Teacher by teacher, a new project is facilitating a slow revolution in the way mathematics is taught and learned.
“Students need to be the centerpiece of learning,” explains EDC’s Fred Gross, who heads up the project Formative Assessment in the Mathematics Classroom: Engaging Teachers and Students, also known as FACETS. “But many students have never had the opportunity to take ownership over their own learning. It’s always been teacher driven.”
Gross believes that using continuous, ongoing monitoring of the learning experience to drive instructional decisions, also known as formative assessment, is the key to bringing about such a change.
Now in its second year, FACETS is helping 25 middle school math teachers learn about the importance, and implementation, of formative assessment in the classroom.
Done the FACETS way, a mathematics lesson begins with some key ideas: a teacher shares with students both what they should learn and some specific criteria for gauging whether they have been successful. This structure provides a roadmap of sorts that the teacher can use to offer individual feedback to help students move forward.
FACETS emphasizes the importance of keeping students actively engaged in their own learning. It does this by putting some of the responsibility for learning squarely on the shoulders of the students themselves. Students learn to evaluate their own work, and that of their peers, against the stated success criteria.
This beehive of activity has a collective purpose. Teachers work with students to identify what they are and are not understanding, and then make instructional decisions that move the students closer to the stated learning goal.
“It sounds very simple, but it requires a shift in thinking for most teachers,” says Eric Karnowski, who facilitates a monthly meeting with a group of seven FACETS teachers. “The extent to which the success criteria get weaved into the lesson—from gathering and interpreting evidence of learning to offering feedback that helps the students move their learning forward—is tremendous and powerful.”
In the project’s first year, Gross, Karnowski, and their EDC colleagues Cheryl Tobey and Susan Janssen ran a summer institute, monthly face-to-face meetings, and an online community to introduce teachers to the basics of formative assessment. These events helped teachers connect with each other and fostered a strong learning community. This year, teachers are implementing FACETS strategies in their classrooms while learning how to observe and support other teachers doing this work.
Jonathan Newman is one of them. An eighth-grade math and science teacher in Amherst, Massachusetts, Newman says that the FACETS training has helped him learn how to align his teaching to specific goals and outcomes. “There’s always a point behind the lessons now,” he says. “Lessons become less about just getting an assignment in.”
Newman’s students have reaped the benefits of FACETS as well. He recalls a recent decision to spend extra time exploring a concept that his students had not fully grasped earlier. Upon walking into class, one student noticed that the learning goal had not changed from the day before. Newman says, “He said, ‘I’m really glad that we’re going back because I didn’t understand it yesterday.’ He kind of knew that he wasn’t ready to move on.” Newman credits the FACETS approach for helping this student self-assess his learning.” That’s a win for us,” he says.
Karnowski is also encouraged by the teachers’ progress so far. “They’re now really starting to implement it, and we hope that by the end of the year, they’ll be using it with every lesson,” he says.
Adds Gross, “We’ve heard a lot of teachers say, ‘Now I’m seeing the connections; now I’m putting it together.’” He is also confident that FACETS will change teaching and learning for the better. “When teachers start connecting and implementing critical aspects of formative assessment,” he continues, “I’m convinced that they will create a learning atmosphere that is better for students.”
Originally published on January 24, 2012