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featuring new norms to help ensure proper representation of demographic changes in the U.S. population

A project at King’s College London (Black and Wiliam, 2000) illustrates some of the issues encountered when an effort is made to incorporate principles of cognition and reasoning from evidence into classroom practice. The project involved working closely with 24 science and mathematics teachers to develop their formative assessment practices in everyday classroom work. During the course of the project, several aspects of the teaching and learning process were radically changed.One such aspect was the teachers’ practices in asking questions in the classroom. In particular, the focus was on the notion of wait time (the length of the silence a teacher would allow after asking a question before speaking again if nobody responded), with emphasis on how short this time usually is. The teachers altered their practice to give students extended time to think about any question posed, often asking them to discuss their ideas in pairs before calling for responses. The practice of students putting up their hands to volunteer answers was forbidden; anyone could be asked to respond. The teachers did not label answers as right or wrong, but instead asked a student to explain his or her reasons for the answer offered. Others were then asked to say whether they agreed and why. Thus questions opened up discussion that helped expose and explore students’ assumptions and reasoning. At the same time, wrong answers became useful input, and the students realized that the teacher was interested in knowing what they thought, not in evaluating whether they were right or wrong. As a consequence, teachers asked fewer questions, spending more time on each.


that formative assessment is weak in practice. High-quality classroom assessment is a complex process, as illustrated by research described in Bthat encapsulates many of the points made in the following discussion. In brief, the development of good formative assessment requires radical changes in the ways students are encouraged to express their ideas and in the ways teachers give feedback to students so they can develop the ability to manage and guide their own learning. Where such innovations have been instituted, teachers have become acutely aware of the need to think more clearly about their own assumptions regarding how students learn.

In addition, teachers realized that their lesson planning had to include careful thought about the selection of informative questions. They discovered that they had to consider very carefully the aspects of student thinking that any given question might serve to explore. This discovery led them to work further on developing criteria for the quality of their questions. Thus the teachers confronted the importance of the cognitive foundations for designing assessment situations that can evoke important aspects of student thinking and learning. (See Bonniol [1991] and Perrenoud [1998]) for further discussion of the importance of high-quality teacher questions for illuminating student thinking.)In response to research evidence that simply giving grades on written work can be counterproductive for learning (Butler, 1988), teachers began instead to concentrate on providing comments without grades—feedback designed to guide students’ further learning. Students also took part in self-assessment and peer-assessment activities, which required that they understand the goals for learning and the criteria for quality that applied to their work. These kinds of activities called for patient training and support from teachers, but fostered students’ abilities to focus on targets for learning and to identify learning goals for which they lacked confidence and needed help (metacognitive skills described in In these ways, assessment situations became opportunities for learning, rather than activities divorced from learning.