Formative assessment : teacher knowledge and skills to make it happen

Abstract: Several studies have demonstrated that substantial learning gains are possible when teachers use formative assessment in their classroom practice. At the heart of most definitions of formative assessment lies the idea of collecting evidence of students’ thinking and learning, and based on this information modifying teaching to better meet students’ needs. Such regulation of learning processes would require skills to elicit the thinking underlying students’ oral and written responses, and the capacity to make suitable instructional decisions based on this thinking. When the continuation of the teaching is contingent on the information that appears in such assessments additional knowledge and skills are required compared with a more traditional approach to teaching.Today, sufficient knowledge about how to help in-service teachers and pre-service teachers develop their formative classroom practice is lacking. In the pursuit of gathering research evidence about the specific content and design of professional development programs and teacher education courses in formative assessment, it is important that we know what kinds of skills and knowledge teachers need to successfully orchestrate a formative classroom practice.The aim of this study is to identify activities and characterize the knowledge and skills that a teacher of mathematics uses in her formative assessment practice during whole-class lessons.The study is a case study of a teacher’s formative assessment practice during mathematics lessons in year 5. The data were analysed by identifying a) the formative assessment practice b) the teacher’s activities during the formative assessment practice and c) the teacher knowledge and skills used during the activities.The main result of the study shows that the formative assessment practice is a very complex, demanding and difficult task for the teacher in several ways. For example, during short term minute-by-minute formative assessment practice the teacher uses knowledge and skills to eliciting, interpreting and use the elicited information to modify instruction to better meet student learning needs. She also helps students’ to engage in common learning activities and take co-responsibility of their learning. In the minute-by-minute formative assessment practice the teacher also handles new mathematics (to her), unpredictable situations and makes decisions about teaching and learning situations in a matter of seconds.