indicate that action research enables teachers to take their

contextualized knowledge and use it to their advantage to comment on problems that are

often illustrative of larger issues. In this study, by using my own classroom and

examining the authentic formative assessment process, I am able to comment on the

interaction between authentic and standardized assessment procedures, a battle that is

reflective of the larger political situation of who is in control of making decisions in the

classroom.

Throughout this project, I was both the teacher and researcher. This dual role

carries bias within it as I have significant knowledge of these students and their larger

social context: the school. This bias however is to be viewed as strength in this study as

it is only the teacher who understands the full cycle of curriculum, assessment, and

instruction (Black & Wiliam, 1998). Herr and Anderson (2005) and Holly et al. (2009)

articulated, although bias is “natural and acceptable” (p. 52) in action research, teachers

can take steps to further reduce these biases. Although no study is free from bias as each

study is situated within a distinct cultural and historical context (Creswell, 2007;

Hesse-Biber & Leavy, 2006; Marshall & Rossman, 2006; Patton, 1990), in this study,
49

methods such as critical colleague usage, multiple data sources as a form of triangulation,

and member checking (Lincoln & Guba, 1985) were used to further limit the amount that

my bias may have had on distorting the outcomes.

As this section showed, there were significant reasons for choosing action

research as the methodological framework of this study. In the next section, a rationale

for the type of action research employed is described.

Justifications for the Type of Action Research Employed

The Handbook of Action Research (Reason & Bradbury, 2008) states that there

are five major approaches to action research: (a) insider study of own/self practice, (b)

insider study in collaboration with other insiders; (c) insiders in collaboration with

outsiders; (d) outsiders in collaboration with insiders; (e) reciprocal collaboration

(insider-outsider teams). The approach chosen in any action research study must be

based in the context of the problem and philosophical viewpoint of the researcher.

In this study, an insider in collaboration with other insiders (b, above) was most

appropriate as authentic formative assessments function between two insiders, the

students and their teacher. A self-study orientation (a, above) did not support the

problem statement as formative assessment is defined by both the student and the teacher,

and would not have provided the rich data needed to answer any of the research questions

as such an orientation limits perspective. The other approaches (c, d, e, above) were not

appropriate for this study as students have traditionally felt uncomfortable discussing

school assessment procedures with outsiders who are not a part of the curriculum,

instruction, and assessment triangle (Black & Wiliam, 1998; Stiggins, 2004).
50

Holly et al.’s (2005, 2009) interpretation of action research is one that is premised

on insiders working with other insiders. It was utilized for the following reasons:

The Holly et al. methodology allowed for varied data collection. Varied data

sources were necessary to answer the research questions but some action research

methodologies limit the types of data that can be collected and from whom they can be

collected thus rendering an incomplete answer to the research questions (Reason &

Bradbury, 2008). Using the Holly et al. methodology, I was able to collect varying types

of data from all participants, all of which added a valuable perspective to answering the

research questions.

Holly et al.’s methodology was specifically designed for practicing teachers.

Other popular action research methods, such as Herr and Anderson (2005), have been

designed for broad use in the humanities and have not been specifically designed for

practicing teachers. Additionally, Holly et al. have built an interpretation of action

research that hinges on their experience as elementary and middle childhood teachers.

This orientation supported study in my middle childhood context.

The Holly et al. methodology has been used previously in our district. Students

and teachers throughout the district have used Holly et al.’s methodology in previous

studies. It was also familiar to other individuals, such as administrators who grant

approval for any study. By using a process with which all parties are familiar, I was able

to minimize issues of trust.

Holly et al.’s interpretation of action research allows the teacher-research to

foreground and background, research and teaching, where necessary. One of the
51

difficulties with classroom research is the tendency of research to interrupt the flow of

instruction and vice versa (Good & Brophy, 2003). As a teacher who values consistent

instruction, I needed a methodology that would not interrupt the instructional processes

with which I am charged to carry out. Holly et al. (2005, 2009) provided a methodology

that allowed the teacher-researcher to collect data at the same time that instruction was

occurring and did not require a separate transition between the two. Such an unobtrusive

orientation allowed students to collaborate in the outcome, thus making them feel a part

of the process without detracting from their learning and also allowed me to collect data

while instructing.

In the next section, a detailed explanation of how the Holly et al. (2005, 2009)

methodology was implemented is discussed.

Research Plan

The following action research plan was adopted to help guide the study. This

section begins with a description of the research site taken from my knowledge of the

school district and the school district’s public website as it is necessary to understand the

classroom context in action research (Holly et al., 2005, 2009). It follows with a class

profile and a description of myself as the teacher, all information that is needed to

understand the key perspectives contained within the research questions. Following the

discussion of these contextual factors is an explanation of the procedures used for data

collection.
52

Research Site

The setting for this study was my ninth grade, Spanish class, a class designated as

middle childhood by the AMLE/NMSA (2010) and the Ohio Department of Education

(2004) as the adolescents are between the ages of 11 and 15. The school contains about

1,800 students and is located in a suburb of Cleveland. There are three veteran

administrators and one non-veteran administrator: The principal and two of his assistants

have been administrators in the building for more than 10 years; the other has been in

administration for five years, but has only been with the district for two. There are six

guidance counselors, each assigned to one alphabetical grouping of students.

The school district prides itself on outstanding academic and extra-curricular

achievement that has been nationally recognized both by the federal government as well

as independent agencies such as Newsweek and Money Magazine. For example, 97% of

our students attend college, 30% of the total number of courses offered is distinguished as

Advanced Placement (AP), 90% of students pass the AP exam, and the school district

maintains one of the highest Achievement Performance Indexes on the state’s

standardized assessment system. Additionally, the athletic program is highly ranked, as

evidenced by the football, basketball, volleyball, baseball, and softball teams that

consistently make the state playoffs and maintain league championships. Artistically and

musically, students excel as evidenced by the large number of superior ratings received at

both state and national contests.

The community in which the school is located is predominantly economically

affluent and maintains a religiously and racially diverse population. Forty percent of the
53

population is considered a minority. About 8% of the students participate in free/reduced

lunch program. The city maintains a large industrial base with numerous stores and

restaurants, and many residential neighborhoods consist of single-family homes. Parents

of the students are extremely supportive of teachers assuming that teachers make an

effort to communicate with both students and parents. Daily use of student and teacher

use of technology in the classroom through laptop computers, LCD projectors, personal

response systems, and integrated web pages are part of a district mandate.

The district has been in the process of developing a philosophy of enhanced

student learning based on standards-based grading. In so doing, a system was created for

grading student work: 20% of the grade is practical application (homework and class

work) related to the academic content standards; 40% is common assessment to

determine student mastery and group learning trends after a predetermined period of

time; and 40% is formative assessment with the expectation that students who have not

obtained a mastery level score would be given additional opportunities for learning the

material. Success on formative assessment in the philosophy of the district is considered

to be the one true path to success on common assessments and larger high-stakes,

standardized tests. In some cases, as in the case of foreign language classes, these grades

have further been subdivided into categories to ensure skill mastery as well: following the

American Council for the Teaching of Foreign Language Proficiency Guidelines (1999),

grades are broken down so that 80% (20% each) is devoted to speaking, writing,

listening, and reading proficiency applications while the remaining 20% is devoted to

grammar and vocabulary mastery (Brandl, 2009).


54

The building’s assistant principal for curriculum and instruction, as well as other

district administrators, were receptive to and supportive of this research. To ensure that

research was in accordance with district policy, letters soliciting participation in the study

were approved by the administration. In addition, these stakeholders were kept informed

of the progress of the research through periodic verbal communications.

Class Profile

The particular class that was chosen for study was selected for two reasons: (a) all

members of the class met the AMLE/NMSA (2010) definition of a middle childhood

student; and (b) the class was more heterogeneously balanced in terms of gender,

academic aptitude, socio-economic status, race, and special-needs status than my other

classes. Holly et al. (2005, 2009) articulated that choosing a heterogeneous group is

often more beneficial to a teacher-researcher as it allows the teacher-researcher to fully

describe the multiple perspectives that exist in the teacher’s classes. Table 2 provides a

class profile of the participants. Of the 21 students within the class, 20 agreed to

participate in the study and consent was obtained from each student’s parents (see

Appendix B). Random IDs to protect student anonymity were assigned.


55

Table 2

Participant Profile

Student Race Gender Age Special-Needs

TB Caucasian Male 14 None


AC Caucasian Female 14 Advanced*
MC Middle-Eastern Female 15 None
EE African-American Female 14 None
BG Caucasian Male 15 None
JK Caucasian Male 15 Advanced*
AK Middle-Eastern Male 14 Advanced*
SK Indian Male 14 None
KS Indian Male 14 None
LL Caucasian Female 15 IEP*
ML Caucasian Female 14 504*
TN African-American Male 15 Third-Level Pyramid*
RP Mexican/African-American Female 14 None
AP Caucasian Female 15 None
DS Caucasian Male 15 None
JS Caucasian Male 14 None
AS African-American Female 14 Advanced*
JT Caucasian Male 15 None
AU Caucasian Female 15 None
AZ Caucasian Male 13 Advanced*

* A “third-level pyramid” is a status used in the district for struggling students before a recommendation

for a 504/IEP is made. IEPs or Individualized Educational Plans and 504s are federal documents that list

instructional accommodations and curricular modifications that must be followed for students. The

designation “Advanced” is used to refer to students who have exceptional cognitive abilities—this is not

limited to IQ, but may refer to music, artistic, or athletic talent as well.
56

Teacher-Researcher Profile

In any action research study, it is important to provide some background on the

teacher-researcher as my perspectives on teaching and learning are part of the answers to

the research questions as well as a significant part of how the research questions were

chosen (Holly et al., 2005, 2009).

I have been a teacher for eight years and am tenured. I have taught in the district

that was the focus of this study for six years, and before that, at a nearby district. I have

taught Spanish in grades 1–2 and 6–12; each school year, I have always had at least two

sections in a middle childhood environment. I also participate in numerous school

activities and have been a PLC team leader (DuFour et al., 2005). I am an active member

of the Ohio Foreign Language Association and I also teach foreign language methods and

assessment courses to undergraduates and graduate students at two local area colleges.

Pedagogically, I believe that my classroom is best described as high-energy,

differentiated (Wormeli, 2007), and constructive (Fosnot, 1996). I believe such a design

allows each student to grow primarily first as a learner, in the specific areas of

self-knowing and self-reflection as a form of critical thinking and analysis, and then

second in the growth of Spanish content knowledge. My curriculum is influenced by

principles related to a contextualized classroom and interdisciplinary teaching (Brandl,

2009). This means that it is essential that students read, write, speak, and listen daily in

the language they are studying. This should come in the form of comprehensible input,

authentic resources that are within the zone of proximal development, that allow students

to grow through their interaction with prior knowledge and move to the next linguistic
57

level (Vygotsky, 1978). I adhere to the principles contained within the middle childhood

declaration, This I Believe (AMLE/NMSA, 2010), with specific attention paid to

providing a safe, yet challenging environment. In addition, I believe that the greatest tool

I have to appropriately educate a middle childhood student is to collaborate with students,

guidance counselors, parents, and other teachers when making educational decisions.

Data Collection and Management Procedures

This action research study was conducted during two consecutive units of

instruction. The duration of these units were determined by the common pacing guide for

all teachers of this particular course in my school district (DuFour et al., 2004; Jacobs,

1997). This time frame, although relatively short, still provided adequate understanding

of how participants conceptualized an authentic formative assessment process and how it

compared with a more standardized approach. It also provided adequate time to begin to

implement a more authentic approach to formative assessment within the assessment

cycle of the classroom. This assertion is evidenced by the extensive data analysis

provided in Chapter 4.

Four types of data were collected in this study to answer the research questions:

(a) questionnaires; (b) focus groups in the form of class discussions; (c) teacher-student

artifacts (lesson plans, assessment logs, and grade book); and (d) teacher-researcher data

(analytic memos and field notes to document daily observations in the form of a teacher

journal). Table 3 shows a timeline indicating when the various data types were collected,

followed by the rationale for using these methods. Each discussion is supported with

additional information from the literature on the various types of data collection.
58

Table 3

Data Collection Timeline

Data Sources

Questionnaires. Questionnaires are research instruments consisting of a series of

questions for the purpose of collecting facts, perspectives, attitudes, or values from

participants. They were appropriate to use in this action research study as they provided

significant insight into student perspectives of the research questions and helped shape

my teacher action as there is limited knowledge of authentic formative assessment (Holly

et al., 2005, 2009).

Two types of questionnaires were used in this study, and questionnaires were

administered six times over the course of the study. The first type, referred to as
59

“E-survey,” was in an electronic format that is used by the school and familiar to

students, to check on students’ opinions of a variety of different topics. Although the

e-surveys are considered to be anonymous, there is nothing preventing the technology

department from determining which student wrote which response and releasing this

information to teachers upon request as each student must log-in to the system. The

e-system may be accessed from anywhere in the world and it is common for students to

provide lengthier results to these questions as they have unlimited time to answer them

within a set time period, often three to four days. Return rate for these questionnaires

was greater than 95% as students have been conditioned to complete the surveys as the

school prides itself on including student input for decisions through these surveys, and

students have seen changes happen based on survey results. The second type of

questionnaire was more traditional, anonymously completed on paper by students in the

classroom. This second questionnaire type was used to ensure that students themselves

were providing the responses. One hundred percent of participants completed this

survey. During data analysis, I noted that these responses were much shorter than the

electronic responses and at times appeared to “tell me what I wanted to hear” so that we

could continue on with our lesson or so students could leave the classroom.

On either type of questionnaire, open ended questions were designed to elicit as

much of the student voice as possible. Questions were created to allow “students to

respond in their own words” about the formative assessment process (Holly et al., 2009,

p. 153). The questions at times ebbed-and-flowed based on the teacher-researcher’s

understandings of the emerging data trends, as was expected (Holly et al., 2005, 2009).
60

With such an orientation, I was able to gain specific and meaningful data towards the

research questions. Upon conclusion of each questionnaire, the results were analyzed to

identify trends as well as member-checked and discussed with a critical colleague to

make sure that I was interpreting the data correctly. Charts and diagrams were also

created to display the information (see Chapter 4).

Some of the questions that appeared on the questionnaires, where the words I and

me refer to the student perspective, follow:

• What is a formative assessment (FA)?

• How would I describe the formative assessment process in our classroom to a

friend?

• What are characteristics of the formative assessment process in our classroom?

• What do I think about the formative assessment process?

• Do I know of ways that the formative assessment process could work better?

Explain.

• Compare/contrast the formative assessment process in this class to another

class. What is better/worse?

• What did this formative assessment process show me as a learner?

• How can I improve my skills/knowledge based upon this formative

assessment?

• How can the teacher help me based on this formative assessment?

• What do I need the teacher to do differently to help support me?


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• Did the formative assessment process help me or hinder me in anyway? Why

or why not?

• If the teacher wanted to implement this formative assessment process

differently, how might he design it?

• If the teacher implemented this formative assessment process differently, how

would I react? Why?

• How has the improved formative assessment process worked for you?

Focus groups as class discussions. Holly et al. (2005, 2009) conceived that

focus groups, in the form of class discussions, are an important method to gain data that

can be used to shape the answers to research questions. Focus groups were utilized in

this study for three reasons: (a) As these methodologists argue, using a class discussion as

a primary method in an action research study and supplementing these groups with

additional techniques allows the teacher-researcher to gain breadth and depth about the

research problem because they are spontaneous, require little preparation, and can be

used on the spot when the teacher-researcher is on-the-go within the classroom; (b)

Classroom discussions are an excellent strategy to use when working with children as

they provide a relaxed environment where participants are comfortable as the spotlight is

not constantly on them, a typical dilemma often faced by middle childhood students

(Hesse-Biber & Leavy, 2006; Ormrod, 2003); (c) Class discussions give the

teacher-researcher an advantage in situations, such as this one, where little is known

about perspectives concerning the topic (Morgan, 1998).


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By using a focus group, I had an effective method to collect data to answer the

research questions. Holly et al. (2005, 2009) and Morgan (1998) all indicated that focus

groups in classrooms create lines of communication that allow for give-and-take in the

group discussion as each participant is able to react to other participants’ responses.

Utilizing a focus group gave me a chance to understand the range of perspectives and

opinions related to authentic formative assessment in comparison to a more standardized

approach.

The focus group discussions occurred four times throughout the study and lasted

anywhere from 10 minutes (due to an interruption with a fire drill) to 40 minutes; this

practice is not uncommon within my classroom nor within the school. Two ground rules

were discussed to ensure that all perspectives could be heard in the process: (a) all

opinions are important and (b) we agree to disagree. Student questions were open-ended

to elicit as much of the student perspective as possible. Prepared questions were based on

a preliminary analysis of the questionnaire data as well as on observational data to allow

for a form of member-checking. The questions were also used to gain more details about

the authentic and standardized processes to answer the research questions (Morgan,

1998). In the first unit of instruction, the prepared questions were: (a) how would you

describe the formative assessment process; (b) how can the process be more effective;

and (c) what does the process look like in other classrooms. Towards the start of second

unit of instruction, the prepared questions changed to address (a) what does the teacher

need to do differently to help support me in this formative assessment process; and (b)

now that the process has changed to incorporate your suggestions, what is working, what
63

could work better, and what is not working in regards to this process? The rest of my

questions were clarifying questions based on what participants stated.

Throughout the discussions, I encouraged students to ask me and other

participants questions about the authentic formative assessment process. Due to logistical

constraints in my classroom, and as recommended by Holly et al. (2005, 2009), the class

discussions were summarized on an LCD projector rather than audio-recorded as it can

be difficult to capture all participants who are responding to the discussion questions, and

the administrators granting approval for this study were not accepting of audio-taping

conversations about school procedures. During the discussion, I took notes via a second

laptop computer. Following the focus groups, analytic memos were written to allow for a

recursive analysis of data. Upon conclusion of the focus group, the results were analyzed

to identify trends and discussed with a critical colleague to make sure that I was

interpreting the data correctly.

Teacher-researcher journal. A third source of data is the researcher log. This

consisted of field notes as well as analytic notes. Field notes included a reconstruction of

dialogue with students, observations, accounts of events and depictions of activities, and

the researcher’s behaviors and interactions with students (Bogdan & Biklen, 1998).

Analytic notes consisted of both the researcher’s immediate as well as ongoing

reflections on the data, including reflections on analysis, reflections on method,

reflections on conflicts, reflections on the observer’s frame of mind, and points of

clarification (Holly et al., 2005, 2009). This research log was updated daily, three times.

The first update, before class, focused on knowledge of the research process and how the
64

research information being collected was affecting lesson planning and development; the

second written immediately after (or at times during) the class period, reconstructed

dialogue with students or identified key “ah-hah” moments; the third, at the end of the

work day, identified areas of probing and follow-up for the next day as well as memos

regarding reflection upon the data and its subsequent analysis. Such updates allowed for

comparison between student understanding and my conceptualization of the authentic

formative process as well as comparison between authentic and standardized processes

(Holly et al., 2009).

Teacher-student artifacts. Holly et al. (2005, 2009) defined documents as

materials that can be used as supplemental information when the action research study’s

main data source is one that contains significant interaction with the participants. The

documents in this study were the lesson plans that I used to teach the lessons, my

standards-based gradebook, and the results of student assessments. These informational

pieces were used to document student educational growth during the authentic formative

assessment experiences as well as provide documentation for how an authentic process

differs from a more standardized process. Full lesson plans are housed on the district

web-server and are accessible to students and parents that have access to the website; the

results of student assessments are accessible by parents, teachers, administrators, and

students who have a unique identifier to view a certain set of results. Charts and

diagrams, found in Chapter 4, were also created to summarize this information. This data

set was discussed with the team of teachers in my district who all teach the same course

during our PLC time. A PLC, or a professional learning community, under the
65

standardized-management approach to education in my district, is a time set aside during

the work day for teachers to determine whether all students enrolled in a particular course

are meeting specific course goals and content standards (DuFour et al., 2005).

