Formative assessment is an activity whereby the teacher and students collaborate on an assessment task with the aim of developing the students’ mastery and the teacher’s practice (Ash & Levitt, 2003; Black & Wiliam, 2006). It has been linked to increases in students’ achievement, motivation, and growth of their metacognitive, self-monitoring and self-regulation skills. It is a complex, dynamic and highly nuanced activity that many teachers struggle to implement. There is little research on the voices of teachers who employ formative assessment in Social Studies classrooms. This study addresses that gap in the literature. It investigated the formative assessment activity in a Grade 8 Philosophy classroom, guided by the question, “What are the essential features of a classroom where formative assessment is being implemented?” A qualitative interpretive case study design was employed to document the ways in which assessment was enacted in the classroom over five months. Activity theory guided the development of data collection and analysis, as it requires a holistic approach well suited to the complexity of formative assessment activity. This theoretical lens was focused on the roles of those involved in formative assessment, their tools, the rules that determined their actions, the community within which the assessment occurred and the outcome of the activity. Daily observations and interviews with the teacher and eight Grade 8 students provided the data. The four themes arising from the data were theoretically and inductively generated. They revealed that the activity of formative assessment was strongly situated and relational. The first theme, “Piece of the Puzzle” represents the significant role of the teacher’s and students’ belief systems in shaping formative assessment activity. The theme “Aligning Motives” captured the disparity between the teacher’s and students' motives, and the measures undertaken to align these motives. “Ownership” described the students’ roles as owners of their learning, and “Reciprocity” highlighted the reciprocal nature of the activity. This study offers insight into the activity of formative assessment. It brings to the fore the nature of formative assessment as a co-constructed rather than a teacher-directed activity. This study describes the role formative assessment plays in the development of a community of learners who learn together while assessing each other.
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Thesis advisor: Kanevsky, Lannie
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