Oftentimes, assessment garners many negative associations by researchers in the education field, however, in my opinion this is often the result of ineffective assessment by teachers and teacher educators. In Moving Beyond the “Get it or Don’t” Conception of Formative Assessment, Valerie Otero explores the idea of effective formative assessment and how pre-service teachers’ conception of students’ prior knowledge influences their teaching. She categorized the influence of the student preconception with two emphases, a “get it or don’t” or a “knowledge in formation” approach by the teacher. The first approach is categorized as a practice where teachers interpret the students’ prior knowledge as correct or incorrect academic concepts to determine whether or not they have to teach that academic concept. This is often a result of the evaluation that the teachers have participated in throughout their lives. This approach often limits student learning by preventing them from bridging the gap between experience and knowledge. Professor Otero argues the conception of prior knowledge explained by Vygotsky is a more effective teaching model. In this model the teacher “uses her or his understanding of students’ prior knowledge to make instructional decisions that lead to the development of intermediate objectives, feedback, and relevant instruction.” (Otero, 2006, 255). Essentially, the teacher evaluates the students’ knowledge of the academic and experienced based concepts and use these as a starting point of instruction and look to improve upon that knowledge (treating the knowledge as knowledge in formation). Educators of pre-service teachers who apply this model to their education classrooms can more effectively demonstrate to their students how they in turn can bridge this experience and academic concept gap in their classrooms (Otero, 2006, 255).
In teacher preparation, the Vygotsky based theory of formative assessment is integral because teachers and teacher educators who recognize their knowledge as knowledge in formation are better prepared to recognize the value of students’ knowledge. After all, most learners find it easier to build upon prior knowledge when learning material as opposed to having the material dissociated from prior experience and viewed as a completely new and isolated material. If a student feels as if they have some knowledge of the material, they will feel more comfortable asking and investigating questions about the subject. This makes the application of Vygotsky’s theory enhanced model of formative assessment a cornerstone of inquiry-based teaching. Therefore, applying this model to pre-service teachers in programs emphasizing inquiry-based teaching is the ideal approach as it subjects teachers to the practice they are about to apply. I myself am a pre-service teacher. While taking classes, I spend four hours per week in a classroom where I either teach or observe the class. In my education study, myself and other students are often frustrated because we have not been exposed to this teaching method before the university setting, and thus have a limited basis for applying this when we step in front of a classroom. Essentially, we have to attempt to come up with methods for analyzing our students’ knowledge and creating inquiry based lessons when a majority of our lives have been in lecture-based format. This can make these tasks daunting, and intimidating because oftentimes the schools we teach in have similarly not been exposed to inquiry-based lesson plans. However, through numerous discussions with students I have seen a far greater understanding of biological material when I treat their initial knowledge as knowledge in formation and not a misconception. Instead of directly contradicting their ideas, I attempt to mold their ideas to meet those of scientists. For example, many of my students have believed that the only cell types are viruses, bacteria, animal, and plant cells when entering my biology classroom. In such cases I present students with protists and have them debate what type of cell this is before talking about other classifications of cells. Through these discussions the students learn more about the characteristics of the cells they thought they knew and begin to define new cell types through examining how cells such as protists don’t fit into their old schemas. However, when other students have simply corrected the students’ arguments, the students often become confused and don’t analyze what the difference between a protist and a plant cell or a protist and a bacterial cell. Thus, in my own life I have found the application of formative assessment in conjunction with the belief that knowledge is knowledge in formation extremely helpful in furthering my own students understanding.