Data Management

A good storage and retrieval system was necessary for keeping track of data, for

permitting easy, flexible, reliable use of data, and for documenting analyses made (Holly

et al., 2005, 2009). For these reasons, the following process was employed: raw material

such as questionnaire results were kept in original form, dated, and stored in a

password-protected electronic file; these were backed up nightly to ensure no loss of data,

and a second copy was kept at school. Processed data as well as coded data including

headers were stored electronically by topic and date, which allowed for easy access; these

were also backed up daily. Artifacts, such as lesson plans, were stored electronically via

the district’s web system and assessment results were stored electronically in a

password-protected site provided for teacher and student use by the district. Finally, an

index of all materials was kept so that any particular piece of data and its subsequent

analysis could be located at any time.

Data Analysis

Interpretation is not a separate part of the action research cycle; thus the

procedures in this study were iterative, emergent, and ongoing (Holly et al., 2005, 2009).

During the classroom units of instruction, I read all of the data first to establish key

themes related to what resonated with students and me in contributing to an authentic

formative assessment process as well as in identifying differences between an authentic


66

and a standardized system. During a second reading, I made sure that the data justified

the themes and that the themes were appropriate (Bogdan & Biklen, 1998). On my third

time through, I coded the data in terms with the themes. During the last reading, I

adjusted coding to ensure consistency and accuracy of coding. Data was reread three

months after data collection and again approximately one year later to allow for

additional analysis and to ensure consistency of coding. The process was repeated for

each research question.

During the coding and reading process, I wrote analytic memos to identify key

points related to the research question (Holly et al., 2005). These were shared with

participants as a form of member-checking as well as with a critical colleague who has

knowledge of middle school teaching and is an experienced teacher. The final results

were written up in Chapter 4 and made extensive use of thick description (Holly et al.,

2005, 2009).

Notes on the Design of Study

All research if it is to be paid attention to needs to account to the degree to which

it is reliable and valid. In traditional research, those criteria are met through triangulation

of data, peer review, clarifying research bias, member checking, thick description, and

taking detailed field notes (Creswell, 2007). Since action research is an independent

methodology of qualitative study, validity and reliability are not used as the criteria for

determining the rigor of a research study. Action research experts have determined that

the following five criteria should be apparent in the design of study to ensure validity and

rigor (Herr & Anderson, 2005):


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• The generation of new knowledge (dialogic and process validity);

• The extent with which research is done with all parties concerned (democratic

validity);

• A sound and appropriate research methodology with critique of the research

process (process validity);

• The achievement of action-orientated outcomes (outcome validity);

• The education of both researcher and participants (catalytic validity).

Based on these five areas, this study meets the criteria for the validity of an action

research study for the following reasons.

First, as the authentic formative assessment had never been researched, new

knowledge was generated from this study (dialogic and process validity). Second, as

both student and teacher perspectives drove the research process, democratic validity was

met as all parties represented in the process had a voice in the study. Additionally, my

critical colleagues who discussed the data with me provided another perspective in the

research process and supported democratic validity. Process validity, as Holly et al.

(2005, 2009) articulated, is met when there is a logical argument for using action research

as a methodology. This criteria was met as I discussed in this chapter why action

research is appropriate for these questions, why certain methods are being used to collect

data, and why a collaborative, insider approach is being used to study this problem.

Lastly, to meet outcome and catalytic validity criteria, Herr and Anderson (2005) indicate

that action research reports should indicate how classroom life has improved. This

information is provided in Chapter 5.


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Although the criteria for validity have been met in an action research study, there

are certain areas of the study that could have planned differently. In terms of the focus

groups, it may have been more effective to tape-record these as discussions were often

very rich and at times difficult to type-out. Additional follow-up interviews, which were

not considered as part of the original design, could have further added to understanding

these conversations.

Secondly, the length of time that data collection occurred may have affected the

depth of data collected. Perhaps if these units had been of a different length or had

occurred at a different point in the school year, different themes would have been

represented in the data; perhaps by extending the study over additional units of

instruction, additional data would have been gathered to further understand how an

authentic process compares to a standardized process. At the same time, two units of

instruction were sufficient to gain understanding and answer the research questions. This

is supported by research as effective formative assessment cycles occur over one-to-two

units of instruction and not over an extended period of time as teachers and students are

dependent on formative assessments for here and now results (Popham, 2011).

Lastly, everyday classroom events could have affected data collection at times

(Burns, 1999). For example, on two separate occasions, surveys were interrupted due to

public address announcements and a fire drill. In addition, a few students did rush to

complete surveys due to tardiness or early releases. In terms of teacher data, although the

journal has three daily entries at different stages of the instructional cycle, at times I
69

found my thoughts not as detailed as they should have been as I was in a hurry to get to a

meeting or needed to meet with a student.

As with any study that is constructivist in nature (Fosnot, 1996), I was seeking to

make meaning from what my students and I said and did. For the students and the

teacher-researcher, the robust data analysis provided in Chapter 4 sufficiently answered

the research questions as the data improved the authentic assessment-instruction process.

With 20 students in one classroom out of a possible 21, I believe it was possible to find

many common themes in the data responses and to assure the reader of the validity of this

action research study.

Summary

This chapter has described the research paradigm in terms of the research

questions, the methodology and data collection methods, the type of analysis used, and

the indicators of validity that ensure quality action research. The following chapter

presents the results of this investigation using the research questions as an organizing

framework.
CHAPTER IV

DATA ANALYSIS

This action research study investigated how authentic formative assessment

processes can be implemented within a middle school classroom. The purpose of this

action research study was to describe the pedagogical strategies of an authentic formative

assessment process within one classroom. The study also explored how an authentic

process can be a viable alternative to a standardized one within one classroom. Authentic

formative assessment is defined as a planned process in which a teacher interprets any

classroom activity to gain information about student learning and adjust instruction

(Darling-Hammond, 2010; Dell’Olio & Donk, 2007; Ormrod, 2003; Popham, 2008). It

consists of teachers determining curriculum needs for their students by relying on

observation and interactions with students to plan instruction, provide the learner with

specific feedback, help the student learn content, and improve learning strategies (Black

& Wiliam, 1998). Authentic formative assessment is a “practical” process (Schwab,

1970) that allows teachers to use their professional knowledge, skills, and a variety of

different types of evidence from a variety of sources to make decisions.

The study was conducted through a particular interpretation of an action research

lens and data analysis proceeded through recursive stages of data gathering, open coding,

memo writing, and analysis, described in Chapter 3 (Holly et al., 2009). Twenty middle

school students of Spanish completed questionnaires, participated in informal focus

groups, and produced documents over a period of two instructional units. A teacher-

researcher journal also was created to record the research process.

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71

This chapter provides an analysis of the data collected and is organized around the

three questions that guided the study. They are:

1. What are the emergent pedagogical strategies of an authentic formative

assessment process in this middle childhood classroom?

2. How might knowledge of the emergent pedagogical strategies of the authentic

formative assessment process help improve the way assessment is planned and

enacted for this middle childhood classroom?

3. Does an authentic formative assessment process provide a viable alternative to

a standardized assessment process in this specific classroom?

Research Question #1: What are the Emergent Pedagogical Strategies of an

Authentic Formative Assessment Process in This Middle Childhood Classroom?

This section answers this research question by identifying eight pedagogical

strategies of the authentic formative assessment process that resulted from data analysis.

As a reminder to the reader, authentic formative assessment is defined as a planned

process in which a teacher interprets any classroom activity to gain information about

student learning and adjust instruction (Darling-Hammond, 2010; Dell’Olio & Donk,

2007; Ormrod, 2003; Popham, 2008). It consists of teachers determining curriculum

needs for their students by relying on observation and interactions with students to plan

instruction, provide the learner with specific feedback, help the student learn content, and

improve learning strategies (Black & Wiliam, 1998). Authentic formative assessment is

a “practical” process (Schwab, 1970) that allows teachers to use their professional
72

knowledge, skills, and a variety of different types of evidence from a variety of sources to

make decisions.

The eight pedagogical strategies identified through data analysis of the authentic

formative assessment process are variety, feedback, conferencing, out-of-class supports,

interactive activities, transparency, pacing, and student ownership. Each label, although

not comprehensive in expressing all nuances, portrays the core features of the data set.

These labels were determined by identifying repetitive key statements by the participants

(both the teacher-researcher and student) and concepts expressed in the data sources (i.e.,

coding the data), member checking these labels in later questionnaires and focus groups,

as well as discussing the labels with a critical colleague knowledgeable about middle

school practice. See Table 4 later in this chapter for examples of data coding.

This section is organized by first providing definitions of the pedagogical

strategies. After defining them, data tables and diagrams are presented to provide a

holistic picture of the data. Although this study is not defined as quantitative study, it is

customary in action research to provide such figures as they can visually and cogently

display participants’ responses as well as allow for ease of discussion (Holly et al., 2005).

Following the display of the figures, data are discussed in terms of each of the strategies.

Quotes that clearly demonstrate each strategy from the teacher-research journal, focus

groups, and questionnaires are included. As a reminder, to preserve student anonymity,

pseudonyms are used as discussed in Chapter 3.


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Defining Pedagogical Strategies of Authentic Formative Assessment

In this subsection, the definitions of the pedagogical strategies that emerged from

data analysis, as identified by the participants, are presented along with the phrases that

were used in coding of the data. This section has been provided to orientate the reader

and follows with the presentation of the data used to create these labels.

Pedagogical strategy #1: Variety refers to a differentiated approach to instruction

where students construct curriculum meaning in a variety of forms or manners. This

means that through varied learning activities, such as a game, learning situation, or

think-pair-share activity, students take many pieces of information to build an overall

understanding of the learning goal. Such an approach allows students to think in

different ways about the content. Some key words and phrases that participants used to

describe variety were “different activities,” “different ways,” “multiple attempts,” “many

types of activities,” “mixture,” and “diverse activities.”

Pedagogical strategy #2: Feedback is a process defined as any type of response

given by the teacher or a fellow student that indicates how close the learner was to

meeting learning goals; it can occur in both written and oral forms and with or without a

grade. Students identified that feedback helps them learn what to focus on as they are

learning new material. Words and phrases that were used to develop this label were

“teacher comments,” “feedback,” “description of progress,” and “advice.”

Pedagogical strategy #3: Conferencing is a two-to-five minute conversation with a

student to discuss their learning, work samples, progress, or to remediate difficulties;

conferences may also occur between two or more students. Conferencing allows students
74

to articulate what they were thinking in relationship to the learning goals and to try

something different with or without guidance from the teacher or peer; such a

partnership, as described by the students, helps students adjust their learning towards the

target goal. The words “conferences,” “conversations about learning,” and “meetings”

are terms found within the data sources that were used to derive this label.

Pedagogical strategy #4: Out-of-Class Supports are defined as resources such as a

class website, teacher-created podcasts, blogs, and interactive PowerPoints® that are used

by students to learn key concepts within the curriculum. To develop this theme, coding

relied on participants’ naming of the actual district resource or by more generic terms

such as “podcasts” or “website.”

Pedagogical strategy #5: Interactive Activities are identified as hands-on

activities, such as games, reflection sheets, and practice tests that require justification of

student thinking. Interactive activities help students process content by allowing them to

modify answers to create better ones. Terms, such as “interaction,” “interactive,”

“hands-on,” “constructive,” and “high interest” were key words that signified this

strategy.

Pedagogical strategy #6: Transparency, for purposes of this discussion, means

that students were cognizant of the pedagogy involved in the teacher’s instruction of the

class. This means that I, as the teacher, shared with students the reasons why we were

doing things the way that we were. Phrases such as “shared what you learned,” “saying

what you learned,” and “giving thoughts” were coded together to formulate this label.
75

Pedagogical strategy #7: Pacing is characterized as the timing and ordering of the

authentic formative assessment process within a lesson, such as the number of minutes

allotted for student processing of learning activities. Words such as “timing,” “pacing,”

and “pace” were key qualifiers used to identify this emergent pedagogical strategy.

Pedagogical strategy #8: Student Ownership refers to student control or student

oversight over their learning. Words such as “active,” “being in charge,” “in control,”

“driver’s seat,” and “take control” helped delineate this strategy.

Table 4 shows example statements and quotations that justify the labeling of the

pedagogical strategies through the coding process. As was described in Chapter 3, these

strategies were compiled from the analysis of completed questionnaires, focus group

transcripts, and a teacher-researcher journal. The graphical data from the sources used to

answer the first research question are presented next.

Graphical Data in Relationship to Research Question #1

In this subsection, holistic figures in the forms of graphs, which were used to

determine the emerging pedagogical strategies of the authentic formative assessment

process, are presented; an explanation as to how they were created is also included.

Questionnaire data are described first and are followed by data from the teacher-research

journal. In the following section, these data charts are referenced and merged with

specific coded statements and quotes from the questionnaires, the journal, and the focus

groups to more fully answer this first research question.


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Table 4

Example Data to Support Labeling of Pedagogical Strategies Through Coding Process

Strategy Key Phrasings Example Statement or Quotation Data Source

1: Variety different activities; “By having a lot of different activities, I Student


different ways; understand everything that will be expected Questionnaire
multiple attempts; of me and I get a feel of the material I need to #2
many types of study and look over.”
activities; mixture;
diverse activities

2: Feedback teacher comments; “Immediate within the period comments by Focus Group
feedback; you give me the opportunity to think about #3
description of the content and improve my performance.”
progress; advice

3: Conferencing conferences; “Conferencing helps to negotiate those next Teacher-


conversations steps so that I know they’re making gains Research
about learning; towards our goals but at the same developing Journal – Day
meetings their abilities to learn and reflect on their 5A
thinking.”

4: Out-of-Class casts, website, “The website is great because it helps me pick Student
Supports PowerPoints; up little details because you have to process it Questionnaire
Pinnacle; by yourself. You don’t have other people #3
GradeViewer around to really see if you know what you’re
doing.”

5: Interactive interaction; “The practice tests are interactive. They Focus Group
Activities interactive; hands- require you to justify your thinking – you just #1
on; constructive; can’t get by with a guess; and if you can’t
high interest; justify you know you’re going to be ticked
[mess up] on the real thing.”

6: Transparency shared what you “It makes me feel valued when you share Focus Group
learned; saying your thoughts on how our learning is going, #4
what you learned; like it reaffirms what I’m doing and what
giving thoughts; you’re doing, because it isn’t one-sided, like
you don’t get to just know what we’re
thinking and we know nothing about your
thinking…it keeps it real.”

(table continues)
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Table 4 (continued)

Example Data to Support Labeling of Pedagogical Strategies Through Coding Process

Strategy Key Phrasings Example Statement or Quotation Data Source

7: Pacing timing; pace; “It appears that this whole pacing process was Teacher
pacing off, due to testing constraints and pacing Research
guides. It almost becomes a tangible object Journal – Day
or commodity and not a mindset. Although 10B
this had not been my intent it was occurring.”

8: Student active, being in “When you are allowed to take an active role Student
Ownership charge; in control; in the learning process like we’re doing now, Questionnaire
driver’s seat; and you get a chance to actually learn and can do #6
take control better.”

Over the course of the study, two types of questionnaires were administered to

each study participant for a total of six times as described in Chapter 3. The return rate

for electronic questionnaires was greater than 95% and the return rate for paper-pencil

questionnaires was 100%. On either type of questionnaire, open ended questions were

designed to elicit as much of the student voice as possible. Questions were created to

allow “students to respond in their own words” in relationship to the research question

(Holly et al., 2009, p. 153). In terms of Research Question #1, the following questions

and their variants served as key insights into the strategies of the process:

• What is a formative assessment (FA)?

• How would I describe the formative assessment process in our classroom to a

friend?

• What are characteristics of the formative assessment process in our classroom?


78

• Compare/contrast the formative assessment process in this class to another

class. What is better/worse?

• How can we improve the formative assessment process in the classroom?

In Figure 1, the results of the student questionnaires have been quantified. After

coding the data, each coded statement was counted in terms of the labeling and graphed

in terms of the number of total participants. To create this bar graph, all electronic

surveys for Student #1 were grouped together; these were then charted in terms of the

emerging labels. This visual representation shows the number of students who cited each

particular strategy and shows that more than 80% of the respondents identified the areas

of variety, feedback, conferencing, interactive activities, and student ownership as

strategies of the authentic formative assessment process. Three other strategies,

transparency, out-of-class supports, and pacing, although not as prevalent amongst all

students, were also identified.

Although Figure 1 describes student responses in terms of the total number of

participants, it does not show the prevalence of each coding in relationship to the total

number of questionnaire responses, nor references anonymous questionnaires. As action

research study is typically concerned with group trends, it is important to see how many

times a pedagogical strategy is mentioned in relationship to the total data set (Hesse-

Biber & Leavy, 2006; Holly et al., 2009). Without such an analysis, there would be no

way to determine which authentic formative assessment strategies were most prevalent

for the entire class. Thus, Figure 2 provides an overview of the total number of codings
79

25

20 20
20
17 17
Number of Students

16
15
12

10 8
7

Pedagogical Strategies of Authentic Formative Assessment

Figure 1. Number of students who identify a particular coded strategy in e-questionnaires


for Research Question #1

per pedagogical strategy in relationship to the total number of codings in the

questionnaires (696).

From the pie chart (Figure 2), it is noted that 100% of questionnaires mentioned

the pedagogical strategies of variety and interactive activities. This indicates that variety

and interactive activities were key components of the authentic formative assessment

process for these students. Feedback, student ownership, and conferencing were also

strategies of high importance as between 75% and 85% of questionnaire responses

aligned with these labels. The remaining three areas, out-of-class supports, pacing, and

transparency, appeared between a third and a half of total questionnaire responses; this
80

Figure 2. Percentage of coded questionnaire results in relationship to total number of


codings

indicated that these were important strategies to some students in terms of an authentic

formative assessment process but were of perhaps less importance than others as they

were not as mentioned as frequently.

In conjunction with student response, teacher-research data sources were also

analyzed in this action research study as the research questions in any such study cannot

by limited to just the student perspective (Holly et al., 1991). The source used to

document the teacher perspective in this study was a teacher-research journal. This

journal, updated three times daily, consisted of two parts: field notes that included a

reconstruction of dialogue with students, observations, accounts of events and depictions

of activities, and the researcher’s behaviors and interactions with students as well as

analytic notes consisting of both the researcher’s immediate as well as ongoing


81

reflections on the data, including reflections on analysis, reflections on method,

reflections on conflicts, reflections on the observer’s frame of mind, and points of

clarification (Bogdan & Biklen, 1998; Holly et al., 2005, 2009).

Figure 3 provides a visual representation of the teacher-research journal. It is

important to note that this data chart was created in terms of days, as opposed to each of

the three entries per day. This was done because some areas would only be mentioned

after the lesson and not before and the focus on the authentic formative assessment

process is the entire lesson and not an arbitrary distinction created for tracking data

within the journal. As an illustrative example, the pedagogical strategy of feedback was

coded 11 times throughout the journal. It was only counted seven times on the chart, as

four of the additional codes were within the same days’ entries.

As the bar chart in Figure 3 shows, the pedagogical strategies of variety,

interactive activities, and student ownership were discussed most frequently throughout

the journal in terms of the authentic formative assessment process with conferencing

being coded in terms of frequency next, at 14 times. The strategies of feedback,

transparency, and pacing were identified in the journal between seven and nine times and

out-of-class supports were only discussed five times throughout the entire journal. Figure

4 produces a similar interpretation when the percentages of each pedagogical strategy

coded in the journal were calculated in terms of the total number of codings (93). This

information is useful as it helps paint a picture from my perspective of what components

of the authentic formative assessment process were most prevalent.


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25
Number of Lesson Cycles (Days) Coded within Teacher

20
20
18
17

15 14
Journal

10 9
7 7
5
5

Pedagogical Strategies of Authentic Formative Assessment

Figure 3. Number of coded lesson cycles (days) within teacher-research journal


indicative of a particular pedagogical strategy
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Variety, 19%
Ownership, 22%

Feedback, 8%
Pacing, 10%
Conferencing, 15%

Transparency, 8%
Interactive
Activities, 18%
Out-of-Class, 5%

Figure 4. Percentage of coded journal entries aligned to emergent pedagogical strategies


of authentic formative assessment in relationship to total number of codings

In addition to looking at the data in terms of student perspective versus teacher

perspective, data were also compared in terms of frequency of coding between sources.

