How do you involve parents in the formative assessment cycle. Caren Cameron says that different types of assessment have different purposes. She goes on to say that the purpose of formative assessment is to inform the student and the teacher where to go next with the learning. David Bolton calls this being on the edge of the student learning (I like that). Cameron continues to explain that summative assessment has the purpose of reporting out.
Well over the past few days I have been having micro-conversations with my twitter network about just this concept. Without fail, educators will agree that the formative assessment is where they want to spend all their time. It is relevant to the day to day learning of their students. It guides their teaching and learning. A mass of descriptive feedback occurs and students push themselves along the continuum of understanding. Where as, summative assessment is the anchor that holds new learning back. It is labourious for teachers and admin alike, it is a mere formalization of conversations that have hopefully already happened with parents. Most often it is a pseudo objective process. More realistically, it is a subjective process where behaviour and work habits too often creep in and influence what should be an evaluation of understanding and ability to apply.
Almost all educators will say that the real assessment is happening on the front lines.
How do we get parents into this cycle of feedback?
I think this is where technology can play a major role. It is true that there are many parents who are not tech savvy. There are many who are. There are too many educators who are not tech savvy. These are excuses not real barriers. It is not going to be long before the masses are using applications like twitter to micro-blog updates on everything from coffee requests to professional development questions.
I don't think that there is a silver bullet solution here. What I think is that we, as educators, need to layer the tech network/info/feedback opportunities for parents, teachers and students. Like any good differentiated classroom the educator needs to accommodate for all levels of readiness. Here are some ideas for you to look at and provide feedback.
Layers that currently seem pretty common in many schools today include school and classroom websites. Many including a calendar of events, static information like teacher lists (some with emails), school goals, mission statements and registration information. These pages also contain less static info like school newsletters, pdf versions of notices, homework worksheets and the like. These webpages are quite informative and a great place to start. They can be quite laborious for the webmaster (most often a teacher who already has lots to do). Unfortunately, many of these web pages end up outdated with dead links or dated information.
For most parents the most useful web page is a homework page that is updated daily. This page allows parents, at work for example, to check the page before they head home and then initiate a better conversation than "what did you do at school today?". The conversation changes to "how can help you with your public speech that is due in two days?". These tools depend on the parent to regularly check a webpage. Making these pages rss-able can help reduce this dependence. The next step could be a listserve for all the parents of children in the class. Personal emails to particular parents are more direct to parental routines. Many parents now check email as part of their daily routine. Teachers can take advantage of this communication tool. However, this takes a long time for teachers and sometimes emails lack the tone the teacher intended and it can sometimes lead to miscommunication that cause a mess that would need to be cleaned up. In addition, emails mostly deal with behaviour and tasks rather than descriptive feedback that help move students/parents along a continuum of understanding.
These layers are still utilitarian and while they help parents engage they still do not get parents onto the edge of their child's learning. The next level of parent engagement is archival apps that capture work and provide opportunities for a community of feedback. Class and/or student blogs that allow parents to be a part of the network that can comment on work bring parents into the feedback loop. Voicethread.com allows for work to be displayed and then for feedback to be layered in on various aspects of the work. Peers, teachers and parents can all provide descriptive feedback. Class wikis can show off group work and link aggregators like delicious.com allow students to collaborate and for parents to stay abreast of the various projects their students are working on.
The final layer I want to talk about puts the parent right on the edge of student learning. I don't see this being a reality in my current school system just yet. But I think that it has huge potential once all the bugs are worked out. Once teachers shift their pedagogy to a child centered classroom where open ended tasks are differentiated for the various groups of needs in the room and children have spent a good chunk of time at the beginning of the year learning how learning is going to function in the classroom, the teacher is able to get down and dirty with individual students for micro-conferences in which the teacher is able to push the student to the next level of thinking and also provide formative (highly descriptive) feedback on what the student needs to do next and where they are succeeding. Teacher could use micro-social networks like edmodo.com, ning.com, and/or buzzable.com to micro-blog (140 characters or less) a paraphrasing of the specific feedback (or as one of my staff suggested, use voice recognition software to simply speak the feedback into a micro-blog tool). Using hashtag (i.e. #jared) the micro-blog entries would be archived and easily sorted when it came time to write summative report cards. Parent conversations would totally change at home because both parent and student would have the feedback comment to initiate dialogue. Students could look back at the archived feedback so as to make adjustments to assignments once they looked at them again at home.
All of these tools can be found as free web 2.0 apps or they could be arranged under the convenient umbrella of a district/school or class portal. For more information on portals check out the excellent work of Cindy Seibel at http://portalguide.tech4learning.ca/
This idea could actually happen right now. Using one of the micro-blogging apps mentioned above and if parent, student and teacher had a web browser ready cell phone (i.e iPhone), we could involve parents in the formative assessment cycle live as it happens.
The 64000 dollar question is not whether we can do this or how do we make this a reality. The real question is do the majority of parents really want this level of involvement in their children's education?
I now solicit your thoughts and feedback.