Evaluating students' written work

4 personalities of teachers when noticing student work

Formative assessment is an important component of teaching as it enables teachers to enhance student learning. The written work that students produce on formative assessment tasks can be used to uncover student thinking and inform the decisions teachers make on how to support individual student learning. 

Using the volcano probe, we at ACCT sought to characterize how experienced chemistry teachers notice and interpret student thinking shown in written work. What do they pay attention to when noticing? How do they respond to what they learn about the student thinking? How can the formative assessment enactment model be used as a lens? The aim of this formative assessment enactment model is to offer a practical resource for teachers to support students’ sense making. The model was derived from rigorous analysis of classroom videos of experienced science teachers (many of whom are chemistry teachers, most are teacher leaders in their school district) using formative assessment activities with their students.1

Professional noticing

The substance of what teachers notice, interpret, and act upon is collectively referred to as professional noticing. Beyond what a bystander would attend to with what one would refer to in "everyday noticing", professional noticing refers to how practitioners of the teaching profession develop specialized ways of seeing complex situations. This definition focuses primarily on what teachers notice and how they interpret what they see in their classrooms, but researchers who study teachers’ professional noticing also reason that noticing and making sense of student thinking are inseparable from the teaching responses that follow. Working from this definition, we at ACCT have observed that teachers' professional noticing may be placed into four categories. Careful examination of these categories of how teachers professionally notice is helpful to consider when evaluating student work and when planning to carry out formative assessments in the classroom.

Personality A: Evaluative/inferential noticing, authoritative interpreting and authoritative acting

Teachers that displayed formative assessment personality A were either descriptive or inferential in their noticing, but were then authoritative in their interpreting and acting. Teachers who displayed this formative assessment personality primarily proposed actions focused on advancing to move students toward the teachers’ expected correct answer. In the data, this took forms of proposing ways to get students to talk more specifically about the areas of chemistry that the teacher considered most important for solving the problem, reteaching topics that the students seemed to have struggled with, or guiding students in developing the specific understandings the teacher valued. Teachers who were descriptive in their noticing tended to highlight what students said or did (or did not say or do) without building inferences about student understanding. These teachers tended to focus on and highlight when students used or did not use specific chemistry principles and vocabulary in their responses. These teachers used student work from the formative assessment to determine whether or not students were able to provide and support answers that matched up with established scientific models. In this approach, teachers used their evaluations of student understanding to propose strategies to direct students in the proper direction to accurately explain science. Conversely, teachers who were inferential in their noticing tended to build inferences that were evaluative in nature, describing student thinking as accurate or based on misconceptions that they had anticipated and recognized. Subsequently, their evaluative acting would involve increased scaffolding during the prompt, using guiding questions during a specific experiment, or helping students narrow down their thinking. 

Personality B: Evaluative/inferential noticing, authoritative interpreting and dialogic acting

This quadrant includes combinations of teachers who were again either descriptive or inferential in their noticing, and were then evaluative in interpreting and responsive in acting. Teachers who adopt this personality are authoritative in their interpretation of student work, focusing on the extent to which answers were correct or not, but were dialogic in their proposed actions, using students' ideas to make suggestions on how to move students forward. The major feature that differentiates Personality B from A is that  personality B’s often tend to propose laboratory activities for students based on their responses. They do this either to enhance their students' interest or to elicit more about students’ ideas. This is in contrast with Personality A’s, where teachers suggest reteaching or directly coaxing students toward specific content in their acting.  Descriptive noticing teachers tend to focus on the level of specificity in students' responses by highlighting strengths and/or weaknesses, subsequently acting to increase student engagement as a means to develop general science skills such as experimentation. Alternately, teachers who notice inferentially build inferences from student responses that then support evaluations of the correctness of students' responses. They would then suggest that students explore their ideas further through practices such as experimenting, drawing, or engaging in peer review.

Personality C: Inferential noticing, dialogic interpreting and authoritative acting

Teachers who assumed formative assessment personality C take a dialogic approach to interpreting student work, seeking to make sense of students’ ideas. Personality C’s propose actions that direct students toward normative scientific understanding. They seek to unpack student thinking to figure out what the student does or does not understand about particular chemistry topics. This information is then used to develop next steps to move students forward toward a targeted scientific understanding. Personality C teachers’ dialogic sense-making interpreting can yield deep insights about possible student thinking, especially ways the students might think about the submicroscopic level.  

Personality D: Inferential noticing, dialogic interpreting and dialogic acting

Teachers whose formative assessment personalities fit personality D adopt a dialogic approach in both interpreting student work and proposing actions to further elicit or advance student understanding. They seek to make sense of students’ ideas and propose to allow students to use their ideas to complete the FA task. Teachers with this combination use formative assessment data to better understand how students reason through problems in chemistry. They use what they uncover about student reasoning to propose actions that push students to engage in deeper chemical thinking guided by their own ideas. 2

The value of categorizing teachers professional noticing

Categorizing how teachers notice, interpret and act can be useful to teachers in gauging whether their own noticing tends to focus primarily on what students know and can do, or whether they also focus on variety in how students think. It would benefit all teachers to consider their tendencies and personalities (A, B, C, D), and to attempt to purposefully diversify their repertoire. Excellent professional development to support experienced chemistry teachers in continued diversification of their teaching practices and intentionality in their implementation could be developed surrounding this model. This careful reflection and analysis is made possible by using rich, open-ended formative assessment tasks such as the volcano probe, as they make it possible for students to engage in ways that reveal their thinking.


1. .  Dini, V., Sevian, H., Caushi, K., & Orduña Picón, R. (2020). Characterizing the formative assessment enactment of experienced science teachers. Science Education, 104 (2), 290-325.

2. Exploring Teacher Noticing, Interpreting, and Acting in Response to Written Student Work.  Stephanie A. Murray, Robert Huie, Rebecca Lewis, Scott Balicki, Michael Clinchot, Gregory Banks, Vicente Talanquer, and Hannah Sevian.  (2020) Unpublished manuscript.