Figure 5, which was created based on the number of codings between student

questionnaires and the teacher-research journal, shows the percent difference in codings

in relationship to each pedagogical strategy. This chart was created by calculating the

total number of journal days coded with a particular strategy and comparing this to the

total number of possible entries as well as calculating the number of questionnaires that

were coded a particular way in relationship to the total number of questionnaires.

Although by no means are these two data sources identical, and therefore are not

completely comparable, by showing the percent differences between the frequency of


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Figure 5. Percent difference in terms of prevalence of authentic formative assessment


strategies between total number of questionnaires and total number of coded entries per
day in teacher-research journal

possibility, discussion is feasible on the extent to which my students and I identified these

strategies as a part of an authentic formative assessment process. For example, 80% of

the questionnaires mentioned feedback as an integral strategy of an authentic formative

assessment process. However, in the teacher-journal, only seven entries discussed this

topic for a total of 32% for the total journal. This may mean that for students, feedback

was a more important strategy of the authentic process than it was for teachers (a

difference of almost 50%). Pacing on the other hand was mentioned approximately the

same number of times between data sources; these data suggest that my students and I

viewed the strategy in relatively equal terms.

Although these figures do provide several valid displays of the data, it is not

sufficient to base conclusions solely on numerical representations of these data sources.


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This is because this numerical data does not describe the nuances of each pedagogical

strategy that can be found in student or teacher language in relationship to the data labels.

In the next sections, organized around each pedagogical strategy, these numerical

representations are supplemented with quotations from the participants.

Pedagogical Strategy #1: Variety

Variety, as mentioned earlier, was defined during data analysis as instructional

activity where students construct curriculum meaning in different forms, conditions, or

manners (Brooks & Brooks, 1999; Fosnot, 1996). It refers to the differentiated

approaches of learning, related to process and product, that students experienced

throughout their lessons (Tomlinson & Eidson, 2003; Wormeli, 2007). As Figure 1

showed, all 20 students made statements in their questionnaires that were coded with the

label variety; this category was also the second most prevalent discussion found within

the teacher-research journal (See Figure 3). This indicates that a key pedagogical

strategy of authentic formative assessment was related to variety of instruction.

In the student questionnaires, several students described variety by mentioning

that by participating in different activities, they had “multiple attempts to learn and check

what they needed to know.” Specifically as one student described, “Its [sic] not boring.

By having a lot of different activities, I understand everything that will be expected of me

and I get a feel of the material I need to study and look over.” Such variety was

considered an asset to an authentic formative assessment process by students as it kept

students focused in a way that allows them to adjust their learning.


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Additional questionnaire responses further showed how the authentic formative

assessment process was fostered by varied activities that allowed students to reflect on

the learning goals of instruction. For example, TN described in his e-survey that by

doing many “different activities, you can get a feel for all of the little pieces and parts that

go into learning a foreign language. When you only do the same things, you don’t really

know what to focus on differently.” TN confirmed this by stating that variety is an

important strategy in an authentic formative assessment process by stating, “A lot of

teachers do the same thing over and over again. In this class, we always know what is

expected of us, but there are some many diverse activities to get to the same point.”

JS’s last e-survey also showed how variety was important in an authentic

formative assessment process:

There isn’t a single day that goes by where we do the same thing—there’s always

a mixture of a wide-range of stuff to practice, from games to songs to pair work.

These different types of activities just motivate you to get better at Spanish.

Another student (EE) supported this by stating, “A key part of our classroom formative

assessment is that there are many types of activities—you get multiple attempts to learn

everything you can.”

As these questionnaire results showed, students viewed variety as an important

strategy of the authentic formative assessment process. In addition to these questionnaire

results, variety was also discussed in the focus groups. As AZ described, “The variety of

activities really helps me as it shows me the nuances of what I know and don’t know. If

you did just one type you wouldn’t know.” ML also indicated that by working in
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different manners, such as with a friend and independently, “by doing different things in

different ways, you really get a feel for what you need to learn.” In summarizing the

group discussion, RP referenced variety as well:

The best thing about our formative assessment process is that there are so many

diverse activities to learn the course goals with—if one way isn’t helping you to

get the concept, you know that there will be a different activity later on in the

period to help you.

These statements showed that different varied activities were essential in encouraging

students to think in different ways about the content and about their learning, key

components of any formative assessment process.

Variety of activities was also noted in the lessons plans that occurred during the

instructional units as I was exploring the authentic formative assessment process with

students and was apparent as these plans were analyzed. Figure 6 shows one example of

the variety contained within a typical lesson. During this lesson, students worked

independently and with small groups, completed a think-pair-share, played a game,

worked with manipulatives, and completed a reflective practice test, all aligned to the

learning goals. These activities gave information to students about their knowledge of

the learning goals for the unit as well as information with which to adjust instruction

before the common assessment. Table 5 also further organizes the data and shows the

wide-range of activities aligned to each of the learning goals that were compiled by
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Figure 6. E-copy of a lesson plan identifying activities that students completed to help
check progress for the unit’s learning goal

analyzing the lessons within the first unit. As Table 5 describes, variety was embedded

within the unit design such that each learning goal was presented to students through a

wide-range of modalities, a mixture of hands-on versus more rote practice, as well as at

various levels of knowledge acquisition (Brandl, 2009). Figure 6 shows how a typical

lesson was organized to ensure that variety was provided for students.

In terms of the teacher perspective, the teacher-research journal also had

statements aligned to the pedagogical strategy of variety. As Figures 4 and 5 describe,

variety was mentioned 19% of the time and coded for a total of 18 days, 21 entries

throughout the journal. For example, in reference to the lesson plan described in Figure

6, I stated:
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Table 5

Examples of Varied Activities Used During the Authentic Formative Assessment Process

Learning Goal Activity Types

3-2-1 Intro Vocab Movie; Ball Toss; Win-Lose-or Draw Game; Exit Slip; 4 FIS Links;
Conjuguemos.com; Take-Home Tutor; Gap Activities (Brandl, 2007); Crossword
Clues; Qwizdom; Snakes and Ladders; Pictionary; Practice Worksheets 1-2; Listening
Activities with Think-Pair Share; Conferencing; World Cup Song

3-2-2 Heart Attack Game; Speaking Gap (Brandl, 2009); Practice Worksheets 1-2; Take Me
Out to the Ball Game Song; Mi Sueño Political Reading; Exit Slip; WebQuest;
Battleship; Practice Test; Survey; Picasso Art-Writing Activity; M&M Speaking;
Interactive PowerPoint; Flash Card War; Listening Activities with Lettered Cards;
Make a Sports Trading Card—Glogster; LODVG Realia (Brandl, 2007)

Each activity today provided a different piece to my understanding of what

student’s were learning even though they were all after the same goal. The self-

reflection sheets for example, gave me tangible information on common mistakes

that all students were making in terms of syntax, think-pair-share activities

enabled me to see that students were having difficulty elongating their responses

in the target language, and the conference time allowed me to intervene with any

student who was severely lost as well as guide students who were already

successful. I don’t think if I would have done just one type, I would have had

enough information to design the next lessons. (Day 3A)

This quotation identifies that from my perspective as the teacher, using a varied

instructional style helped me gain different understandings into students’ progress

towards learning goals, such that I could make instructional adjustments before the next

class period, criteria related to authentic formative assessment.


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Additional statements found within the journal also showed that variety was an

important pedagogical strategy of the authentic formative assessment process for the

teacher. For example, on Day 4B, I described how the “mixture of activities” that I used

throughout the period really helped me gain an insight into how to continue teaching for

student understanding of the learning goals, but at the same time allowed students to

adjust what they were focusing on during the learning process:

Today’s station activity with such diverse activities [six different activities—an

oral Gap activity [(Brandl, 2009)], a computer station, vocabulary word game,

sentence writing activity in the form of a word chain poem, teacher-guided

practice activity, authentic realia 1 reading on WorldCup—aligned towards the

same learning goal, but practiced in different ways with small teams and

accompanied with a reflection sheet] really showed me where students are

achieving at high levels and where we need to do some more work. At the oral

station activity, I noted several students [who would stem-change] infinitives but

noticed that the same students could produce the statements accurately when they

wrote—this means that I need to build some more activities to get them exposed

to the pronunciation and formation of these infinitives until they are seamless. In

addition, their reflection sheets were eye-opening to them; one student wrote that

with the realia reading on the WorldCup he had a strong understanding of how to

use the comparisons and could now focus more on how the two verbs, saber y

1
Realia is defined as actual objects, such as a newspaper clipping or a podcast, that are brought into a classroom as examples or as
aids to instruction. They are items that have not been modified for pedagogical purposes but are instead created for native-speaker
usage (Brandl, 2009).
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conocer, are used differently. With such a mixture of activities different insights

come to both me and my students. (Day 4B)

This quotation also shows why variety was a key component of the authentic formative

process as it identified how the teacher was able to make adjustments to future lessons

based on the varied activities completed throughout the lesson.

In this section, as data analysis described, variety was one important pedagogical

strategy of the authentic formative assessment process as different activities helped

students individually process learning content, learn how to learn, and at the same time

helped me to ensure that all students were making appropriate learning gains. In the next

section, another strategy, feedback, is examined.

Pedagogical Strategy #2: Feedback

In addition to variety, feedback was recognized as a pedagogical strategy of the

authentic formative assessment process during data analysis. Feedback for purposes of

the analysis was defined as any type of response given by the teacher or a student that

indicated how close a student was to meeting learning goals; it could occur in both

written and oral forms (Brookhart, 2008). As Figure 1 indicates, 16 out of 20 students

identified feedback as an important piece of the authentic formative process. In addition,

80% of the total questionnaire results (Figure 2) dedicated to investigating Research

Question #1 cited phrases such as “teacher comments” or “description of progress” or

“advice.” These phrases as described in Table 5 were used to develop this emergent

pedagogical strategy.
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Student questionnaire results were laden with terms that suggested that feedback

was one strategy in the authentic formative assessment process. One strong example of

this is indicated in TB’s third e-survey:

You put a lot of time into writing us comments. You always tell us a few things

to work on and how we can get better. You give questions in your responses that

help me think about what to do. This shows me what I need to focus on.

Students AU and JT, respectively, also identified the value of feedback within an

authentic formative assessment process: “feedback is always helpful because it helps me

know what to look for in my own work to learn what I need to do to become a better

student” and “this class is different than my others because you always know where you

stand in terms of what we’re supposed to be learning as you always get feedback on what

you’re doing well and what you need to do better.”

In another example, DS mentioned the value of feedback in terms of the authentic

formative assessment process when he wrote in his second questionnaire that

It’s really important how we do feedback within this class. It[’]s not separate

from learning and happens all the time. Some teachers only give you feedback

after you write a major essay or take a test and then it’s late because you don’t

know what to work on.

Student AS also recognized the importance of feedback when he wrote that

“reading the description of our progress that you give us regularly really helps to know

what to focus on. In other classes you don’t really get feedback to know how to

improve.”
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Statements, such as those cited above from the five students, demonstrated that

regular feedback was an important component of an authentic formative assessment

process for students. At the same time, the pedagogical strategy of feedback was also

identified in the teacher-research journal. In commenting on giving feedback to my

students, I noted on Day 6A the following:

By giving feedback, I find myself being able to accurately describe what I and

they [the students] need to work on. It helps me see patterns. I know that

teachers hate having to repeat themselves, and I do too, but I know that if I’m

having to repeat more than three times that something has broken down then it’s

my job to go back in and fix it.

A second journal entry a day later (Day 7A) further showed that feedback could also

serve as a point with which to adjust instruction, a key referent in the authentic formative

assessment definition:

[Written feedback] can be extremely time-consuming but I need it as a reference

point to plan effective lessons. When I don’t give what I feel as good feedback,

I’m not always 100% sure where to start the next lesson as the trends in student

learning aren’t as solidified for me.

As these entries show, feedback was identified as an important pedagogical strategy of

the authentic formative assessment process for the teacher. Specifically, in terms of

numerical data, 8% of the teacher-research journal (see Figure 4) was related to feedback

given to students for a total of seven entries (Figure 3).


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However, as Figure 5 shows, in terms of teacher data, feedback was not

referenced as often in the teacher-research journal as compared to student responses on

questionnaires, a difference of almost 50%. This is discussed in the teacher-research

journal on Day 1B after having reread some of the focus group data and questionnaires:

It was interesting to hear the students be so focused on feedback within their

responses. I wonder if the reason that I don’t focus on it as much as the students

do as I few [view] it as just a requirement of classroom life. Students complete an

activity and they need to know what they did well and what they need to do from

there. To me it’s a part of any classroom and is not something that is strictly a

part of a formative assessment process.

To follow up on why students mentioned feedback so frequently, I inquired about this

emerging strategy in the second focus group.

AP pointed out that the feedback is so important because it provides a focus for

learning: “advice both in class and on assignments really helps me focus on what I need

to do to learn.” In addition, MC mentioned, “Immediate within the period comments by

you [the teacher] give me the opportunity to think about the content and improve my

performance.”

Providing different kinds of feedback to students also surfaced during the

discussion. In response to MC, AC indicated that it was good to get immediate, within

the class period, oral feedback so that she simply wasn’t repeating the same mistakes

over and over again. This gave her an “opportunity to think about the content” as she

was working with it and “improve [her] performance.”


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Another student, AS, countered this by saying that she appreciated written

feedback more than what I told her in class as she was “too involved in the process of

learning to understand” what to do differently in terms of the learning goal. These two

perspectives indicated that feedback was an important part of an authentic formative

assessment process for students in my classroom and that different types of feedback may

be preferred by different students.

Lastly, in conjunction with this pedagogical strategy, several students mentioned

that feedback can be negated when it is coupled with a grade. As my journal describes,

based on a recollection of a conversation with KS, he indicated that sometimes students

pay more attention to the grade and forget about how to improve especially when they are

trying to gain an extra privilege at home: “I just care about the grade and not the learning

because that’s all my parents look for if I want to go out to a party for example.” For this

student, it appears that an extrinsic motivator, such as grades, can nullify an authentic

formative process because the focus becomes on the end result (i.e., a grade) and not the

learning process. Another student, AK, however, felt that the opposite was true: “grades

can also motivate you to slow down and actually think about how you need to look at the

concepts differently, so you can get the best grade possible.”

From the data analysis presented in this section, feedback was acknowledged as

an integral piece of the authentic formative assessment process within this classroom. It

appeared that students have a preference for the format of their feedback and that an

evaluative statement such as a grade could help or hinder some students in their learning

process. Even though my teacher-research journal did not focus specifically on this
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strategy as much as it did others, the statements provided did show that I believed that

feedback needed to exist no matter what type of curriculum relationship was set up with

students. In the next section, I explore another type of feedback, an activity known as

conferencing, which participants identified as a third pedagogical strategy used within the

authentic formative assessment process.

Pedagogical Strategy #3: Conferencing

Another strategy that described how the authentic formative assessment process

occurred within the classroom was a pedagogical activity known as conferencing. In my

classroom, a conference was defined as a 2 to 5 minute conversation with a student to

discuss their learning, examine work samples, talk about progress, remediate difficulties,

and extend student thinking; not all of these areas were addressed at every conference.

While meeting with students, other students worked on another assignment that was later

used to evaluate their progress towards the learning goals.

As Figures 3 and 4 indicate, 17 out of 20 students (85%) referenced conferencing

in questionnaire responses designed to identify strategies of the authentic formative

assessment process and 88% of the total number of questionnaires related to Research

Question #1 were coded with this label (see Figures 1 and 2). Although the numerical

data provides an understanding of how many students value this strategy, it is within the

statements that students wrote where knowledge of why conferencing is an important

teaching technique is displayed.

In questionnaire statements, conferencing was identified as a way to motivate

students, stimulated student thinking, and provided a way to help students meet learning
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goals, all components of the authentic formative assessment process. For example, LL

wrote in her e-questionnaire that she really learned a lot

When you [the teacher] meet with us as it gives me a chance to tell you what I’m

thinking about and then you can either tell me to keep going or how to fix what

I’m screwing up. I get to adjust my focus that way.

In another response, the motivating aspect of conferencing was highlighted when BG

stated, “Conferencing helps me stay motivated to actually do the work well because you

know you are going to have to defend your progress as well as find ways to improve.”

Similar responses showing how conferencing stimulated thinking to help students

reach learning goals were also found in responses from students in how the formative

assessment process is different in other classes. DS indicated that conferences “help me

put the pieces of the puzzle together. The conversations really help as you have an

opportunity to question your own thinking about what your [you’re] learning with

someone guiding you instead of just guessing.” Another response, JT’s answer, also

indicated why conferencing is valued as an important part of the formative assessment

process in my classroom:

Meeting with the teacher on a regular basis is what makes learning so much better

than other classes because you know where you stand and what to do better or

where you can reach deeper. It makes me want to do better. In other classes you

only can do that if you arrange an appointment before or after school or at lunch.
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As the language within these responses show, conferences were an important tool within

the authentic formative assessment process as they stimulated student thinking, motivated

students to continue learning, and also provided ways for students to improve.

In describing why conferencing was an important pedagogical strategy in our

authentic formative assessment process, students also mentioned that this strategy

provided students with guidance in relationship to the learning goals. KS wrote, “You

get help but not the answer. I become more independent as conferencing helps to clarify

why I think the way I do.” In an example from an anonymous questionnaire, a student

also identified that conferencing helped him or her meet the learning goals of the unit:

“conferencing gives me a chance to articulate what I’m thinking and do something

different to get where I need to go.”

In another example, SK also indicated that conferencing helped him reach the

learning goals. He wrote, “Working one on one with the teacher is really helpful because

you have the opportunity to clarify what you were thinking on an assignment and

improve it with help so you master the I-can statement.”

During focus group discussions in discussing components of the authentic

formative assessment process, students also mentioned conferencing. In Focus Group 3,

Student 104EE stated that conferencing made the most sense to her in the formative

assessment process because “you and the teacher can both have to interact with your [the

student’s] work at the same time and can improve it and you get ideas on how you are

learning.” This idea was elaborated upon by JK. He explained that


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It’s like a coach and a player. If you’re on the right track he tells you to keep

going; if you’re on the wrong path, he shows you how to do something differently

. . . it just makes you want to keep going.

In further discussion on conferencing as being part of the authentic process,

students also mentioned in the focus group that a conference did not necessarily always

need to happen with the teacher; student to student discussion was also part of the

conferencing process. LL mentioned that working with a peer during speaking prompts

or discussing an essay with an editing checklist gave her different ways to think about the

content as with a partner “different ideas emerge,” different than those that are

“self-created.” At the same time, JS cautioned that although student-to-student

conferencing was effective, he needed to be paired with someone who was at a “slightly

higher academic level” so that his thinking could be “guided.” From these and other

similar statements found within the questionnaires and focus groups, it was determined

that conferencing was an important pedagogical strategy in an authentic formative

process from a student perspective.

Conferencing was also identified as a pedagogical strategy in the authentic

formative assessment process from data contained within the teacher-research journal.

As Figure 3 shows, 14 of 22 days in the teacher-research journal (64% of the total

journal) referenced conferencing and 15% of the total journal codings focused on

conferencing (Figure 4). In my journal, conferencing was identified as a strategy because

it allowed me to make instructional decisions based on students’ responses to my

questions within the conference. As I indicated in my journal on Day 4B:


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I learned through students several things about their skills that I do not believe I

would have learned simply by observing: students needed more support with

elongating their answers in the spoken language as well as in the correct usage of

transitions. They were able to tell me that they could give the basic answer in the

conference but weren’t sure how to improve it with additional details and

transitions.

Through the conferencing process, I knew that I needed to provide students with speaking

drills that helped elongate answers in future lessons.

In another example, on Day 10A, I identified that it helped to create a partnership

between teacher and student; this partnership helped to drive learning based on what

information students were providing me and vice versa:

As we dialogue, I often tell them what I’ve observed [about their work] after they

tell me what they see. In most cases, what they can’t talk to me about is more

important than what they can as they haven’t come to think about that part of the

learning goal yet . . . it’s a partnership as together we have to negotiate those next

steps so that I know they’re making gains towards our goals but at the same time

they’re developing their abilities to learn and reflect on their thinking.

