Elements of Proximal Formative Assessment in Learners’ Discourse about Energy

B. W. Harrer, R. E. Scherr, M. C. Wittmann, H. G. Close, and B. W. Frank, "Elements of Formative Assessment in Learners' Discourse about Energy," C. Singh, M. Sabella, and Engelhardt (Eds.), AIP Conf. Proc. (2011 Physics Education Research Conference)


Proximal formative assessment, the just-in-time elicitation of students’ ideas that informs ongoing instruction, is usually associated with the instructor in a formal classroom setting. However, the elicitation, assessment, and subsequent instruction that characterize proximal formative assessment are also seen in discourse among peers.We present a case in which secondary teachers in a professional development course at SPU are discussing energy flow in refrigerators. In this episode, a peer is invited to share her thinking (elicitation). Her idea that refrigerators move heat from a relatively cold compartment to a hotter environment is inappropriately judged as incorrect (assessment). The "instruction" (peer explanation) that follows is based on the second law of thermodynamics, and acts as corrective rather than collaborative. The episode highlights the importance for proximal formative assessment of reserving judgment on learners’ ideas until their strengths and weaknesses are well understood.