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Promoting student agency and classroom collaboration through formative assessment

“Formative assessment is about creating a low stress environment in the classroom for students to practice skills.” Erik Brandt, DP Literature teacher at Harding High School

Following four years of research and design on effective practices in formative assessment at the IB, a pilot study focusing on the impact of peer feedback and student agency in classroom assessments has been selected as one of 14 most impactful and scalable innovations by HundrED and Jacobs Foundations, part of their “Formative Assessment: Improving Learning for Every Child” Spotlight project.

The IB and Harding High School’s study investigates peer feedback using comparative judgment. This formative assessment approach is designed to promote student agency and collaboration in the classroom and to develop students’ evaluative judgement and understanding of “what is good”.

We spoke with Wendy Wae Yee Choi, Learning in Assessment Manager at the IB alongside Erik Brandt and Andrew Pastor from Harding High School, about the project and what it means to be part of HundrED’s Spotlight.

What is formative assessment and how does this look in the DP classroom?

Wendy: In the past few years, I had the pleasure to visit and collaborate with many IB World Schools and observe some highly effective practices of formative assessment. One thing I see in common is the use of interactive dialogues as formative feedback. Effective feedback occurs as a conversation between teachers and students, or among peers. Rather than giving students exam practices or telling students what they don’t know (which they are probably aware of already), feedback occurs in the form of questions that ask students to reason, justify, analyse, and evaluate their own learning and promotes their metacognitive insights.

Erik: Formative assessment is about creating a low stress environment in the classroom for students to practice skills. It’s a space to play around with ideas, to experiment and to see what works. The goal is for students to be able to see their own learning, to measure their level of understanding, and for teachers to know how much the students are grasping the lesson, and what needs to be retaught.

Andrew: Formative assessment can be journals, activities, games, most of the time they should be fun. For example, in my class, students engage in this hexagon game to learn literary conventions. The hexagon cards support them to engage in group discussions and help them to see how concepts are interconnected, and how this can develop into a huge network that builds on their conceptual understanding.

Why are student agency and peer feedback such important parts of formative assessment?

Erik: It’s like removing the teachers’ role as the overlord of student thinking. We need to allow our students to take charge of their own thought and learning.

Andrew: Students are more invested in their learning when they have more choices in their learning, choices of how to respond to a text for example. But it also requires structure and training. Having that type of agency can be intimidating for younger students in the beginning.

Wendy: With the right support in formative assessment, students can take charge of their own learning. They analyse their performance and the feedback they received and identify strategies they think will work best for them. As we saw from the very promising outcomes of this study, student learning and performance improves when students help one another learn through the process of giving and receiving peer feedback.

Do you have any tips for other teachers who would like to include more high-quality formative assessments in their classrooms?

Andrew: One mistake I made as a young teacher was trying to grade everything. There is a difference between grading and feedback. Giving a grade according to a set of criteria is like checking off boxes, it detracts from the experience. Sharing good feedback is about helping students to see “how can you do this differently?”. Students should be able to reflect on what they have done, this is more about me (as the learner) and my learning journey, this is not about the teacher.

Erik: Part of the realization is that we are not as important as we think we are. As teachers it can be difficult to let go of control. This activity that we created together (Peer Feedback using Comparative Judgment) taught us that students can teach each other really well. We don’t need to control every step in the process.

Andrew: We give the students time to read the text so that they have freedom of choice. But at the same time, as teachers we need to be in touch with everything. We always have in the back of our minds the learning and assessment objectives of the DP Literature course and where we want students to get to towards the end of the course, so that every activity we design points towards them. Then it’s about focusing and harnessing the creativity of the students.

You can learn more about the IB and Harding High School innovations here.

Following the success of this study, Erik and Andrew are now collaborating with DP Literature teachers in other IB schools across the district to promote and further develop this pedagogical approach. We are truly excited to see this innovation spreading and benefiting more IB students in future.

The IB and HundrEd have also recently announced a partnership that will expand HundrED’s existing Youth Ambassadors Programme as part of the IB’s Festival of Hope initiative. Find out more about this exciting collaboration here.

Wendy Choi
Wendy Choi
Andrew Pastor
Andrew Pastor
Erik Brandt
Erik Brandt