Students also noted that conferencing helped to develop a teacher-student

partnership in the authentic formative assessment process. During a conference where

RP was asked how the authentic process was functioning for her, I noted in my journal

that she felt that conferencing allowed her to have “a conversation like an adult.” She
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indicated that she always got to think about what she was learning and that conferencing

allowed this to happen. This is evidenced by her simile about the process:

It’s not like second grade anymore where the teacher needs to pre-punch those

art-project cutouts and then we just push them out, so all students can get the

same snowman. We can design our learning and conferencing helps us design.

As was described by both students and teachers, it appeared that conferencing was

an important part of the authentic formative assessment process. By examining the

statements from these questionnaires and the teacher-research journal, conferencing was

identified as a pedagogical strategy of the authentic formative assessment process as it

provided a structure with which I could interact with my students, motivate them,

improve student thinking, and allow for adjustments in the learning process. In the next

section, another strategy, out-of-class supports, is described.

Pedagogical Strategy #4: Out-of-Class Supports

Through the data analysis process, out-of-class supports were acknowledged as

another pedagogical strategy of the authentic formative assessment process. Out-of-Class

Supports are defined as resources such as a class website, teacher-created podcasts, blogs,

and interactive PowerPoints® that are used by students to learn key concepts within the

curriculum. Our class website is a district-mandated tool that gives teachers the option to

create electronic quizzes, e-games, podcasts, vodcasts, and interactive PowerPoints® and

maintain lesson plans for student reference, self-teaching, and practice (See Figure 7). To

code for this strategy, analysis relied on participants’ naming of the actual district

resource or by mentioning generic terms such as “Casts” or “website.” To maintain


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Figure 7. Example activities (left) with total counts of student usage and games (right)
from the class website

anonymity of the participants, when the participants referred to these resources by

specific district naming conventions, a more generic term was substituted in brackets.

Seven students mentioned out-of-class supports in terms of the questionnaires and

a total of 35% of the total questionnaires were coded based on this emergent pedagogical

strategy (see Figures 1 and 2, respectively). Five percent of the teacher-research journal

was coded in relationship to this strategy (Figure 4) with a percent difference between

both data sources of 12% (Figure 5). Data from questionnaires are presented first; this

follows with the analysis that resulted from the focus groups and the teacher-research

journal.

In answering the questionnaire question on how the authentic formative

assessment process would be described to a friend, several students stated that the
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resources available on the class website helped them process learning goals. For

example, AU wrote that the “website helps me a lot because there are resources to help

me when I don’t understand what we’re working on with in class.” EE had a similar

response: “The website is great because it’s always accessible. You don’t have to wait

until class to work on stuff.”

In another question asking students to compare our authentic formative

assessment process to that of another classroom, one student indicated that “there’s been

a lot of times that I thought I’ve gotten something in class but when I get home I forget.

The [website] helps me refocus.” Another student also indicated that the website helped

him learn because “there is something you can do to practice every detail in the

language,” and a similar conclusion was reached by KS in his e-questionnaire: “I wish

more teachers had a website as detailed as Señor’s because you can use the [Casts] on the

website to help clarify your thinking before you’ve engrained a mistake in your head.”

The mentioning of the website as a component of the formative assessment

process was an interesting discovery because, as I indicated in my journal on day 11B:

The literature indicates that the formative assessment process seems to be

something that happens within the classroom. Although I never really considered

this a part of our classroom formative process, it makes sense that students can

refine their thinking with things that function like a teacher, such as the FIS.

To address this discovery, in the last focus group, I asked students about the usage of

other out-of-class resources to see how these might contribute to their learning.
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BG indicated that he used the website “a lot in this class because there are a wide

variety of things to help someone learn online.” MC further elaborated on this idea:

In class you can only do so much; the website is great because it helps me pick up

little details because you have to process it by yourself. You don’t have other

people around to really see if you know what you’re doing.

Although the student indicated that it was important to work in groups, she indicated that

at test time, it was important that “you can use the material on your own. The website

shows you that.”

EE mentioned that she utilized the website when working on homework because

it helped her further process what she learned in class:

It helps you think, it’s like a tutor—the stuff is there to guide you, but doesn’t

exactly give you the answer. It’s helpful because sometimes I just forget. It gives

me a second chance to figure out stuff on my own.

In agreement with using the website as a support for individual improvement of

content knowledge, JT indicated that the “website helps me figure out details that I’ve

missed and reviews stuff that I know. It’s really good for getting details as it’s picky

about whether you have every answer in perfect form.” During this conversation where

the student was asked to explain how the website helped him learn by another student, the

student indicated that processing the material in all the different ways that the website

offered (variety as discussed in Pedagogical Strategy #1 of this section) and the

interactive manner that the site was setup (interactive activities are discussed in the next

section) helped him make decisions about his learning because “you have control over
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what you’re working on. If you get it after one game of battleship, you can go onto

something else that you might need practice with.”

To further address this idea of how students used outside supports as part of an

authentic formative assessment process, I also asked students in the focus group if they

had any other out-of-class resources that helped them process learning content. Students

TN and KS indicated that homework assignments were “a great way to know what you

are struggling with” (KS) as in if “you can’t do the assignment, you know you need to go

back and relearn the material, talk to a friend to figure out what you don’t get, check the

website, or talk with you [the teacher] to get more help” (TN). All students indicated that

although they disliked having homework, it was helpful to know what they did not know.

In summary of this pedagogical strategy, it is apparent that students view the

authentic formative assessment process as something that does not only happen within

the classroom—it is a process that can happen whenever they are working with content,

such as through a homework assignment or a web game. Teacher data suggests that this

was not considered a part of the authentic process for the teacher. In the next section, a

fifth strategy, Interactive Activities, is discussed.

Pedagogical Strategy #5: Interactive Activities

Interactive activities for purpose of data analysis were defined as learning

activities that require justification of student thinking. This means that as students are

completing the activity, they need to interact with stated learning goals in order to

identify strengths and weaknesses in their thinking. Hands-on activities, such as games,

reflection sheets, and practice tests that require justification of student thinking are some
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examples of these types of activities since they can helped students process content while

allowing them to check on their thinking as aligned to the learning goals. Terms, such as

“interaction,” “interactive,” “hands-on,” “constructive,” and “high interest,” were key

words that signified this pedagogical strategy. Questionnaire analysis is presented first

and is followed by supplemental quotes from this data source; after the questionnaires,

data from both the focus groups and the teacher-research journal are presented.

Figures 1 and 2 presented earlier in this chapter indicate that for students,

quantitatively, interactive activities were an important pedagogical strategy in the

authentic formative assessment process as 100% of questionnaires were coded with

reference to this feature. Twenty out of 20 students also cited one of the key words

signifying the strategy as described in Table 4.

In analyzing the specific phrases that students wrote in answer to their

questionnaires, a wide-range of responses show how interactive activities contributed to

an authentic formative assessment process. For example, TB indicated that “when you

do as many hands-on activities as we do, there is no way not [to] get better. Actually

working in an interactive way with the goals helps you understand what is expected of

you.” Similarly, JK stated that when students “work with high interest activities that are

hands-on, you [the student] have a better chance of making the learning make sense for

you.” Together these two quotations identified students’ standpoints on interactive

activities and their relationship to the learning process.

Additionally, AS commented on the fact that interactive activities helped students

to focus on their learning: “Activities that allow me to interact with the material help me
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be a better student as I learn what to focus on.” This quotation was very similar to one

made by ML, where she stated, “When teachers plan activities that help you interact with

the material rather than a worksheet you just correct, you pay attention to your learning

better.”

Using interactive activities as a pedagogical strategy in authentic formative

assessment was further supported by responses from students RP and AU. In their

questionnaires, these students highlighted that interactive activities keep students

interested in the learning process but at the same time help students reflect upon their

progress. RP stated, “The interaction that happens during hands-on games really helps

me get better. They’re fun but you learn a lot about what you don’t know and what you

need to keep working on.” In similar response, AU identified such activities are

motivating as “interactive activities keep me interested in learning and show me my

strengths and weaknesses.”

As the questionnaire data showed, interactive activities were considered by

students to be a part of an authentic formative assessment process. The focus group data

likewise supported this contention. In Focus Group 1, students mentioned that working

on practice tests and their associated reflection sheets helped them make inferences about

their learning. In comparing the process to another class, MC indicated that the practice

tests in my class were more effective in helping her learn the material than the ones used

in her math class because they “require you to justify your thinking—you just can’t get

by with a guess; and if you can’t justify you know you’re going to be ticked [mess up] on

the real thing.” Another student, RP, also indicated that the practice tests helped her
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because when they were corrected, she “got to compare my answers to the really good

ones in the class” as well as use the practices to “tell you [as marked on the sheets] where

you can go to get help on problems like that and more examples.”

In describing another type of interactive activity, games, student AP stated that

she

Tend[s] to remember more from the games because you don’t have any resources

to use—you have your brain—maybe your friends’ too—and that’s it. You

quickly know what you know and what you don’t know because it’s so hands-on.

Student EE supported this statement by saying,

Games are the best because you can interact with one another in Spanish. If on a

team you don’t agree, you’ve got to figure out what makes some answer better

than the other. You usually can come up with an even better answer this way.

In agreeing with this, AU indicated that “games are awesome because they give a feel for

the material that I need to study since you know from both the teacher and your friends

whether you’re getting it.”

In summarizing this focus group, AK stated that

Hands-on activities like Heart Attack [a game] are the best because they allow

you to experiment. You won’t be penalized if you’re wrong and you can learn

from simply talking it out. Nobody holds it against you if you get it wrong and

you get lots of attempts to do it again until you are right.

From these quotations and the quantitative analysis of student questionnaire results, it

appears that students viewed interactive activities as an important strategy of an authentic


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formative assessment process as instructional activities, such as games or practice tests,

required students to fine-tune their answers and find ways to improve their thinking, all

goals of the authentic process described previously.

Interactive activities were also coded in the teacher-research journal as a

pedagogical strategy of the authentic formative assessment process. As Figures 3 and 4

show, respectively, 18% of the teacher-research journal and 17 lesson cycles were coded

with this emergent label. The following quotation identified why this strategy was valued

from the teacher’s perspective:

As the journal for Day 2A describes, interactive activities are an integral part of

my teaching as they appear to be motivating to the students, allow students to

work cooperatively, and easily help me determine what students know since a

wide-variety of answers can be represented in a short time. Without activities that

require them to justify their responses, I feel that they don’t always get an insight

into what they can truly do with the language.

In another entry coded as interactive activity, on Day 7B, I stated that

By reading the students’ responses to the reflection sheets from the station

activity, it was relatively clear to me that as students were constructing knowledge

through the activities, they were clarifying their thinking towards the learning

goals. By interacting with the material and justifying their thinking students

know how to adjust their studying and practice before the common. For the

students who had difficulty, I will be able to provide additional learning

opportunities to help clarify the learning goals for them.


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As these data pieces show, interactive activities enabled me, as the teacher of the

class, to adjust instruction for students since I received understanding of what students

could do with their content knowledge. They also provided insight into ways in which

students could adjust learning in relationship to our learning goals. This authentic

process for students was also illustrated in a final anecdote in the journal on Day 8B. As

I describe,

Student 105BG said to student 120AZ while they were working on an essay

revision, that student 120AZ had to move his adjective because of the game

Avalanche from a previous class period. He stated that their team had lost their

skier, due to avalanche, because they had put the adjective in the wrong spot.

As this anecdote illustrated, this interactive way solidified this students’ thinking of a

concept, such that they were able to manipulate the concept later on.

As this section shows, data from both student questionnaires, focus groups, and

the teacher-research journal indicated how interactive activities were a part of an

authentic-formative assessment process in my classroom. In the next section the analysis

of the emergent pedagogical strategy, transparency, is described.

Pedagogical Strategy #6: Transparency

Transparency, for purposes of analysis, means that students were cognizant of the

pedagogy involved in the teacher’s instruction of the class. This means that I, as the

teacher, shared with students the reasons why we were doing things the way that we were

doing. Phrases such as “shared what you learned,” “saying what you learned,” and

“giving thoughts” were coded together.


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In terms of questionnaires, 12 out of 20 (60%) students mentioned one of the key

referents for this pedagogical strategy (see Figure 1 and Table 4). What is important to

note is that 55% of the total questionnaires were coded with this strategy, meaning that

for these 12 students, this strategy was a very important one as it was coded almost one

out of every two questionnaires that were completed (see Figure 2). It is important to

note that the majority of quotations and codings that support this strategy come from a

questionnaire question where students were asked how I, as the classroom teacher, could

improve the authentic formative assessment process (this is further discussed in the data

analysis for Research Question #2).

In discussing how the authentic formative assessment process could be more

effective, several students wrote that the process could be more effective if I specifically

shared what I learned immediately after every activity through the formative assessment

process with the class. For example, in one response to the question, a student wrote:

I know that it is illegal for you to share grades or thoughts on other students, but I

think it is important that you share with us what you learn about how we as a

group are learning after we do an activity as that will help us become better

learners.

In another answer, JK stated, “Tell me what you’ve learned. I want to know what

the results of different assignments suggest to you to do next in class.” This reflected that

this particular student wanted insight into the authentic formative assessment process

from the teacher’s perspective as the instructional leader for this classroom. This same

idea is mentioned by AU: “Please give me your thoughts on how you’re going to change
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what we do in class tomorrow based on how we’re performing today. It’s important to

know that we’re not alone in this learning process.”

These statements suggested that it was important to build a connection with

students within the actual authentic formative assessment process and one way to do this

was to be transparent. To further address this idea that emerged during data analysis

process, Focus Group 2 was used to ask students to clarify the usage of this pedagogical

strategy. AZ indicated that

Sometimes you say things like—the majority of you need work with conjugating

a stem-changing verb and here’s what we’ll do to fix that—this is helpful because

it shows me that I’m not the only one struggling and that you’re probably going to

work on it in class.

AK further illustrated this idea of sharing my knowledge of the process with

students by saying that

It makes me feel valued when you share your thoughts on how our learning is

going, like it reaffirms what I’m doing and what you’re doing, because it isn’t

one-sided, like you don’t get to just know what we’re thinking and we know

nothing about your thinking . . . it keeps it real.

In responding to this comment, ML stated that “by talking more about what you

[the teacher] learned, it will create the reason for why we’re doing what we’re doing.

Some activities then don’t seem pointless and it doesn’t feel like we’re Edward and

Bella” (Edward and Bella is a reference to the main characters of the popular Stephanie
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Meyer [2005] vampire series. Edward, Bella’s lover, has a history of not telling Bella his

thoughts on what is happening with their relationship.).

From the focus groups, it was clear that a teacher’s transparency about

pedagogical learning was an important part in forming the partnership that must be

created between teacher and student in the authentic formative assessment process. This

was the subject of 8% of the journal entries (Figure 4), for a total of 7 entries (Figure 3).

It is important to note, that these entries discussed the concept of transparency only after

students had already described this strategy. They were a focus on what the collected

data was suggesting to me as the teacher-researcher and how I needed to respond.

As the entry on Day 11A described, transparency in an authentic formative

assessment process was a surprise to me as a teacher-researcher:

I was surprised to hear students mention that it was important for me to give them

insight into what I was thinking as a teacher. It makes sense, but they often tell us

in teacher ed classes that it isn’t necessary to let them know why we’re doing

what we’re doing. I think I have heard that it can affect credibility with students

and even create classroom management issues. This requires follow-up.

As this quotation shows, this strategy became important from the teacher-researcher

perspective as I deemed it necessary for follow-up.

In order to further explore this emergent pedagogical strategy, I further discussed

the process with a colleague and cited my thoughts in an entry on Day 3B:

I spoke to my critical colleague today about talking to kids about sharing the

instructional decisions I make with kids. She was shocked to hear that that had
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come up, but thought that it was probably just typical middle school students

wanting to know all the ‘adult-stuff’. She also stated that if I started sharing that

with kids, it’s like giving ‘what little power we have left’ away. I’m sure there is

some type of balance that can be met here if it is something that they feel they

need.

Although this colleague did not appear to be entirely supportive of transparency, it did

cause me to further think about how such a process could be beneficial to students.

In the next entry, also on Day 3B, I further reflected on the potential usefulness of

a transparent authentic formative assessment process:

I think sharing some knowledge of what I’ve learned from our day’s activities

could be reaffirming to students who have gotten certain things and also helpful to

them if they know that I’m going to work with them on the same skill the next

class period. It would be interesting to know however when my vision doesn’t

line up with the kids’ how they feel about that.

As this entry indicates, further data about how to utilize transparency were needed from

the teacher’s perspective; these data are presented in the data analysis provided with

Research Question #2.

As this section demonstrates, questionnaire and focus group analysis identified

that one strategy in an authentic formative assessment process is giving student’s insight

into pedagogical knowledge gained from activities students complete within the

classroom. By doing this, students were motivated to work as well as fostered the
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relationship between teacher and student. In the next section, a seventh pedagogical

strategy is presented, pacing.

Pedagogical Strategy #7: Pacing

Pacing for the purposes of data analysis was defined as the timing that occurred

throughout the authentic formative assessment process (e.g., the number of minutes spent

on the process per class period). Words such as “timing,” “pacing,” and “pace” were

coded phrases used to identify this emergent pedagogical strategy. Although every

element of classroom teaching is confined by elements of time, appropriate pacing was

identified as a strategy as the data sources indicated that there was a specific pacing

needed in an authentic formative process. (Additional discussion of the type of pacing

needed is addressed in the section of this chapter devoted to Research Question #2.).

Data analysis of questionnaire responses identified that pacing was a piece of the

authentic formative assessment process for students. Eight out of 20 participants (40% of

students) for a total of 45% of the total questionnaire responses were coded in

relationship to this strategy (see Figures 1 and 2, respectively). Upon analysis of

students’ statements within the questionnaires, students identified that at times, the

process appeared rushed and did not allow students to fully process learning activities.

For example, EE indicated that “the pace goes to[o] fast sometimes for me to think it all

the way thru [through].”

Responses from other students also indicated that the pacing for student

processing of learning needed an adjustment. TN wrote that “I wish we could slow the

timing down at times so that I can really process what I know and what I don’t know.”
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SK also indicated that “if we slowed the pace, I think that I’d be able to learn more about

why I’m thinking the way I do.”

Focus group data also suggested that pacing was an important strategy in

authentic formative assessment. During a focus group where students were asked how

the formative process could be improved, several students discussed feeling rushed

throughout the process. As BG indicated, “There isn’t always a lot of time to think

through things fully. Sometimes it seems like we’re moving too fast.” Responding to

this student, AU mentioned that “when I’m learning about my learning and how to learn I

need time to think. Sometimes it goes too fast and I lose my ideas.” At the same time,

JK maintained that “the timing is just right.” As these students’ comments show, pacing

within the authentic formative assessment needed some improvement so that time for the

thinking process was functional for all students.

The pedagogical strategy of pacing was also identified in the teacher-research

journal in various entries. As Figures 3 and 4 identify, timing was coded 9 times (10% of

the coded entries) in the teacher-researcher journal. On Day 11A, I identified that the

pacing of the authentic formative assessment process needed some modification:

Due to testing constraints and pacing guides, this whole formative process has

become rushed so much so that the FA has almost become a once-a-day activity

and not a mindset or pedagogical instructional tool. I don’t believe that I

consistently have been giving them enough time to really think about what they

are learning and how that connects to how they learn. I’ve almost standardized

the process in terms of its timing.


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In a similar entry, based upon reflection of the emerging themes contained within student

questionnaires, I also noted that “it appears that this whole pacing was off due to

scheduling constraints and pacing guides. It almost became a tangible object or

commodity and not a mindset. Although this had not been my intent it was occurring.”

As the teacher research journal quotations showed, pacing of activities was a

specific issue for me as the classroom teacher as I was implementing an authentic

process. In fact, pacing is only one of two strategies (see the next section for the other)

where codings of the teacher data outweighed codings for the student (see Figure 5).

This may be because:

I think some my students just accept pacing for what it is as if it is something out

of my and their control, so they haven’t mentioned it. Sure kids tell us as teachers

when we are going to fast, but I’ve noticed that since we’ve instituted more rigid

pacing guides, that complaint has seem to have dwindled since every class is

moving at the same speed. Yet, if they view the FA process as fast, they probably

aren’t getting out of it what they need. Thus, there has to be a way to find some

wiggle-room. (Day 4B)

As the student and teacher data sources described, the pacing within the authentic

formative assessment process appeared to be rushed and it did not always allow students

to process their understanding through learning activities as fully as possible. Further

data about how pacing can be adjusted within the authentic formative assessment process

are presented in the data analysis provided for Research Question #2. In the next section,

data coded to the final pedagogical strategy, Student Ownership, is presented.


