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How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School
for feedback and revision and that what is assessed must be congruent with one’s learning goals.
It is important to distinguish between two major uses of assessment. The first, formative assessment, involves the use of assessments (usually administered in the context of the classroom) as sources of feedback to improve teaching and learning. The second, summative assessment, measures what students have learned at the end of some set of learning activities. Examples of formative assessments include teachers’ comments on work in progress, such as drafts of papers or preparations for presentations. Examples of summative assessments include teacher-made tests given at the end of a unit of study and state and national achievement tests that students take at the end of a year. Ideally, teachers’ formative and summative assessments are aligned with the state and national assessments that students take at the end of the year; often, however, this is not the case. Issues of summative assessment for purposes of national, state, and district accountability are beyond the scope of this volume; our discussion focuses on classroom-based formative and summative assessments.
Formative Assessments and Feedback
Studies of adaptive expertise, learning, transfer, and early development show that feedback is extremely important (see Chapters 2, 3, and 4). Students’ thinking must be made visible (through discussions, papers, or tests), and feedback must be provided. Given the goal of learning with understanding, assessments and feedback must focus on understanding, and not only on memory for procedures or facts (although these can be valuable, too). Assessments that emphasize understanding do not necessarily require elaborate or complicated assessment procedures. Even multiple-choice tests can be organized in ways that assess understanding (see below).
Opportunities for feedback should occur continuously, but not intrusively, as a part of instruction. Effective teachers continually attempt to learn about their students’ thinking and understanding. They do a great deal of on-line monitoring of both group work and individual performances, and they attempt to assess students’ abilities to link their current activities to other parts of the curriculum and their lives. The feedback they give to students can be formal or informal. Effective teachers also help students build skills of self-assessment. Students learn to assess their own work, as well as the work of their peers, in order to help everyone learn more effectively (see, e.g., Vye et al., 1998a, b). Such self-assessment is an important part of the metacognitive approach to instruction (discussed in Chapters 3, 4, and 7).
In many classrooms, opportunities for feedback appear to occur relatively infrequently. Most teacher feedback—grades on tests, papers,