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Teachers’ ideas about formative assessment during science activities is an area that is not well understood. In the past two decades, much has been said about the potential of formative assessment for improving the quality of learning as well as learning experiences of students. Since the publication of the review on formative assessment by Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam in 1998, there have been ongoing studies on various aspects of formative assessment. While many studies focused on teachers’ enactment of formative assessment (e.g. what they did and how they did), there were comparatively fewer studies on the teachers’ ideas about formative assessment, and even fewer on its role during science activities.
On the other hand, in Singapore, assessment practices have generally been summative in nature, given that high-stakes assessment has traditionally been an essential part of her education system. Even though there have been several major reviews of the science curriculum over the past two decades and teachers have recently been exhorted to place assessment focus more on students’ learning than on their achievement, formative assessment remains a relatively new concept for most science teachers. It is within this context that the present study sets out to gain a deeper understanding of science teachers’ formative assessment practices, from both the etic and emic perspectives.
Using multiple-case study approach, this study draws upon earlier studies on process of formative assessment in the classroom, teachers’ beliefs and learning science and seeks to characterize through hands-on activities how the four teachers view and enact formative assessment in the social milieu of the classroom to shape students’ learning of science. Through stimulated recall, these teachers’ ideas about the roles and functions of formative assessment in science learning are also elicited.
The findings from this study may be categorised into three levels, namely (1) teachers’ views of teaching, learning and assessing; (2) the focus and instructional roles of formative assessment in their lessons; and (3) how formative assessment support learning in science hands-on activities.
At the first level, it was found that while the four teachers held different views of learning, their view of assessment remained largely traditional. For them, formative assessment, like those for summative purpose, was an elicitation tool that should be carried out in an unilateral and evaluative manner and the purpose of which was to confirm or verify if students had mastered the knowledge rather than what they knew and how they came to know. The analysis showed that what was prioritized as science knowledge and learning in the classroom was often shaped by the teachers’ epistemological views of science as well as what they perceived to be valued in the high-stakes assessment.
At the second level, it was found that while the teachers showed common concerns about the national examinations, their differences in perspectives of science learning and their students led each of them to take a different path in teaching. Analysis of the findings led to the identification of four foci adopted by teachers during formative assessment in their science classrooms, namely (a) learner-focused; (b) outcome-focused; (c) teaching sequencefocused; and (d) activity-focused. While each teacher might have a predominant focus, it is argued that this focus could be context-dependent and hence changed with differing circumstances. Besides, it was found that, while questioning was a key elicitation tool employed by the teachers, responses elicited were brief and often used for ascertaining whether students had learnt rather than how they had learnt. Consequently, few instances of student participation were observed. However, even though formative assessment was generally equated to elicitation of information about learning, the teachers were cognizant that the evidences gathered could be used to inform their subsequent instructional decisions. In fact, the analysis surfaced nine subsequent instructional moves that the teachers adopted after elicitation.
Finally, in science hands-on activities, it was found that, while formative assessment was carried out frequently to help students connect the domain of objects and observable to the domain of science concept, much of the students’ participation was located within the activity domain and that the bridging of the two domains was mainly carried out by the teacher. The findings suggest prevalence of the assumption that the “doing” would naturally illuminate the science concepts, resulting in few formative assessment carried out with the concept domain.
The contribution of this study lies in the development of a heuristics to guide science teachers during hands-on activities. This Formative Assessment in Science Activities (FASA) heuristics aims to offer science teachers a visual representation of how formative assessment could be situated within the learning environment of science hands-on activities. It aims to influence science teachers’ decisions on the instructional functions of formative assessment during the lesson. It serves to bridge the doing during hands- on activities to the intended science learning and achieve the balance between teacher-directed instruction and student participation. With the explicit articulation and reflection of its instructional functions, observable-to-science concept links as well as learning environment, FASA heuristics can serve as a preliminary professional development tool to encourage reflective practices among teachers.
|Appears in Collections:||Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)|
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