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Pedagogical Strategy #8: Student Ownership

The final pedagogical strategy of the authentic formative assessment process

identified in data analysis was student ownership. This strategy refers to student control

or student oversight over their learning during the authentic formative assessment

process. Words such as “control,” “active,” and “driver’s seat” were key words and

phrases that were coded together during data analysis to derive this data label.

As Figure 1 shows, 17 students made statements in their questionnaires that were

coded with the label student ownership and a total of 85% of the total responses to the

questionnaires were coded as such (see Figure 2). Quotations from these questionnaires

are presented to explore how ownership within the authentic formative assessment

process allowed students to adjust their focus toward meeting learning goals.

In student questionnaires, students identified that by being active in the learning

process, they were able to improve their learning. AZ indicated in response to how the

formative process worked that “when you are allowed to be responsible for your learning,

you get a chance to actually learn and can do better.” In another response, JK wrote:

By the teacher helping me to think about the material and why I think the way I

do about it, I take control. School is always easy for me but through this process I

feel as if I care more about learning and am finding ways to be a more efficient

learner.

Both of these responses show how student ownership is an important strategy in the

authentic formative assessment process.


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In other responses, students indicated that by owning a part of the authentic

formative assessment process, they were able to identify strengths and weaknesses of

their learning. AU indicated that “in some classes the teacher does all the work for me.

Here I am responsible for how I learn and what I know about what we’re learning. This

shows me what I can do about improving.” In another example, a student wrote that “by

being held accountable, I learn how to learn and also what my strengths are.” These

responses indicated that ownership was an important strategy of the authentic formative

assessment process.

Within the first focus group, data also emerged suggesting that student ownership

of their learning was an important strategy of the authentic formative assessment process.

JK indicated that what sets our classroom formative assessment processes apart from his

other classes was that

You’re [the student] in control and free to make mistakes. You have to be in the

driver’s seat if you want to succeed. If you choose not find a way to succeed after

you know what you don’t know, then it’s not the teacher’s fault—It’s yours. He’s

[the teacher] just there to help—you’ve got to be active.

In further elaborating on this, DS indicated that in order to learn, “you really can’t be

passive. It’s not going to be handed to you. You have to think about what you know and

don’t know.”

Several other participants also confirmed that ownership was important in the

authentic formative assessment process. AP mentioned that it seemed like in some of her

classes, the teachers did all the work for the students:
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When I take control of what I’m learning, I tend to learn better. Don’t get me

wrong, I still hate Spanish, but because I have to make decisions about the

learning, my grade is higher than in my favorite class.

As the focus group and questionnaire data suggests, student ownership was an

important part of the authentic formative assessment process for students. In terms of

teacher data, Figure 3 identifies that 20 entries were coded with the label student

ownership for a total of 22% of total entries coded (see Figure 4). Quotations are

provided next to show how I, as the classroom teacher, viewed ownership within the

authentic formative assessment process.

As many journal entries show, student ownership was an essential strategy of the

authentic formative assessment process for the teacher as it helped students to process

content knowledge. For example, as I stated on day 1B:

When students own the process, they get more out of it—they’re able to actually

learn about learning through the process while at the same time improving the

quality of their work towards learning goals. Since this process has started I’ve

noticed that the students who truly are part of the process really show gains on the

more formal assessments.

In another entry on Day 4A, I wrote:

This authentic process encourages students to take charge of their learning.

They’re the ones who are making important decisions for how to adjust learning

and if given the chance, they can articulate their decision-making process. I think

ownership is a key part of this process.


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Together these quotations showed that from the teacher’s perspective, student ownership

was an important element of the authentic formative assessment process.

It is important to note that student ownership was also identified in Figure 5 as a

second strategy where the number of codings of the teacher data outweighed codings for

the student. This is most likely based on the fact that part of the underlying concern for

this research study was that authentic formative assessment processes needed to

encourage student ownership of learning, and as a result was at times at the center of my

reflection on the teaching-research process. This is illustrated by a passage from the

teacher-research journal on Day 21B:

Student ownership is a very important part of this process to me because until

they feel as if they get a vote, the process won’t work as smoothly. It isn’t until

they get this vote that together we are both able to make instructional adjustment

towards the learning goal.

From data analysis presented in this section, student ownership was viewed as an

integral piece of the authentic formative assessment process within the classroom. It

appeared that both the students and the teacher valued student ownership within the

process as it allowed students to interact with the learning content. In the next section,

the data analysis for Research Question #1 is summarized.

Summary of Research Question #1

This research question was designed to determine what pedagogical strategies

were used in an authentic formative assessment process in my middle school classroom

during instruction. Eight pedagogical strategies of an authentic formative assessment


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process emerged during data analysis of student questionnaires, a teacher-research

journal, focus groups, and some teacher artifact analysis. These strategies were variety,

feedback, conferencing, out-of-class supports, transparency, pacing, and student

ownership.

One-hundred percent of students identified variety and interactive activities as

essential pedagogical strategies to use in an authentic formative assessment process and

more than 50% of students identified transparency, feedback, conferencing, and student

ownership as key strategies of the process. Also identified by students, but less prevalent

among the data set, were the strategies of out-of-class supports and timing. From the

teacher’s perspective, the strategies of variety, interactive activities, and student

ownership were viewed as key strategies of the authentic formative assessment process.

Although all strategies were important to participants of the study, three

strategies, pacing, transparency, and feedback, were identified as areas that could be

improved in the next instructional cycle. Knowledge that these strategies were not as

effective as they could be, as will be shown in the next section, allowed for investigation

into how middle grade assessment processes can be improved for the students.

Research Question #2: How Might Knowledge of the Emergent Pedagogical

Strategies of the Authentic Formative Assessment Process Help Improve the Way

Assessment is Planned and Enacted for This Middle Childhood Classroom?

Based on the emergent pedagogical strategies that were described in the previous

section, Research Question #1, this section answers the research question by presenting

three areas that were identified by the participants as ways in which the authentic
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formative assessment process could be improved within the classroom and documents the

ways in which the authentic process was improved within the classroom during a second

unit of instruction. The three strategies that were identified are feedback, pacing, and

transparency and are highlighted in Figure 8.

As Figure 8 shows between 50% and 85% of students identified that the strategies

of feedback, pacing, and transparency could be improved within the authentic formative

assessment process. Each of these strategies is presented next with the supporting data

from focus groups, student questionnaires, the teacher-research journal, and artifact

analysis in the form of lesson plans to show how knowledge of the strategies improved

the assessment process for the classroom. Quotes that clearly demonstrate each area from

the teacher-research journal, focus groups, and questionnaires are also included. The

section concludes with a final data chart showing how participants viewed the changes

within the authentic formative assessment process.


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Strategy

Figure 8. Number of students who identify a particular coded strategy as needing


improvement or adjustment

Modified Pedagogical Strategy #1: Format of Feedback (Pedagogical Strategy #2)

As was noted earlier in this chapter, feedback is any response, written or oral and

with or without a grade, given by a teacher or fellow student that indicates how close the

learner is to meeting the learning goals. Feedback also identifies specific ways in which

the learner can improve. The data, from focus groups as described in Pedagogical

Strategy #2 of Research Question #1, indicated that some students preferred written

feedback as opposed to oral feedback and vice versa. For example, AS indicated she

appreciated written feedback more than oral feedback as during class, she was “too

involved in the process of learning to understand” what I was telling her to adjust.

With the mindset that feedback needed to be presented to different students in

different forms, on Day 11A, I asked each student during a conference how they wished
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to receive their primary form of feedback (written, oral, both, other). Student responses

were recorded in my grade book and on my seating chart so that I could easily make

reference to them when I was addressing students or examining their work. Their

preferences were utilized where appropriate, as there were a few times where I could only

provide feedback in one manner, such as the need to write comments during a speaking

activity, as it would have been impractical to give oral feedback after every spoken

sentence. Two students throughout the unit did request to change their responses to both

as they indicated that they missed the repetition of feedback that both methods provided

and one student asked to change his feedback style from written to oral.

Comments from the final focus group confirmed that utilizing students’ preferred

method of feedback was helpful and improved the authentic formative assessment

process for them. For example, BG stated that “having a choice in how to receive

information about learning is very helpful because it makes the process about you. It’s

just easier to grasp knowledge this way.” MG also added that “we all understand you

[the teacher] at different levels. By giving us feedback in different ways, we can

understand what you’re telling us better which makes the learning process more

efficient.”

Some questionnaire responses in response to how the modifications of the

formative assessment process were working also suggested that giving students a choice

of feedback helped to facilitate the authentic formative assessment process. For example,

as one student described, “I liked that I was asked how I am able to get information from

the teacher about my learning. Choosing helped me to focus more fully.” AP also
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mentioned that “getting written feedback instead of [oral] comments was important for

me because I could then go back and refer to them as I was working on additional

assignments and incorporate it.”

As these quotations showed, students indicated that receiving feedback in a

preferred way was a useful adjustment to the authentic formative assessment process.

Providing feedback to students through their preferred feedback method also helped

improve the assessment process for me as a teacher because it allowed students to make

relatively fast adjustments to their learning and as a result, required that I could provide

less feedback and concentrate more fully on students who were struggling. For example,

in one particular students’ situation, it would often take three or four days for this student

to incorporate my feedback into his responses. With the preferred method feedback, it

may have only taken one or two days. This was shown in the teacher-research journal as

described on Day 2B:

Differentiated feedback only seems to make sense; it’s one of those, why did I not

think about that before moments. I think it’s working as I’m having to provide

less direction to some students as they’ve already incorporated their feedback.

I’m also noticing particular students making quicker gains in their learning

processes than what they typically do. For example, TB is often slower to

respond to feedback. He seems to be quicker at interpreting it now since he’s

working in his learning style and he’s not having to spend time reading the

comments.

In another similar entry, on Day 9B, I wrote:


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The turn-around in terms of improving their assignments for several of my

students based on choice feedback has justified its use. Many of my students are

beginning to show growth over a two-day period. AU told me today that she feels

she’s learning the material better because she can actually spend time on the

learning instead of on processing the oral feedback as she’s a very visual learner.

I’ve noticed that she doesn’t make as many of the same mistakes as before.

As these two entries detail, from my perspective, it appeared that students who were

working with feedback that was aligned with their learning modality were able to quickly

understand what was expected of them to determine what good performance was.

As another entry shows, knowing students’ preferred feedback method also

improved the authentic formative assessment process because the purpose of feedback

was clarified for the teacher and also allowed personalized interaction with students

throughout the entire lesson. I described this later on day 9B:

Working with their feedback means that I needed to plan a variety of ways to get

everyone their feedback. This meant that for some students, I collected

assignments and wrote on them, and for others I just talked to them during the

period. In the past feedback seemed to fit the forms that I needed as a

teacher—on a rubric so I could reflect on the data to adjust instruction. Now, I

feel a change in the purpose of it—it’s about getting them information and then

responding to how they react to the information, truly one of the goals of a

formative assessment process.


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As both this entry and the focus group and questionnaire analyses showed, utilizing

different forms of feedback with students enhanced the authentic formative assessment

process for this classroom because it allowed students to work within a manner that was

comfortable for them, sped up the learning process at times, and helped to foster

personalized instruction. In the next section, data analysis is presented for the next

improved pedagogical strategy, pacing.

Modified Pedagogical Strategy #2: Pacing (Pedagogical Strategy #7)

A second strategy that was identified during data analysis as an area that could be

helpful in improving the authentic formative assessment process was related to pacing.

Pacing as defined earlier in this chapter refers to the timing devoted to the authentic

formative assessment process within the unit. As was noted earlier in this chapter, both

the teachers and the students identified that the pacing of the authentic formative

assessment process needed adjustment. As Figure 8 showed, 14 out of 20 students

indicated that they strongly agreed with modifying the pacing of the process and several

of the journal entries presented under Pedagogical Strategy #7 in Research Question #1

indicated that I felt as if the pace of the process was off: “this whole formative process

has become rushed so much so that the FA has almost become a once-a-day activity and

not a mindset or pedagogical instructional tool” (Day 11A).

With the goal of adjusting the pacing so that the authentic formative assessment

process could be spread out throughout the entire instructional cycle rather than the once-

a-day activity approach that had manifested itself, I adjusted my lesson structure for the
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second unit. In the following figure, an example of what this looked like in the classroom

is presented.

As Figure 9 shows, concepts were chunked throughout this two day period and

this allowed me to provide additional activities for students to reflect upon the learning

goals. A journal entry from Day 4B further explains this setup:

Figure 9. An electronic copy of two consecutive lessons showing how the authentic
formative assessment process was modified with specific changes to pacing.

The assessment process is now spread out over the whole week, a little bit each

day. I’ve now been doing more limited presentation and then have started

allowing the students to play and interact with the material immediately, instead

of waiting until there seems to be some consensus of understanding. This has of

course slowed presentation down, but I think it has encouraged more [language]

production and thinking about what the learning goals mean. By adjusting the

setup this way I’ve also been able to integrate more conferences so that I can

interact with them and guide their learning further.”


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I believe that making these adjustments to the pacing enabled me as the

curriculum designer for this classroom to improve the authentic formative assessment

process for my students. As I described on Day 12B:

I really have no preference for how the lessons are organized as the students still

seem to be understanding the material. What I’m noticing most is that students

seem to have a stronger understanding of why they think in certain ways about the

content and are able to identify how to improve. At the same time, I still am

getting enough information to plan future lessons for them.

In a second entry later that day, I also noted that

The pacing seems more relaxed; I find that because things are broken up

differently they’re able to take time to think through their understandings of the

material and as a result give me better responses that allow me to further change

instruction.

Students also identified in final questionnaire responses that the pacing was better

for them during this second unit of instruction. EE indicated:

It’s better now that there’s time to think about what you’re thinking about. You

can actually learn what you need to practice and change as you’re not so

overwhelmed by having to process so many concepts at one time.

This was further supported by SK who mentioned that “before, it worked well for me.

Now, it works even better and I seem to remember my thinking longer.”

Adjusting the pacing and its result in improving the authentic formative

assessment process was also supported through a questionnaire question where students
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were asked how effective the timing was in this second unit. Sixteen out of 20 students

indicated that the new process was “perfect,” “better,” or some other positive variant, as

it provided “more time to process.” Four students indicated that they “had no opinion.”

As the comments from the focus group and teacher-research journal showed,

knowledge of pacing of the authentic formative assessment process and adjusting it so

that students had time to truly process the material enhanced the authentic formative

assessment process for these students. As students described, by modifying the pacing,

students were able to retain content for longer periods of time and felt less rushed in their

ability to think about their learning. In the next section, data analysis for the third

pedagogical strategy that was modified, Transparency, is discussed.

Modified Pedagogical Strategy #3: Transparency (Pedagogical Strategy #6)

Transparency, for purposes of coding, was defined as sharing with students the

pedagogy involved in the teacher’s instruction of the class. This means that I, as the

teacher, shared with students the reasons why we were doing things the way that we were

doing. When JK stated, as described in the discussion of focus group data from

Pedagogical Strategy #6 of Research Question #1, “Tell me what you’ve learned. I want

to know what the results of different assignments suggest to you to do next in the

classroom,” this suggested to me as the classroom teacher that students felt that I needed

to be more transparent about the authentic formative assessment process. This meant that

I needed to share what I learned about the students’ progress as we were working

throughout the period. Fifty percent (50%) of students in questionnaire response also

identified this as an area that needed refinement (see Figure 7).


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Becoming more transparent required that I provide time after each activity, about

one minute, to discuss with students what I learned from that activity in terms of the

learning goal. At first, such discussion was more sporadic as I was not accustomed to

clarifying my thinking so quickly in the instructional cycle; towards the end of the second

unit of instruction, it became more of a routine. It is interesting to note that if I forgot,

students would quickly remind me.

Capitalizing on transparency throughout the second unit of instruction improved

the authentic formative assessment process for me as a teacher. As noted in my journal

on Day 8B, it was through these types of discussions where:

Students began to interact with me about what I thought and then either corrected,

modified, refuted, or agreed with me with their own evidence and examples to

support their viewpoints. This furthered my own deliberations and helped me

adjust instruction as I had further refined my insights as I can’t always see every

detail in the process.

In another entry on Day 9B, I also indicated how knowledge of transparency affected the

teaching component of the authentic formative assessment process:

By having them [students] challenge my thinking [when we discuss the learning

process] they’re helping me become a better teacher because they are giving me

enough information to make on the spot-changes to the curriculum. The

teaching-assessment process has become a partnership again.

By having knowledge of the strategy of transparency, I clarified my thinking

about how to design future lessons. At the same time, knowledge of this strategy also
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caused me think about how much of the process needed to be shared with students. Even

as this chapter is being written, I am still struggling with the idea of how much of my

pedagogy to share with my students. As I wrote in my journal on the last day of

instruction,

I feel naked as I share my thoughts about the FA process—I feel as if some things

should be shared as they really seem to grow with these pieces of information, but

at the same time, certain pieces need to be held back as they feel to me like

teacher’s-only information. With any new technique, I’m sure that I’ll develop an

appropriate balance as I continue using it.

As these quotes from the teacher-research journal describe, knowledge of the

strategy of transparency seems to have improved the authentic formative assessment for

the teacher. Questionnaire and focus group data on the second unit of instruction also

suggested that the process was enhanced for students. For example, in elaborating on a

question about how the second unit of instruction was more or less effective, AS wrote

Having him [Mr. Drost] talk about what he’s learning is awesome because it gives

you some point to put your own thoughts on. We’re not teachers and sometimes

what I think I should have gotten is different than we should have. When I have

this information I know what to do differently.

By having knowledge of how I was going to adjust instruction, AS indicated that she

could adjust her learning. ML had a similar response: “I feel that by knowing what the

teacher is thinking, I can really think differently about what I should be doing more or

less of.”
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As student comments and reflection found within the teacher-research journal

show, knowing about the pedagogical strategy of transparency in the authentic formative

assessment and in turn displaying more transparency in the classroom improved the

assessment process for students within this classroom. In the next section, the data

analysis from the previous three sections is summarized in relationship to the research

question and is highlighted with a data chart on how students responded to the

adjustments that were made based on knowledge of the strategies of the authentic

formative assessment.

Summary of Research Question #2

Three pedagogical strategies, pacing, transparency, and feedback, were identified

through the iterative data analysis process as three strategies that could be explored to

potentially improve the authentic formative assessment process for the students within

this classroom. Having knowledge of these three areas improved the authentic formative

process for both students as students were able to process feedback in a way that was

supportive of their learning style, could identify with why certain learning activities were

being implemented in certain ways, and experienced a pace of assessment that allowed

them to reflect upon their thinking. For myself, adjusting the pacing and altering

manners of feedback were not changes that severely altered the instructional cycle.

However, by sharing with students my knowledge of the pedagogical process, students

helped to further clarify my thinking about how to design future lessons.


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Figure 10 shows students’ responses to the adjusted process; specifically, students

viewed the adjusted process as more effective. This is important data to include with

reference to this research question as this question explores the action research cycle.

Figure 10. Students’ response to the questionnaire question, “The changes made in our
FA process was helpful in supporting the learning process”

As Holly et al. (2009) described, no action research process can truly be complete until

knowledge of how the process affects students is shared. When asked if the changes

made to the authentic formative assessment process were effective and helped support

them in the learning process, 45% of students strongly agreed that they did, 25% agreed,

and 30% neither agreed nor disagreed. These data support the notion that since I had

knowledge of the strategies of the authentic assessment processes, I could improve the

assessment process for the students within this classroom.


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As data from this chart show and the provided citations above show, having

knowledge of the pedagogical strategies of an authentic formative assessment can

influence the way that assessment was planned. In this particular case, it seems to have

improved the assessment process for the students within my classroom. In the next

section, the results of data analysis for the third research question are presented.

Research Question #3: Does an Authentic Formative Assessment Process Provide a

Viable Alternative to a Standardized Assessment Process in This Specific

Classroom?

