ceptual development. The study found that while students’ performance varied across questions and teachers, the highest level of student performance was observed in the class of the teacher with the most complete questioning cycles. However, the study also raises the question of whether the performance differences observed between classes were attributable to on-the-fly formative assessment practices alone or were a reflection of overall differences in teachers’ everyday science teaching skills.

Duschl and Gitomer (1997) conducted research on planned assessment conversations in the Science Education through Portfolio Instruction and Assessment (SEPIA) project. These conversations are used to help teachers provide scaffolding and support for students’ construction of meaning by carefully selecting learning experiences, activities, questions, and other elements of instruction (Duschl and Gitomer, 1997). Project SEPIA uses modeling and explicit teaching to help students “learn how to learn in science” (p. 41). Duschl and Gitomer explored how two middle school teachers worked with Project SEPIA’s model of instruction. Developing a portfolio as they complete the unit, students are presented with authentic problems and proceed through an established sequence of investigations to develop their conceptual understanding, reasoning strategies related to ways of knowing in science, and communication skills.

A central element of the assessment conversation is a three-part process that involves the teacher receiving student ideas through writing, drawing, and sharing orally, so that students can show the teacher and other students what they know. The second step involves the teacher recognizing students’ ideas through public discussion, and the third has the teacher using ideas to reach a consensus in the classroom by asking students to reason on the basis of evidence.5 Project SEPIA also provides teachers with criteria for guiding students during these conversations, including a focus on relationships, clarity, and consistency with evidence, use of examples, making sense, acknowledging alternative explanations, and accuracy. Engaging students in assessment-related conversations about their work provides a context in which standards and criteria of quality are negotiated and discussed publicly (Duschl and Gitomer, 1997). The authors concluded that teachers should focus less on tasks and activities and more on the reasoning processes and underlying conceptual structures of science.


Duschl and Gitomer’s (1997) description of a three-step questioning process is very similar to that previously described in Bell and Cowie (2001) and Ruiz-Primo and Furtak (2004) as examples of on-the-fly, informal formative assessment. However, Duschl and Gitomer’s study is considered an example of planned-for formative assessment because the questioning process is intended to take place in the context of planned assessment conversations. In contrast, Bell and Cowie and Ruiz-Primo and Furtak observed the questioning process in the course of everyday, on-the-fly classroom interactions.

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