Sunday, October 2, 2011

Weaving Science Inquiry and Continuous Assessment

Carlson, M. O., Humphrey, G. E., & Reinhardt, K. (2003). Weaving science inquiry and continuous assessment: using formative assessment to improve learning. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press. 

A very short 'vignette' in the first chapter (page 12 to be precise), The Essence of Continuous Assessment, just resulted in one of those Earth tilting  paradigm shifts for me so I'd like to try to recap it here.

I am struggling to pursue science inquiry in my classroom and feel like I'm failing miserably. Sometimes I over structure events, but this time I feel like a lack of structure has students stymied and I need to figure out a way to bridge the two. This first vignette written by a 5th & 6th grade science teacher elegantly showed in a page and a half how my approaches (both too structured and not structured enough) are getting in my own way. 

In the vignette, the science teacher's first attempts to introduce students to the concept of motion used stations with cards that set up activities for students to 'discover' certain phenomena. The students diligently followed instructions and gave rote descriptions of what was going on. This process was not very satisfactory for either the students or the teacher. 

In his second go at introducing a topic he removed the instructions and merely set up stations with the different materials (springs & strings for introducing waves). Then he spent the class really listening to student questions. Then at the end they generated a class list of questions that looked something like this:
  • What is really moving in a wave?
  • How do waves begin?
  • What are different kinds of waves?
  • What are some differences and similarities of waves in various media?
  • Just what are waves and how do they move?
As a chemistry teacher of 10th graders - every single one of these questions applies on deep levels to electrons or light, and every single one was student generated. 

Since this was immediately useful as a slight shift in my approach that could have all the difference I decided to post it now. As I finish reading the rest of this book I will flesh out the summary and make it more useful to those searching for specific inquiry related topics.

Summary of first three chapters:

Chapter one:
Describes continuous assessment as a teaching and learning strategy  as well as a strategy integral to your own professional development. Closes with vignette posted above.

Chapter two:
Anchors the reader in the belief that trust in students and respect for their ideas forms the underpinnings of inquiry learning. The vignette at the end of the chapter shows how continuous assessment and inquiry based learning are intrinsically entwined. This chapter also reviews the cyclical nature of inquiry based activities.

Chapter three:
Provides details about specific strategies to utilize continuous assessment such as-

  • Sitting and listening closely 
  • Asking questions - great ones are
    • What have you tried so far?
    • What do you think will happen if..?
    • Can you find a way to...?
    • What are you thinking about?
    • I'm wondering what you meant when you said...?
    • Can you tell me why you decided to ...?
    • Can you tell me more about...?
    • Why do you think it happened that way...?
    • How would you explain...?
    • What questions do you have now...?
  • Sharing a new material or piece of information
  • Sparking science conversations
  • Student self assessment
And also tools for continuous assessment such as:
  • Teacher's observation notes
  • Videotape
  • Audiotape
  • Photographs
  • Student science writing
  • Products of student science work
This chapter also shared examples of note taking formats for observing student inquiry within the classroom.

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