This section answers this research question by presenting the results of data

analysis of student standardized test results in the form of common assessments (DuFour

et al., 2004) to show that an authentic formative assessment process is a viable alternative

to a standardized assessment process. This section is organized by first describing how

common assessments are used to determine student mastery of learning objectives within

the research context as well as identifying why this data source is an important area for

the teacher-researcher to consider. Following this explanation, the assessment results are

displayed. Next, the results of data analysis are presented and it is through this analysis

that it was determined that an authentic formative assessment process is a viable

alternative to a standardized process in this classroom. It is important to note, as

discussed in Chapter 3, that the answer to this research question is only reflective of the

classroom context in which this action research project occurred.


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Purpose of Standardized Test Data in the Research Context

This subsection is provided to orientate the reader about how standardized tests,

in the form of common assessments (DuFour et al., 2004) are used within the research

context so that the reader is able to understand the data analysis presented in the next

section. This section also discusses why the data from this source were important

information for the teacher-researcher to consider in answering the question.

At the conclusion of each unit of instruction in my district, a high-stakes common

assessment is administered to all students of the same course to evaluate mastery of the

objectives contained within the unit and to measure student knowledge of the Academic

Content Standards (Ohio Department of Education, 2004). These tests are considered

high-stakes as they determine course grades for students, provide clues to administrators

about which teachers need help in making gains with their students, and also dictate

whether an intervention plan is created for a student who is not making appropriate gains

(DuFour et al., 2004). After the administration of each assessment, each individual

teacher grades their students’ responses according to agreed upon grading criteria

facilitated by the curriculum director and/or principal as well as the criteria agreed upon

by all teachers teaching a given subject or course. These results are entered into the

district’s data management system; based on the student’s overall percentage on the

assessment, a label is assigned to each student’s results so that data can be disaggregated

by administrators to ensure accountability. These terms and their associated percentages

are as follows: advanced (94–100%), accelerated (87–93%), proficient (80–86%), basic

(73–79%), limited (72% and below). These labels were designed by the district to
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correlate with percentages of mastery on the learning of the total objectives within a unit,

are identical to those terms used by the Ohio Department of Education (2004) on

high-stakes standardized assessments, and also parallel the rubric descriptors that indicate

the relative level of linguistic performance of a student on the American Council for the

Teaching of Foreign Languages Proficiency Guidelines (1999).

The analysis of the data from common assessments was crucial to answering this

research question for two reasons. First, these common assessments are considered the

sole means of judging a teachers’ ability to effectively monitor student progress towards

meeting learning goals in formative assessment processes in this research context as

described in Chapter 1. By utilizing them as the source of data, a basis for comparison

and discussion on viability of the authentic formative assessment is provided. In terms of

the research question, this means that if the results of the assessments when an authentic

formative assessment process was used in the classroom are equivalent or greater to the

results when the standardized formative assessment process was used, it can be

concluded that the authentic formative assessment process is a viable alternative to the

standardized process since students are performing at similar levels.

Second, common assessments are used as the data source to answer this question,

as other data collected, such as the teacher-research journal or student focus groups,

would not answer the research since neither teacher nor student opinion determine

whether or not measures of accountability are met in the current paradigm of curriculum

and instruction (Darling-Hammond, 2010; Henderson & Gornik, 2007). As Chapter 1

described, the only metric permitted to determine the effectiveness of judging a teachers’
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instructional practice is a standardized assessment; in my district, this is the common

assessment. In addition, data from students and the teacher-researcher used to justify the

viability of an alternative assessment approach may be considered biased since both

teachers and students have traditionally viewed the administration of standardized tests

unfavorably (Spring, 2010).

As this section has shown, common assessments were the only data source that

could be used to answer this research question. In the next section, the results of the

common assessments and their accompanying data analysis are presented.

Data Analysis of Common Assessment Results

Table 6 shows three sets of assessment results. The first set, titled 3-1, is baseline

assessment data that determined student mastery of the unit immediately preceding the

two units of instruction that implemented the authentic approach to formative assessment,

the focus of this study as described in Chapter 3; it is shaded in gray for ease of

identification and it represents an approach to assessment that is considered standardized.

The second set, titled 3-2, shows the results of the first unit of instruction, and the third,

titled 3-3, displays the results of the final common assessment for the second unit of

instruction, both units which were the focus of this action research study. Figure 11

displays this information in terms of percentage of the class in terms of student

achievement level.

The data from Table 6 suggests that an authentic formative assessment process is

a viable alternative to a standardized assessment process as the achievement levels

obtained by individual students on each assessment stayed the same or improved.


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Table 6

Common Assessment Results for Three Units of Instruction

3-1 C.A. 3-2 C.A. 3-3 C.A.


Student Result 3-1 Mastery Result 3-2 Mastery Result 3-3 Mastery
(%) Label (%) Label (%) Label

TB 73.0 Basic 74.8 Basic 77.9 Basic

AC 92.0 Accelerated 93.9 Advanced 94.5 Advanced

MC 88.2 Accelerated 89.0 Accelerated 91.4 Accelerated

EE 78.5 Basic 81.5 Proficient 83.7 Proficient

BG 93.5 Accelerated 90.0 Accelerated 92.1 Accelerated

JK 95.6 Advanced 95.8 Advanced 95.5 Advanced

AK 91.2 Accelerated 92.1 Accelerated 91.7 Accelerated

SK 90.5 Accelerated 91.6 Accelerated 97.0 Advanced

KS 88.2 Accelerated 90.7 Accelerated 92.9 Accelerated

LL 75.0 Basic 79.3 Basic 81.3 Proficient

ML 75.0 Basic 76.8 Basic 81.9 Proficient

TN 74.5 Basic 74.5 Basic 76.9 Basic

RP 87.5 Proficient 90.0 Accelerated 89.5 Accelerated

AP 89.0 Accelerated 90.0 Accelerated 88.8 Accelerated

DS 85.4 Proficient 85.8 Proficient 88.1 Accelerated

JS 85.4 Proficient 86.2 Proficient 88.9 Accelerated

AS 92.4 Accelerated 92.5 Accelerated 91.4 Accelerated

JT 83.8 Proficient 86.9 Accelerated 84.2 Proficient

AU 84.2 Proficient 81.6 Proficient 87.6 Accelerated

AZ 90.1 Accelerated 91.3 Accelerated 94.5 Advanced


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Figure 11. Common assessment results by class achievement level percentage

From the baseline assessment (3-1) column to the first assessment (3-2), 16

students maintained their level of achievement (80%) and four students (20%) improved

their level of achievement. From the second assessment (3-2) to the third assessment

(3-3), 10 students (50%) continued performing at the same level while nine students

(45%) increased by one level. From the baseline assessment to the third assessment, 50%

of students stayed the same (a total of 10 students) and 50% of students increased a level

(the other 10 students).

One student’s achievement level (JT) did decrease when comparing the second set

of data to the third set of data. Although this could be cause for concern, this same

student in terms of baseline to the third assessment did stay the same in terms of

achievement level and this student’s change in achievement level was attributed to the

fact that the student was straddling the two achievement levels relative to the percentage

of mastery throughout all units of instruction.


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Although a cursory look at these data could potentially produce support for the

idea that the authentic formative assessment process is a better process than the

standardized assessment process since many of my students increased their achievement

levels, such an interpretation needs to be cautioned as the data in Table 7 shows that the

percent differences in terms of achievement level are only roughly 1%, a percentage not

strong enough to argue that the authentic process is better as many factors can influence a

students’ performance on a standardized assessment (Darling-Hammond, 2010).

Data from Figure 10 also supports the assertion that an authentic formative

assessment process is a viable alternative to a standardized assessment process. As the

pie graphs show, the percentage of students at various achievement levels in terms of the

class is almost identical from assessment to assessment. Where there was a percent

change, the class increased their achievement levels. For example, instead of having only

one student score (5%) at the advanced level on the 3-1 assessment, after implementing

the authentic formative assessment process, four students (20%) were testing at this level.

The reverse is also true in comparing the number of students at the basic level. On the

3-1 assessment, 25% of students were testing at the basic level compared to the 10% of

students testing at the 3-3 level. There are a multitude of factors that could explain these

improvements, all of which would require further research, but these data do show that

the authentic process is a viable alternative to the standardized process since the same

percentages of students within the class are achieving at the same level as before.
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Table 7

Percentage Difference of Common Assessment Results for Three Units of Instruction

% Diff % Diff % Diff


Student 3-1 C.A. 3-2 C.A. 3-3 C.A. Between Between Between
Result (%) Result (%) Result (%) 3-1 & 3-2 3-2 & 3-3 3-1 & 3-3

TB 73.0 74.8 77.9 -1.22 -2.03 -3.25

AC 92.0 93.9 94.5 -1.02 -0.32 -1.34

MC 88.2 89.0 91.4 -0.45 -1.33 -1.78

EE 78.5 81.5 83.7 -1.88 -1.33 -3.21

BG 93.5 90.0 92.1 1.91 -1.15 0.75

JK 95.6 95.8 95.5 -0.10 0.16 0.05

AK 91.2 92.1 91.7 -0.49 0.22 -0.27

SK 90.5 91.6 97.0 -0.60 -2.86 -3.47

KS 88.2 90.7 92.9 -1.40 -1.20 -2.60

LL 75.0 79.3 81.3 -2.79 -1.25 -4.03

ML 75.0 76.8 81.9 -1.19 -3.21 -4.40

TN 74.5 74.5 76.9 0.00 -1.59 -1.59

RP 87.5 90.0 89.5 -1.41 0.28 -1.13

AP 89.0 90.0 88.8 -0.56 0.67 0.11

DS 85.4 85.8 88.1 -0.23 -1.32 -1.56

JS 85.4 86.2 88.9 -0.47 -1.54 -2.01

AS 92.4 92.5 91.4 -0.05 0.60 0.54

JT 83.8 86.9 84.2 -1.82 1.58 -0.24

AU 84.2 81.6 87.6 1.57 -3.55 -1.98

AZ 90.1 91.3 94.5 -0.66 -1.72 -2.38

AVG. 85.65 86.72 88.49 -0.62 -1.01 -1.63


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The bar graph in Figure 12 also suggests that the authentic formative assessment

process is a viable alternative to the standardized assessment process as achievement

levels remain relatively flat in terms of the number of students at each achievement level.

For example, the number of proficient and accelerated students remains nearly identical

on all assessments, 5 and 4 and 9 and 10, respectively. At the same time, the number of

basic students decreased but the number of advanced students increased. This study did

not investigate the causes of these increases and as a result, as Table 7 showed, the data

does not necessarily affirm that the authentic process is better than the standardized

process, simply an alternative.

Figure 12. Number of students testing at various achievement levels per assessment

As the data tables and figure show, student achievement levels remained

relatively constant during the authentic formative assessment process within the
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classroom and that when there was a change in achievement level, student achievement

levels increased. These data support the assertion that an authentic formative assessment

process is a viable alternative to a standardized assessment process.

Summary of Research Question #3

This question was designed to determine whether an authentic formative

assessment process is a viable alternative to a standardized assessment process for the

students in this classroom. As the data from common assessment results show, student

achievement levels stayed the same or increased in terms of student achievement levels

for the class as well as for individual students when an authentic formative assessment

process was used. In the next section, a summary of data from all three research

questions is presented in relationship to the purpose statement of this study.

Conclusion

This action research study investigated how authentic formative assessment

processes can be implemented within a middle school classroom. The purpose of this

action research study was to describe the pedagogical strategies of an authentic formative

assessment process within one classroom. The study also explored how an authentic

process can be a viable alternative to a standardized one within one classroom.

Through the various data collected, eight pedagogical strategies of the authentic

formative assessment process in my classroom were identified during data analysis: (a)

the use of a variety of teaching techniques and activities to practice content and adjust

learning and teaching; (b) oral and written feedback to guide students; (c) interactive

activities; (d) student conferencing to discuss progress; (e) out-of-class supports such as
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homework and a class web site as reference tools; (f) student-control of the learning

process; (g) pacing; and (h) transparency of the teacher’s pedagogical knowledge of

students such that the process was a partnership between teacher and student.

Based on the knowledge of these strategies, three strategies, pacing, transparency,

and feedback, were identified through the iterative data analysis process as three areas

that could be explored to potentially improve the authentic formative assessment process

for the students within this classroom. Having knowledge of these three strategies

improved the authentic formative process for both students as students were able to

process feedback in a way that was supportive of their learning style, could identify with

why certain learning activities were being implemented in certain ways, and experienced

a pace of assessment that allowed them to reflect upon their thinking.

Lastly, as the analysis of common assessment data showed in this chapter, student

achievement levels remained relatively consistent during the authentic formative

assessment process within the classroom and that when there was a change in

achievement level, student achievement levels increased. These data support the

assertion that an authentic formative assessment process is a viable alternative to a

standardized assessment process. In the next chapter, implications of the data are

discussed.
CHAPTER V

DISCUSSION OF THE FINDINGS

The findings of this action research study ultimately led me to understand that

there are specific authentic formative assessment strategies that a teacher can use to

determine curricular needs for students. There are initial indications that these strategies

have improved the classroom experience for my students and me as the strategies enabled

me as a classroom teacher to honor and cultivate teacher-student relationships (Holly et

al., 2009). 2 Throughout this chapter, the findings are discussed in terms of the data,

which were organized around the three research questions that guided this study. These

questions are:

1. What are the emergent pedagogical strategies of an authentic formative

assessment process in this middle childhood classroom?

2. How might knowledge of the emergent pedagogical strategies of the authentic

formative assessment process help improve the way assessment is planned and

enacted for this middle childhood classroom?

3. Does an authentic formative assessment process provide a viable alternative to

a standardized assessment process in this specific classroom?

Through these questions, as described in Chapter I, I sought to examine the emergent

pedagogical strategies of authentic formative assessment within my classroom that would

enhance my ability as a classroom teacher to make curriculum and teaching decisions for

my students. A secondary goal was to ascertain how knowledge of the strategies might

2
A further examination of these indications will require further study that is beyond the scope of this study.
I briefly touch on this matter in the section entitled "Implications" found later in this Chapter.
147
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improve the way assessment is planned and enacted for the classroom. Finally, I also

wanted to determine to what extent an authentic formative assessment process was a

viable alternative to a standardized process. The chapter concludes with limitations of

the study, suggestions for future research, and the study’s implications for teachers,

curriculum organization, and formative assessment usage.

Major Finding 1: Multiple Strategies Used to Determine

Curricular Needs for Students

In my school district at the time of data collection, only one strategy was used to

implement formative assessment: a paper-pencil assessment with an 80% cut score to

determine which students understood a concept and which students needed remediation.

Findings pertaining to the emergent pedagogical strategies indicated that teachers can use

many different strategies to determine curricular needs for students and to show that

students are successful in learning. These strategies did not rely on the interpretation of a

standardized test.

In the study, I found that using informal, varied, and interactive activities, such as

think-pair-share activities, games, and student reflection sheets, gave both my students

and me information about their learning, such that I could make adjustments to the

instructional process and they could adjust their learning focus. This orientation to

formative assessment is described by Brookhart (2008, 2010) and Aschbacher and

Alonso (2006). They indicated that the formative assessment process may be an informal

process when the assessment helps the teacher and students understand progress towards

learning goals. These processes may exist in a variety of formats and are not limited to
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just a paper-pencil test. As AZ indicated when referencing informal assessments such as

games and student reflection sheets, “The variety of activities really helps me as it shows

me the nuances of what I know and don’t know. If you did just one type you wouldn’t

know.” AU also understood the usage of informal activities by saying that “games are

awesome because they give you a feel for the material that I need to study.” This

informal and varied process also appears in my teacher-researcher journal:

Each activity today provided a different piece to my understanding of what

students’ were learning . . . I don’t think if I would have had done just one type, I

would have had enough information to design the next lessons. (Day 3A)

By using different activities, as each student processes learning content in different ways,

I was able to discern each of my students’ strengths and weaknesses as I had an

opportunity to interact with each one of them. With so many different activities, I had

multiple attempts to refine my understanding of what each student knew in relationship to

our learning objectives. This allowed me to create different activities for a particular

student or a group of students during the next class period, so that all students grew in

terms of their content knowledge. At the same time that learning content was varied, it

was also informal. By relying more on informal processes, rather than graded ones, I

found that the pressure of making sure my students perform lessoned and I had the

opportunity to actually pay attention to what their responses were saying about what they

knew.

A second finding showed that authentic formative assessment strategies need to

take advantage of both graded and nongraded (informal) strategies (Aschbacher &
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Alonso, 2006; Black & Wiliam, 1998; Brookhart, 2008; Popham, 2008). This is

evidenced when KS cautions that when the process is graded, he “just care[s] about the

grade and not the learning,” thus indicating that grades can have a negative effect on

learning adjustment that occurs within formative assessment. This means that for some

students, when there is a grade attached to an activity, all they care about is the points in

the grade book, not how much they have learned from the activity. However, although

most students agreed that an ungraded process was important, some students viewed

grading as a necessity at times. AK indicated that “grades can also motivate you to slow

down and actually think about how you need to look at concepts differently, so you can

get the best grade possible.” This may mean that for some students, grades are an

effective motivator within the formative assessment process while for others it is

hampering, thus indicating that an authentic formative processes may need to take

advantage of both formal and informal strategies.

Feedback to students was another finding that enhanced the authentic process in

this classroom. Formative assessment literature indicates that feedback is an important

part of the formative assessment process (Brookhart, 2008; Popham, 2008). Brookhart

(2008) indicated that students are often appreciative of feedback that tells them what they

are doing well, where they should be, and some tips for improvement, referred to as the

“tried-and-true” method of feedback. Data from Research Question #1, Strategy #2:

Feedback, supports this theory: TB explained that “You always tell us a few things to

work on and how we can get better. You give me questions in your responses that help

me think about what to do. This shows me what I need to focus on.” During the study, I
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also found that the “tried-and-true” method of feedback helped me determine what

students needed help with:

By giving feedback, I find myself being able to accurately describe what I and

they [the students] need to work on. It helps me see patterns. I know that

teachers hate having to repeat themselves, and I do too, but I know that if I’m

having to repeat more than three times that something has broken down then it’s

my job to go back in and fix it. (Day 6A)

The data from Research Question #2, Strategy #1: Format of Feedback indicates

that the “tried-and-true” strategy might not be the only way to capitalize on feedback for

students. Students indicated in this study that I needed to give them preference in terms

of how they received their feedback—orally, in written format, or both. In the authentic

formative assessment process within my classroom, this meant that feedback was

differentiated as each student constructed curriculum meaning differently (Fosnot, 1996).

Although differentiation of feedback is not mentioned within current formative

assessment literature, it does stand to reason that students may have preferred ways of

receiving feedback as students usually have particular inclinations for the ways in which

they learn best (Wormeli, 2007).

The usage of differentiated feedback was further supported by the data from the

second research question. During the second unit of instruction (Research Question #2,

Modified Pedagogical Strategy #1: Format of Feedback), I indicated that differentiated

feedback was an effective method in helping address idiosyncrasies amongst students in


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their learning; this created a cycle where I was able to think more deeply on where my

students needed to go next with their learning:

Differentiated feedback only seems to make sense; it’s one of those, why did I not

think about that before moments. I think it’s working as I’m having to provide

less direction to some students as they’ve already incorporated their feedback.

I’m also noticing particular students making quicker gains in their learning

processes than what they typically do. For example, TB is often slower to

respond to feedback. He seems to be quicker at interpreting it now since he’s

working in his learning style and he’s not having to spend time reading the

comments.

In the previous journal entry, it is important to note that students at times were receiving

less direction from me as this teacher. This is significant for two reasons. First, it places

my students at an advantage as they are becoming independent learners, students who are

not dependent on the teacher for direction. Second, as I have students who are

independently gaining content knowledge, I can devote my energies to students who are

having more significant struggles with the learning content.

At the same time that feedback can be given by the teacher orally and/or in

written format, I found that Conferencing (Strategy #3) used within the classroom

provided students with feedback while at the same time helping students co-create the

curriculum. Conferencing allowed as LL describes,


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When you [the teacher] meet with us as it gives me a chance to tell you what I’m

thinking about and then you can either tell me to keep going or how to fix what

I’m screwing up. I get to adjust my focus that way.

