Formative Assessment February 25 - 29, 2008


Beginning on Monday, February 25th, the Special Topics list will hold a discussion on formative assessment, a set of classroom practices that substantial research in England has shown to positively affect elementary and secondary level student learning outcomes. Not a term widely known in adult literacy education in the U.S., formative assessment refers to what teachers and learners do in the classroom to assess learning progress. An assessment is formative when information gathered in the assessment process is used to modify teaching and learning activities. It's an assessment for learning, not just of learning.

A just-published study sponsored by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Teaching, Learning and Assessment for Adults: Improving Foundation Skills looks at formative assessment practices in adult foundation skills (basic skills) classes in several countries among which were the U.S. and England. We will have as our guests the researchers who did the studies in these two countries. OECD researchers who studied adult formative assessment practices in other countries may also participate in the discussion.

In my opinion, not an unbiased one as I was an OECD researcher in this study of practices in Flanders Belgium, the study could have an important impact on adult literacy education practices in North America, and formative assessment could -- as has been shown in K-12 and higher education studies -- make an important difference for students' learning.

Formative Assessment Guest Experts

Janet Looney

Janet Looney is the project leader of the Centre for Educational Research and Innovation program known as What Works in Innovation in Education. Since 2002 its focus has been on formative assessment. Between 2002 and 2004, the What Works program explored formative assessment in lower secondary classrooms in eight international systems. [See Formative Assessment: Improving Learning in Secondary Classrooms (2005)]. OECD has just published the second study addressing formative assessment for adult basic skill learners, whose web page was provided above.
Earlier in her career Janet taught ESOL in Japan for over two years, and at the YMCA in Seattle Washington. She also worked at the Institute for Public policy and Management at the University of Washington, and in the Education Division of the U.S. Office of Management and Budget.

John Benseman

John Benseman has been involved in adult education and literacy for over 30 years working as a practitioner and program administrator, but mainly as a researcher and evaluator. He started his working life as a primary (elementary) school teacher, but “became disillusioned with the task of constantly trying to motivate reluctant learners and became much more interested in working with adults who were much more motivated”. After a year of studying adult education in Sweden, he worked in continuing medical education, followed by seven years of running a community-based adult education organization and a similar period of self-employment as a researcher. After 12 years of teaching adult education at the University of Auckland, he moved last year to the Department of Labour to run a national workplace literacy project. The aim of this project is to identify best practice in workplace literacy by evaluating 15 diverse programs throughout New Zealand. They are about halfway through and should complete it late next year. To date they have interviewed about 250 learners and are just starting to get their first post-program data. They expect to have data on about 500-600 learners when it is finished.
John’s PhD was an analysis of New Zealand as a learning society. In addition to a "zillion" reports, he has edited a book on New Zealand adult education and two weeks ago, another one (with Alison Sutton) on New Zealand adult literacy. He “mainly works from home in a study that looks out on to beautiful native bush, including a stream and lots of native birds”. He says "It’s summer here, so life includes jaunts to the beach, enjoying family life, frustrated attempts to lower a very average golf handicap and riding a motorbike to beat the Auckland traffic. My current project also includes a lot of travel round the country to interview people – a duty that I am even paid to do…"

With John Comings, John Benseman did the formative assessment research in the U.S., sponsored in part by the National Institute for Literacy

John Comings

Dr. John Comings was director of the National Center for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy (NCSALL) during its 11 years of funding from the U.S. Department of Education. He is currently Senior Research Associate and lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and a consultant on adult education in the U.S. and other countries. His research focuses on the impact of adult literacy programs and ways to support persistence of adult learners.

John Vorhaus

Dr. John Vorhaus is Associate Director, Research, at the National Research and Development Centre in Adult Literacy and Numeracy (NRDC) at the Institute of Education. He is also Director of the Centre for Research on the Wider Benefits of Learning.

John has directed numerous projects on adult literacy, language and numeracy, many of these focused on teaching and learning practices, and also on disadvantaged groups such as offenders, ethnic minority groups and people who are not in education, training or employment.

On-going research is taken up with persons with profound and multiple learning difficulties and disabilities; their political status, the question of whether and how they are shown respect, and an examination of the teaching and learning practices best fitted to their needs and abilities.

John has taught philosophy at the Universities of Bristol and London, and also in prison, adult and further education, and he continues to publish in the areas of political philosophy, philosophy of law and philosophy of education.

David J. Rosen

Special Topics Discussion Moderator