From my perspective as the teacher-researcher, conferencing also helped me to improve

curriculum experience by determining what students learned and didn’t learn. This was

illustrated in the following journal entry (Day 10A):

As we dialogue, I often tell them what I’ve observed [about their work] after they

tell me what they see. In most cases, what they can’t talk to me about is more

important than what they can as they haven’t come to think about that part of the

learning goal yet.

Through the conferencing strategy, I gained focus for future lessons and activities to use

with my students. For example, when working with LL, I asked her what made for good

for writing. She was able to list all kinds of examples. But as we looked at her sample, I

learned that LL could not articulate why one of her sentences was a strong sentence and

why the others were weak. To me this meant that she knew the elements of good writing

but was having difficulty applying them. As a result, I planned an activity for her where

she could analyze other students’ writing to tell me what made these good papers or poor

papers. Based on this activity, she was then able to articulate what makes strong writing

and was then able to apply these principles to her own work. Had we not conferenced, I

would not have been able to plan this activity for her.

Contrary to the majority of the research literature presented in Chapter 2, the data

from the conferencing strategy also illustrated that feedback was not the sole
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responsibility of the teacher during the authentic formative assessment process. Topping

(2010) argued that peers can serve as a reliable source of feedback within the classroom.

In this study, students indicated that feedback from peers was an effective part of the

authentic formative assessment process. I found this to be true as several students

maintained that student to student interaction in a give-and-take manner was helpful in

learning curriculum content, especially when students were paired with someone who

was at their same level of achievement. LL described this concept when she indicated

that when discussing content with a partner, “different ideas emerge” than those that are

“self-created.” This allowed some students to refine their thinking about the curriculum

objectives at hand.

In addition to in-class strategies, I found that technology was another way to

implement authentic formative assessment (Strategy #4: Out-of-Class Supports). This is

contrary to the traditional orientation to formative assessment where teachers are

responsible for the entire formative assessment process within the classroom (Popham,

2008; Wiliam, 2010). Thirty-five percent of the student questionnaire results stated that

the course website, accessible by students outside the classroom, was an integral part of

the authentic formative assessment process as “it helps you think, it’s like a tutor—the

stuff is there to guide you, but doesn’t exactly give you the answer . . . It gives me a

second chance to figure out stuff on my own” (Student EE). In contrast to Crooks (1988)

who stated that formative assessment must be an in-class process under the teacher’s

constant direction, the data from this study suggest that an authentic process did not

solely exist in the classroom. This is supported by Black and Wiliam (1998) and
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Wiliam’s (2010) theoretical argument that formative assessment processes do not occur

in vacuums as they are influenced by a variety of factors, both inside and outside the

classroom environment. It is interesting to note that there is no data from my perspective

as the teacher-researcher on the use of technology within the classroom as a way of

formatively assessing students. This may be due to the fact that I was trained to consider

formative assessment as a teacher-directed process that happens within the classroom.

However, since data collection, I have learned that using technology may be one way to

implement an authentic process. For example, based on student results’ of an e-game

they played, I determined which students understood a concept and which ones were

struggling with it. This allowed me to build in some time in a later class period where we

could work together on this learning goal.

Major Finding #2: Cultivating and Honoring Teacher-Student Relationships

As has been mentioned, in my school district at the time of data collection the

strategy used to implement formative assessment was a paper-pencil assessment with an

80% cut score to determine which students understood a concept and which students

needed remediation. This setup created a hierarchical relationship between a test score

and a student and their teacher, a setup that did not value or cultivate teacher-student

relationships inherent in a classroom (Black & Wiliam, 1998; Popham, 2008; Ranciére,

as cited by Chambers, 2010, p. 63). Through the strategies of authentic formative

assessment, I found that I was able to support and further cultivate this teacher-student

relationship. This relationship was created when I analyzed classroom events and

interacted with students such as through a discussion or observed students working.


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To cultivate a teacher-student relationship, I found that it was important for each

person in the teacher-student relationship to feel valued (Dewey, 1980). Wiliam (2010)

contended that teachers who make students feel as if they have a voice in the formative

assessment process are able improve achievement and knowledge of how to learn. Data

from Strategy #8: Student Ownership showed that when the students felt they had a role

in the formative assessment process and had choices in their learning, the students felt

that they were able to learn at higher levels. This was also evidenced by several student

responses. For example, AP indicated that when he takes “control of what I’m learning, I

tend to learn better. Don’t get me wrong, I still hate Spanish, but because I have to make

decisions about the learning, my grade is higher than in my favorite class.” DS also

stated that he, too, grew personally when “it [learning] is not going to be handed to you.

You have to think about what you know and don’t know.”

At the same time that students need such individual validation, so do teachers

(Dewey, 1980). I learned in this study that I could make decisions for my classroom

based on my experiences with working with my students. By having this respect, I

created valuable experiences for my students as I was invested in where we were headed.

This is supported by Dewey’s (1988) notion that when teachers are able to capitalize on

their own knowledge, they become more refined in their thinking about their curriculum

practice and are able to create curriculum experiences that are valuable to both the

teacher and the student. This is exemplified in an entry from my journal from Day 3A

when I noted that the self-reflection sheets gave me tangible information on common

mistakes that all students were making in terms of syntax. Their errors were in
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relationship to word order and I fixed it by creating a word order flashcard activity.

Similarly, the think-pair-share activities enabled me to see that students needed help

elongating their responses so I was able to adjust instruction by practicing transitional

word phrases with students. Having these various activities and the resulting feedback

allowed me to design the next lessons based on the information that I gleaned during that

class period. This is a key aspect of authentic formative assessment in that teachers can

make adjustments to their lessons on the spot or in preparation for the next class. This

ability to be in control of a class’s direction further validates a teacher.

Even though it is important to value the teacher and the student separately in the

learning process, I also discovered that it is important to value the relationship that occurs

between the teacher and student. Conferencing (Strategy #3) is one way in which the

teacher-student relationship was cultivated. As both myself and the students described in

the data, teacher-student conferencing created a partnership between teachers and

students so that all parties are doing their best work. JK indicated that

It’s like a coach and a player. If you’re on the right track he tells you to keep

going; if you’re on the wrong path, he shows you how to do something differently

. . . it just makes you want to keep going.

RP also confirmed the importance of the teacher-student relationship when she stated that

conferencing helped her process material with guidance from the teacher when necessary:

It’s not like second grade anymore where the teacher needs to pre-punch those

art-project cutouts and then we just push them out, so all students can get the

same snowman. We can design our learning and conferencing helps us design.
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Conferencing as a way to honor the teacher-student relationship was also

represented in my journal (Day 10A) where I indicated that conferencing created a

“partnership as together we have to negotiate those next steps so that I know that they’re

making gains towards our goals but at the same time developing their abilities to learn

and reflect on their thinking.” Based on my conversations with the students, I was able to

direct them to other resources; this helped me determine where everyone needed practice.

During the second stage of the study, the students appreciated having more time to have

discussions with the teacher in the form of conferencing. This further indicates that the

student-teacher relationship is an important piece of an authentic formative assessment

process. These findings support what Ruiz-Primo and Furtak (2006) and Black and

Wiliam (1998) contended: without the development of the relationship between the

teacher and student, there is often limited growth in student learning and in understanding

how to learn.

In order to improve the authentic formative assessment process in this classroom

and to capitalize on the relationship between the teacher and the student, I learned that I

needed to specifically share with students what I learned from students about their

knowledge after learning activities were completed; this was referred to as transparency

(Research Question #1, Strategy #6, and Research Question #2, Modified Pedagogical

Strategy #3). As the students indicated, by sharing with them how I would use their

responses to different activities in future activities and lessons, I was reaffirming the

relationship that naturally exists between teacher and student. This idea supports Black

and Wiliam’s (1998) contention that student growth through formative assessment
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processes only happens when teachers take time to build relationships through the

process. As AK explained, “it makes me feel valued when you share your thoughts on

how our learning is going, like it reaffirms what I’m doing and what you’re doing.”

Additional students confirmed the value of cultivating the teacher-student

relationship as they reflected on increased transparency in the second unit of instruction

(Research Question #2, Area #3). In one questionnaire a student wrote that

Having him [Mr. Drost] talk about what he’s learning is awesome because it gives

you some point to put your own thoughts on. We’re not teachers and sometimes

what I think I should have gotten is different than what we should have.

Student ML also indicated the value of the teacher-student relationship in terms of

transparency.

I jumped a whole level [achievement level] this time and I’m really happy with

the work I put in. I feel that by knowing what the teacher is thinking, I can really

think differently about what I should be doing more or less of.

At the same time that the strategy of transparency was important for students, it

was also important for me as the classroom teacher. In Research Question #2, Modified

Pedagogical Strategy #2, I noted how being more transparent with students helped them

guide my own thinking on Day 8B in my journal:

Students began to interact with me about what I thought and then either corrected,

modified, refuted, or agreed with me with their own evidence and examples to

support their viewpoints. This furthered my own deliberations and helped me


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adjust instruction as I had further refined my insights as I can’t always see every

detail in the process.

The honoring of the teacher-student relationship was further illustrated in two later

entries where I explain how at times my plans would be scrapped, simply because of

student response:

By “having them [students] challenge my thinking [when we discuss the learning

process] they’re helping me become a better teacher because I have enough

information to make on the spot changes to the curriculum” (Day 9B).

“This is a partnership as together we have to negotiate those next steps so that

they’re making gains towards our goals” while at the same time “they help me make

instructional adjustments” as they challenged my thinking by providing their own

evidence to support or disprove my own thinking. (Day 10A).

Major Finding #3: Improved Classroom Life

One of the methodological purposes of action research is to document how life

can be made better for students and a classroom teacher (Holly et al., 2009). As such, it

is a customary finding in action research to show whether or not the research has

contributed to an improved classroom experience. As the Association for Middle Level

Education has indicated, one of the ways to improve curriculum experiences for middle

school students is to create a relevant curriculum program (NMSA, 2010). A relevant

curriculum program in middle childhood is distinguished by student motivation to pose

and answer interesting questions to their teachers about what they are learning and how

they are learning to learn (Bransford et al., 1999; Haberman, 1991; Jackson & Davis,
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2000; NMSA 2003, 2010; Stowell & McDaniel, 1997). Using this philosophical stance

and understandings of relevance, the findings of the study are explored by showing how

authentic formative assessment strategies contributed to a relevant curriculum,

specifically in terms of how life was made better for students. Following this discussion,

an exploration of how life was made better for me, the classroom teacher, is described.

It is important to note that students in my classroom, when asked on the

questionnaire if the strategies used in an authentic formative assessment process were an

improvement over the 80% standardized cut score, 45% of students strongly agreed that

they did, 25% agreed, and 30% neither agreed nor disagreed. As these data are positive

in nature, it statistically indicated that life was improved by implementing authentic

formative assessment strategies within the classroom. But at the same time that these

data supplied some insight into how life was made better, it is within the words of what

students stay in response to the strategies documented in Research Question #1 that show

how their classroom experiences have improved and how their curriculum became more

relevant.

Through my study, I learned that conferencing (Strategy #3) is one way that I

could use to help create a relevant curriculum for my middle childhood students. As RP

indicated, “conferencing is the best because I get to have a conversation like an adult . . .

we can design our learning and conferencing helps us.” During one conference, the

student further indicated that the questions that she asked and the give-and-take between

the teacher and student allowed her to think about what she was learning, built her

knowledge of the curriculum, and made the learning “real.” A questionnaire response
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further supported the idea that relevancy was addressed through curriculum negotiation

between teacher and student: “[conferencing] help[s] me put the pieces of the puzzle

together. The conversations really help as you have the opportunity to question your own

thinking about what your [sic] learning.”

I also discovered that including discussion around student knowledge and

providing for personal choice further created a relevant curriculum for my students as

they had the opportunity to direct their own learning. ML for example indicated that “by

working in a different manner [a way that is comfortable for you], you get a feel for what

you need to learn and it makes you want to learn.” Elaborating on this point, one student

indicated that variety provides a context to learn material: “Its [sic] not boring. By

having a lot of different activities that I can choose from, I understand everything that is

expected of me and I get a feel of the material I need to study and look over.” Allowing

choice is also evident in students’ comments on the usage of out-of-class materials, such

as the class website: “You have control over what you’re working on. If you get it after

one game of battleship, you can go onto something else that you might need practice

with” (Student 118JT). Student 104EE further confirmed this by indicating that

It [the website] helps you think, it’s like a tutor—the stuff is there to guide you,

but doesn’t exactly give you the answer. It’s helpful because sometimes I just

forget. It gives me a second chance to figure out stuff on my own.

These data confirm what researchers have suggested to practitioners for many years about

middle school curriculum planning. Middle school curriculum planning needs to involve

discussion around student knowledge and personal choices for learning rather than the
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results of test scores because through personal choice relevant curriculums are created for

students as students have the opportunity to direct their own learning (Apple & Beane,

1995; Beane, 1997; Jackson & Davis, 2000; NMSA/AMLE, 2010; Rogers & Freiberg,

1994; Tomlinson & Eidson, 2003; Wiggins & McTighe, 2005; Wormeli, 2007).

At the same time that self-directed learning should be recognized in middle

childhood instruction, the data from this study show that students must be motivated to

learn. Student JK stated, “You have to be in the driver’s seat if you want to succeed. If

you choose not find a way to succeed after you know what you don’t know, then it’s not

the teacher’s fault. He’s just there to help,” and that the authentic formative assessment

process is “like a coach and a player. If you’re on the right track he tells you to keep

going; if you’re on the wrong path, he shows you how to do something differently . . . it

just makes you want to keep going.” Beane (1997), Jackson and Davis (2000), Nesin

(2000), and the AMLE/NMSA (2010) indicated that relevant middle childhood

curriculum experiences should be motivating and should treat students as real people by

allowing students to be a partners in learning; such an orientation to teaching and learning

can cause them to grow as democratic citizens while learning curriculum content. In this

study, I believe that my students learned to high levels since they were motivated to learn

through continued interaction with me on their progress towards meeting the learning

objectives.

The data from this study also suggested to me that if I treated students as partners

in the learning process, they could grow in their learning as they are motivated to keep

working (Strategy #6, Transparency). In the first unit of instruction, ML suggested that
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transparency of the process needed to be improved: “by talking more about what you [the

teacher] learned, it will create the reason for why we’re doing what we’re doing. The

activities then don’t seem pointless and it doesn’t feel like we’re Edward and Bella”

(‘Edward and Bella’ is a reference to the main characters of the popular Stephanie Meyer

[2005] vampire series. Edward, Bella’s lover, has a history of not telling Bella his

thoughts on what is happening.). Students also indicated that by knowing what the

teacher was thinking, they were further able to adjust their learning (Research Question

#2, Modified Pedagogical Strategy #3: Transparency). From a teacher’s perspective,

when specifically discussing with students what they were learning, students began to

“interact with me about what they thought and then either corrected, modified, refuted, or

agreed with me with their own evidence and examples to support their viewpoints” (Day

8B). Such an orientation was not only meaningful, but also helped create a further

learning partnership between student and teacher. It was interesting to watch this unfold

because it reaffirmed that I can teach students metacognitive skills—these interactions

showed that my students were learning how to judge their own learning: what they were

learning well and what they thought they have not learned yet.

As this discussion has described, the utilization of authentic formative assessment

strategies in this classroom allowed me to meet some of the perceived relevancy

curriculum needs of this particular group of students. Such discussion suggests that the

experiences for the students in the classroom were improved because the students

indicated that they were more motivated to learn, felt like they were true partners in the

learning experiences, and had ownership in the learning process.


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Much like the students felt that they were more motivated to learn, felt like true

partners in the learning experience, and had vested interest in the learning process, I, too,

felt a change such that the action research process improved my life as a classroom

teacher. One of the largest concerns with a study of this nature was the fact that in

documenting strategies in how to work in authentic ways within the classroom, I still

needed to validate that my students were learning. Philosophically, as much as I take

issue with the general trend in education to use a standardized test for decision-making,

in my teaching context, this is a reality. As the data from the results of common

assessments show, Research Question #3, Tables 7 and 8 and Figures 9 and 10, student

achievement levels in this classroom stayed the same or increased when an authentic

formative assessment process was used as opposed to a more standardized approach to

formative assessment. These data suggested that authentic formative assessments are a

viable alternative to standardized assessments within this particular classroom such that I

may be able to use authentic formative assessment in place of standardized formative

assessments and still maintain high level scores within this classroom. Even if my

district still wants to use a standardized cut score at 80% for formative assessment,

additional formative assessment strategies have been identified that I can implement

within the classroom before we get to the standardized one.

Secondly, I believe that learning is a partnership between a teacher and his or her

students. Through this study I believe that my practice has come more in line with this

value. My goal has always been to get my students to learn about how they learn; the

primary goal has not been to determine how much Spanish they can spout. Through this
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action research study, I have now found strategies that can be used to improve how

students learn about their own learning. I am also more cognizant about the manner in

which I teach and what the goal of my teaching is. Since data collection, there have been

numerous occasions where I have noticed that I am not so anxious about the results of the

common assessments anymore because I know that my students are learning content and

at the same time are learning life learning skills as well, skills on which I personally place

a greater value.

Lastly, if not most importantly, this action research process has taught me the

most about one of the most overlooked components of the educational process: my

students. I have been guilty at times of reducing students to a number on a data sheet.

However, I cannot exist without them and they cannot exist without me. It was

encouraging to discover that “classroom life” (Holly et al., 2009, p. 219) improved for me

and my students as the emergent pedagogical strategies of authentic formative assessment

were used to honor and support working relationships between teachers and students. I

designed these pedagogical strategies to help me value a relationship that is transactional

(Ryan, 2011).

Transactional refers to the epistemological stance where what we know is

inseparable from how we come to know it. It is a dynamic stance where individuals have

the ability to behave in ways that modify an environment through a circuitous process

that begins with a doubt about our reality, which positions us in a place to do something

about it through investigation (Ryan, 2011, p. 41). From a classroom-assessment

standpoint, this means that teachers proceed with their teaching and unconsciously
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assume that their students understand (referred to by Ryan, as “nonreflective experience,”

p. 27). At some point during the instructional process, a teacher may begin to doubt that

all students understand the learning target; this may occur, for example, when a student

incorrectly responds to a teacher’s question during a discussion. Following the incorrect

response, as the teacher’s worldview has now changed, the teacher redirects his attention

to find alternative ways to ensure student success. In determining a plan of attack to

solve the problem of a learner misconception, the teacher creates tentative ideas or

hypotheses to re-orientate the student. Once the student has been redirected, the process

repeats. This cycle, as contrived by Ryan, creates a transactional relationship where the

teacher cannot exist without the student and the student’s environment and the student

and the students’ environment cannot exist without the teacher.

During data collection, and even to this day in my classroom, I assumed that my

students were learning. It was not until they produced a doubt that I entered a state of

reflective thought, a time period where I planned ways (hypothesize) to get them to

where I needed them. I then implemented my idea and if all went according to my plan, I

entered a new cycle of nonreflective thought; when it did not work I tried something else.

This cycle is representative of what this entire study was about: I needed to learn the

emergent pedagogical strategies of authentic formative assessment from my students, and

what I learned about those strategies was inseparable from how I came to know, working

with them in the classroom. This means that what the students taught me about the

strategies is what I know about the strategies.


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Summary of the Findings

In summary of the discussion of the findings in terms of the research questions,

authentic formative assessment strategies are a combination of informal and formal

assessment processes with emphasis honoring the relationship between the teacher and

student. Authentic formative assessments, consisting of informal and ungraded formative

assessments, outside of class supports, and providing for collaboration between the

student and teacher and student were ways that I used to monitor and improve student

knowledge of the curriculum and student understanding of their own learning while

relying on my knowledge of the classroom context. Significant Finding #1 suggested that

there are many pedagogical strategies that I used to determine curricular needs for

students through an authentic formative assessment process. By using a variety of

strategies, instead of relying on one, such as the result of a standardized test, I gained the

ability to determine what curriculum action, if any, was necessary for the students in my

classroom (Schwab, 1970).

At the same time, I discovered that to cultivate and honor the student-teacher

relationship, I needed to be transparent with students, value each individual’s role in the

process, the student and the teacher, and value the relationship that emerges between the

two, referred to as the teacher-student relationship. The third finding indicates that the

primary methodological purpose of the action research cycle was met as classroom life

was documented in such a way that life was made better for students in terms of a

relevant curriculum and in terms of clarifying some of the philosophical purpose of

education for the classroom teacher (Holly et al., 2009). While these findings were
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relevant to the research questions and impact my understanding of authentic formative

assessment, as with all studies, there are limitations.

Limitations

Certain limitations are present that must be considered when interpreting and

discussing the data results. A frequently cited limitation of any action research study is

related to transferability (Holly et al., 2009). Because of the small student sample and the

limited context—my classroom—these data and the discussion will by no means apply to

a broad set of circumstances. It may only be relevant to classrooms within my school in

Northeast Ohio or the state of Ohio at its broadest interpretation because the problem

statement is grounded in a statewide interpretation (Ohio Department of Education, 2004)

of content standards and a testing program associated with No Child Left Behind (2002).

All states have the same accountability requirements under NCLB, but no two states’

systems are alike so there will be no external validity outside of Ohio.

However, the point of any action research study (Elliott, 1991; Holly et al., 2009)

is not to generalize data and procedures to other classrooms, but to engage in a reflective

process that improves a classroom process for a particular teacher and his or her students

and to begin discussion with other professionals on the results. As the data from

Research Question #2 indicate, when asked if the changes made to the authentic

formative assessment process were effective and helped support them in the learning

process, 45% of students strongly agreed that they did, 25% agreed, and 30% neither

agreed nor disagreed. These data support the notion I could improve the assessment

process for the students within this classroom. I believe that the authentic formative
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assessment process was effective as I was able to work with my students in a way that

encouraged discussion between teacher and student and at the same time allowed them to

achieve at high levels on external metrics such as common assessments (Research

Question #3).

Time was also a limitation in this study; the classroom itself is a very busy place

and hundreds of interruptions can result during any class period. Accordingly, at various

times during data collection the recording of data via observation and informal student

focus groups was interrupted due to fire drills or public address announcements; this may

have resulted in missed opportunities for student and teacher comment on the various

themes explored in this study. In addition, a few students did rush to complete surveys

due to tardiness or early releases. Every effort however was made to follow up with

students during conference time to ensure that what they indicated through these data

pieces was as accurate as possible.

Another limitation was related to the timing of these classroom units: the

instructional units that were the focus of study were limited by the scope and sequence

and pacing of the curriculum as approved by the local Board of Education. Perhaps if

these units had been of a different length or had occurred at a different point in the school

year, different themes would have been represented in the data. However, I believe that it

was still possible in the time given to obtain sufficient information to answer the research

questions. Reaching theoretical saturation was not a limitation however. With 20

students in one classroom out of a possible 21, I believe it was possible to find many

common themes in the data responses.


171

Lastly, some of the data reported were subjective. A teacher-research journal as

described in action research literature is subjective as it is only one account of a

classroom event (Holly et al., 2009). This may mean that certain insights, due to limits in

knowledge or classroom experience, may not be expressed. The teacher-research journal

however is still a valid data source as it describes the thoughts of the person in control of

the instructional cycles—the teacher. In addition, student survey results are also

subjective as it is possible that students do not take them seriously nor report their

feelings honestly. Nonetheless, as with any study that aligns itself with a constructivist

viewpoint (Fosnot, 1996), I did make meaning from what my students and I said and did.

Implications

The findings of this study highlight several implications for practicing teachers,

curriculum developers, and administrators, as well as provide insights into future

implementations of formative assessments programs and associated professional

development within classrooms.

One of the research questions asked whether or not authentic formative

assessments can be a viable alternative to standardized formative assessment procedures

within this classroom. As the discussion from this study suggests, I believe that it is

possible for authentic formative assessments to be used in this classroom context when I

commit to developing a partnership with students in their learning. To aid in the

accomplishment of this goal, teachers need to learn about who their students are so that

they may guide them in the best manner possible while building the teacher-student

relationship. One way that this is accomplished is to be inspired by Schwab’s (1970)


172

“arts of the practical.” This theory allows teachers to utilize whatever is available to

them to make curriculum decisions, including collaborating with students in terms of

where students are headed in their study of the curriculum. In terms of formative

assessment, as the data on transparency notes (Research Question #1, Strategy #6), this

means that teachers openly create a commitment to working on the authentic formative

process with students as such a process does not develop in one classroom meeting; it

takes time for students and teachers to learn to trust each other such that they are able to

openly discuss weaknesses and strengths of teachers’ teaching and students’ learning.

Authentic formative processes, as the data from this study suggest, need to be developed

over a period of at least two cycles of instruction (two concurrent units of instruction)

such that the process is realized for both students and the teacher. Even after two cycles,

this process must continue to develop as we are all organic individuals with changing

needs; it is a joint-process that is constantly growing and not a process that is completely

student-directed (Black & Wiliam, 1998).

To illustrate this point, one student teacher recently described what this authentic

process is not:

By far, the worst math teacher throughout all of my school days was my seventh

grade algebra teacher. The class was not horrible, but the way that the teacher

handled her class was just odd. It was unlike any other math class I ever had. All

we do [did] almost every day were little multiple-choice tests that we answered on

the Scantron answer sheets. The way she would assess us was when we scanned

the test answers, we would see our score and have to ask her about the problems
173

that we did not understand. This was not helpful to me because it felt like she did

not have a plan for us or the class in general, like she was just letting a bunch of

seventh graders try to teach ourselves about the things that we were waiting to be

taught.

As this anecdote demonstrates, although the teacher was engaged in formative

assessment, without a sense of direction or interaction amongst students, without the

cultivation of transactional relationship between teacher and students (Ryan, 2011), the

process can flounder. When beginning to use an authentic formative assessment process

in the classroom, teachers must learn to be flexible and learn about student learning

through a variety of data sources when making decisions. To do this, as the data from

Research Question #1 indicate, teachers may rely on varied, hands-on, differentiated

activities in order to generate a variety of information about their students and about what

they are learning (Wormeli, 2007). Using such a technique allows both the teacher and

student to learn the nuances of curriculum content and improve the teaching-learning

relationship (Strategy #1).

During this instructional process, as students indicated (Strategy #7), timing

needed to be flexible. The process did not occur at a specific time on a specific day nor is

it a specific, tangible product. It is a mindset between teacher and student that is flexible

in student and teacher response based on what information is gathered by both parties

during the course of classroom activities. To help students process information about

what they are learning, teachers can hold conferences with students (Strategy #3) to

discuss strengths and weaknesses in terms of student learning as well as provide them
174

with feedback. Any activity, as Popham (2008) described, should be coupled with some

type of feedback, oral or written or both, to help students and teachers further process

curriculum content (Strategy #2). As the data from Strategy #6 show, the teacher needs

to share his or her pedagogical thinking with students, although at times it may be

difficult for the instructor to do so. Supplemental activities, such as classroom websites

and podcasts (Strategy #4), can further engage students in their learning of the content.

Using all of these strategies together, as the students described, created a sense of student

ownership of the learning process (Strategy #8); for the teacher (Research Question #2),

these strategies allowed for greater understanding of the needs of students and in

determining how to best adjust instruction while at the same time meeting external

assessment requirements (Research Question #3).

Authentic formative assessments also require that teachers relinquish some of

their control about teaching decisions. Teachers are often reluctant to give students

choices over curriculum for several reasons. First, Darling-Hammond (2010) described

that teachers often feel they must tie everything to standards and as a result, may limit

student choice; second, and perhaps more often, teachers have not developed the

dispositions to allow for joint decision-making. In order to create authentic formative

assessments in the classrooms, teachers must accept the fact that they can learn from their

students about what they are learning. The data from Research Question #2 indicated

that in my teaching situation, it was important to learn with my students about the

nuances of the particular learning situation as well as make those decisions in

collaboration with them, as without their guidance, I truly did not have an understanding
175

of what they had learned or were learning—I could only make guesses based on what an

artifact was telling me.

Once self-examination has occurred and teachers believe that they can teach

content through discussion with their students, they can then relinquish control over some

decision-making (Eisner, 2005). As the literature on formative assessment suggests and

as this study highlights, student growth in terms of content knowledge and personal

knowledge can come from a mindset that joint-decision making between teacher and

students is an appropriate way to make gains on standardized assessments such as

common assessments (Research Question #3). In addition to achieving at high levels on

these external mandated exams, by engaging in a partnership with students, both teachers

and students can also grow in their metacognitive skills.

This orientation to teaching and learning suggests that administrators may need to

rely more on teachers’ knowledge of their students rather than on what a piece of paper

states students can and cannot do. This means that teachers have to be given time and

flexibility by their administrators to make decisions based on the wide variety of

evidence that exists from the authentic formative assessment process. This of course

does not mean that teachers have free rein to make any and all decisions for their

students, especially when teachers are first implementing the process. Through continued

professional development on authentic formative assessment techniques, administrators

can help teachers realize their own potential in making decisions for their students. In

addition, if we believe that an authentic formative process is appropriate for students,

than professional development for teachers needs to exist in such a manner that teachers
176

are allowed, through continued dialogue with their administrators, to design appropriate

professional development opportunities for themselves.

Jackson and Davis (2000) focused on the interdisciplinary team structure in

middle level education as a way to incorporate professional development for middle

grades teachers. Teachers working collaboratively could, during team planning time, use

action research, self-study, or mentoring structures to (a) create techniques to

differentiate feedback and instruction for students; (b) find ways to support students with

content when they are not in the classroom; (c) develop ways to encourage student

ownership of the learning process; and (d) develop classroom-based techniques that

incorporate variety and interactive activities as part of an authentic formative assessment

teaching process.

Not only do we need to consider the roles of interdisciplinary teams in helping

teachers to capitalize the authentic formative assessment, the results of this study also

imply that the roles of curriculum directors, curriculum specialists, and resource persons

throughout the school be reconfigured. Currently, in most school districts in Ohio the

curriculum director and/or superintendent and principal are the sole leaders in making

decisions about curriculum for students, often from the results of publicized testing

results. These decisions often result in wide-range programming that can limit the ability

of teachers to make decisions in conjunction with their students. By reconceptualizing

these leaders’ roles into facilitators for professional growth, curriculum directors could

become resource individuals for teachers who are learning to make decisions in
177

conjunction with their students and could help by modeling similar processes with their

teachers.

As the roles of teachers, support personnel, and administrators are reconsidered,

what constitutes formative assessment also needs to be reconsidered for a number of

reasons. First, standardized assessments do provide one piece of the teaching-learning

puzzle, but they do not give us the whole story on how students are learning (Apple &

Beane, 1995; Henderson & Gornik, 2007). As this study showed in this particular

classroom, what students were learning was determined through the interaction that exists

with students during the authentic formative assessment process. As the Strategies of

Research Question #1 indicate, the authentic formative assessment process does not

appear to be completely teacher-centered as students are active participants of the

process. The data from this study indicated that when partnerships are created, students

had the ability to adjust their learning in other ways that are not related to direct teacher

feedback. In my classroom, this was accomplished through student independent study

using a class website or through peer negotiation and discussion of curriculum content.

The teacher is still there to guide the process, as demonstrated by Strategy #3

(Conferencing), but the student has more control of his or her own learning (Strategy #7,

Ownership).

Second, as the formative assessment literature discussed in Chapter 2 describes,

the formative assessment process is supposed to be a process that occurs within the

classroom at a specific time (Crooks, 1988). As Research Question #1, Strategy #4:

Out-of-Class Supports, describes, formative assessment processes do not completely exist


178

in the vacuum of the classroom (Black & Wiliam, 1998). Students who are working on

assignments at home can still learn about what they are learning and about curriculum

content through alternative means such as podcasts and websites. These two data pieces

together suggest that Wiliam’s (2010) articulation of formative assessments, where

formative assessments are processes that do not necessarily produce student artifacts,

may have merit as the authentic formative assessment process does not always create a

product of student learning, such as a quiz, project or presentation.

Lastly, in describing how the definition of formative assessment may need to be

modified, as suggested by the theoretical discussion produced by ASCD (Scherer, 2005,

2007), informal formative assessment processes may still produce gains in achievement.

As the data analyzed for Research Question #3 show, the student test results from an

authentic formative assessment process versus a standardized process were similar, if not

higher during these units of instruction within this classroom. This suggests that when

using informal, authentic processes such as varied activities like games, songs, reflection

sheets, think-pair-share activities, mock trials, and informational gap activities, student

achievement targets can still be met.

Another implication for future research is how institutions of higher education go

about teaching undergraduate students about these authentic formative assessment

processes. As the research process showed, I, as the classroom teacher, had to learn from

my students what worked best to help them learn classroom content. All institutions of

higher education that license teachers for grades 4–9 are required to align their programs

with the standards for teacher preparation from the Association for Middle Level
179

Education (NMSA, 2010) and the Standards for Ohio Educators (2005); both documents

suggest that authentic formative assessments between teachers and students are essential

features of quality middle grade instruction. How this is being taught to pre-service

teachers has not been studied and would prove interesting to know as such authentic

processes may help teachers improve achievement and metacognition strategies for their

students.

Another area that is growing in what is termed educational best practice is the

usage of performance assessments also known as performance tasks (Wiggins &

McTighe, 2005, p. 154). Performance assessments are defined as an activity that is

“realistically contextualized,” requires judgment and innovation, “asks students to ‘do’

the subject,” and “replicates key challenging situations in which adults use a repertoire of

knowledge and skill to negotiate a complex and multistage task” (p. 154). This means

that students are given the opportunity to learn how adults within the real world use the

knowledge the students are learning in their discrete lessons. A typical example is having

students design a science experiment that is effective, feasible, and cost-effective to show

how they would go about solving a personal problem or interest such as whether or not

playing a Wii® fitness game will help a student lose weight (p. 157).

Although these assessments are summative in nature, the strategies that are used

in an authentic formative assessment process can be helpful to evaluating student

thinking on the performance task as authentic formative assessment strategies help

students to co-construct the curriculum with their teachers as well as help students

dialogue about what they do and do not understand. As performance tasks typically have
180

no right or wrong answer, they require that students explore a variety of different areas to

learn how to problem solve. A strategy such as out-of-class-supports, like a website, can

provide students with guidance as they investigate how similar problems have been

investigated. The conferencing strategy could also be used to help students converse with

other experts in the field, as well as the classroom teacher, to help identify variables,

solutions, or student misconceptions as they begin their design in the performance task.

Finally, as Research Question #1, Characteristic #4: Out-of-Class Supports of this

study indicated, students mentioned that classroom websites, podcasts, and e-gaming

systems are helpful in learning content; unfortunately, we have limited knowledge on

how technology can be used with authentic formative assessment practices, especially

with the recent growth in portable electronic devices such as the iPad®. As Russell

(2009) discussed in the Handbook of Formative Assessment, technology can potentially

help teachers interact with their students in a timely and individualized manner, but at the

time of this study, this area has not been explored.

Further research using similar research questions with additional classrooms in a

variety of contexts (e.g., grade levels, rural areas, inner city areas, other disciplines,

charter schools, parochial schools) would add to the findings in this study as all schools

are subject to some accountability requirement and examining different contexts may in

turn yield different results. Using other methodologies, such as a case study or a mixed

methods study, may further add to the nuances about how authentic formative

assessments function within the assessment cycle within the classroom and whether they

are viable alternatives to standardized formative assessments.


181

In summation, this investigation has identified several pedagogical strategies that

can be used in a classroom with authentic formative assessments. The data from this

study imply from the researcher standpoint that authentic formative assessment needs to

occur in a classroom as a joint-process between teacher and student in informal ways,

needs to be supplemented through outside sources such as a website, and needs to be

flexible in its implementation. In addition, authentic formative assessment usage may

require that teachers and curriculum directors consider giving power back to those who

are most invested in the learning process: students. Teachers may need to commit to a

mindset that embodies flexibility, the building of relationships with students, and

collaboration with other teachers while administrators may need to give teachers more

leeway as they are learning about how to make curriculum decisions in conjunction with

their students. Some avenues for additional research studies may examine how other

stakeholders within schools view authentic formative assessments, how other classrooms

implement authentic formative assessment, how authentic formative assessment

processes are taught to middle childhood pre-service students, and how technology might

impact authentic formative assessment practices. Studies using other methodologies and

other contexts may further add to the research base. Additional studies may also explore

such research questions as: (1) How can pre-service teachers be taught the pedagogical

strategies of authentic formative assessment? (2) How can technology be used to

improve the authentic formative assessment process? (3) How can the teacher-student

relationship be honored and cultivated in the classroom during assessment? (4) How can

the authentic formative assessment strategies be taught and modeled to other teachers so
182

that they may begin to use them within their classrooms? (5) How can schools value

transactional relationships within the classroom?

Conclusion

We know that there is an increasing pressure on teachers to improve standardized

test achievement scores. We know that administrators and other educators are relying

more and more on standardized test scores to make curriculum decisions for students.

We also know that these types of decisions do not honor and cultivate the teacher-student

relationship found within the classroom or allow teachers to be practical decision-makers

(Schwab, 1970). This dilemma had suggested the need to describe the pedagogical

strategies of an authentic formative assessment process within one classroom. It now

appears from the data in this study that students in one particular classroom can still

achieve on standardized tests, while the teacher uses an authentic formative process.

Authentic formative assessments processes appear to encourage students to learn who

they are as learners as well as share ownership of decision-making between the teacher,

student, and a variety of curriculum resources. From this orientation to teaching and

learning and careful examination of what students and I said about the learning process,

the authentic process encouraged ownership of student learning, invited variety,

interactivity, and creativity in the decision-making process for both the teacher and

student, provided differentiated feedback for students, and maintained relatively “high”

curriculum standards. Research is needed to show ways how these techniques can be

taught to both veteran teachers and pre-service teachers so that they too may improve

their classroom contexts.


183

We know that student performance on standardized tests is currently here to stay

as they provide one measure of what students are learning and what teachers are teaching,

in order to ensure accountability with federal mandates. There is nothing wrong with a

set of academic content standards designed to align instruction and guide teachers so that

students are prepared with somewhat common information and the ability to display

proficiency with what they know. What becomes disconcerting is when we make all of

our decisions about teaching and learning based on a standardized test, one that does not

take the student nor teacher viewpoint about learning into account. Authentic formative

assessment processes, as this study demonstrates, do account for these stakeholders’ ideas

and do appear to propel students to higher understanding of content and their own

learning abilities. Teachers, administrators, and legislators need to be reminded that a

student who is able to learn about what he is learning is potentially able to go farther than

one who is simply able to correctly answer a multiple choice question. If we choose to

commit to an education that works for the benefit of all, then we need to reconsider how

we make decisions affecting all students. If we are committed to having students

regurgitate facts rather than on learning who they are and having teachers make decisions

on a one-shot attempt at student regurgitation of these facts, then we may be falling short

in our democratic goals to education for all.


APPENDICES
APPENDIX A

COMPARISON OF AUTHENTIC AND

STANDARDIZED FORMATIVE ASSESSMENT


Appendix A

Comparison of Authentic and Standardized Formative Assessments

Standardized Formative
Authentic Formative Assessments Assessments

Definition Any activity in the classroom that A test given at the end of a defined
allows a teacher to adjust instruction period of instruction with hopes of
with reference to the target goal and determining how much a student
gives feedback to a student about has learned or retained with an
their own learning; it is a process of opportunity for intervention period;
growth. it is a process of measurement.

Function Feedback to student and teacher on Mastery of students at the end of a


progress; helps to identify errors/gaps particular group of skills, designed
in student learning and allow for to hold teachers accountable for
corrective instruction. student learning; allows for
corrective instruction before high
stakes tests.

Time During instruction At the end of a particular time


period

Constructs Specific sample of all related tasks or Specific sample of all related tasks
subtasks in a unit or subtasks in a unit

Scoring Criterion-referenced Criterion-referenced with cut score

Relationship A direct relationship; teachers make No direct relationship; teacher


between decisions that are informed through administers assessment;
student and the interactions that teachers have administrator and/or teacher
teacher with students and students have with interprets the results that require
their teachers. teacher to adjust instruction and
student to attend intervention.

186
APPENDIX B

CONSENT FORM
188
189
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