Tale of Excellence Term Paper

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Tale of Excellence

The World Around Us: A Fifth Grade Unit Plan for Social Studies

Research has shown that formative assessment is beneficial to both teachers and students. The World Around Us is a unit plan for a fifth grade social studies class. The unit contains three cross-curricular lesson plans. Each one includes a description of a plan for formative assessment that the teacher can use immediately to inform instruction. Elements of effective assessment design are discussed. The three lesson plans are shown to incorporate some of these elements. An analysis of students' learning demonstrates the effectiveness of the lesson plans and the formative assessments that were designed for each one.


The World Around Us is a fifth grade social studies unit designed to raise awareness of countries and cultures outside the United States. The three lesson plans created for the unit are entitled People, Money, and Music. In People, students will use maps as tools during discussions of the countries of origin for the colonists who settled in America at the time of the nation's founding. In Money, students will have the opportunity to look at money from other countries and cooperatively solve math word problems. The Music lesson gives students a very small sampling of the universal language of music with some instruction and practice with a simple instrument, the recorder. Each lesson within the unit contains a plan for formative assessment.

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Term Paper on Tale of Excellence Assignment

Educational reforms over the last twenty years have forced educators to place increased emphasis on standardized testing, although a number of researchers and educators have raised concerns about the negative effects of this approach on schools and students (Aschbacher, 2002; Herman & Golan, 1991; Linn, 2005, as cited in Aschbacher & Alonzo, 2006). Research suggests that formative assessment can enrich the classroom experience for both teachers and students. The purpose of formative assessment is to figure out what the student understands in addition to the "how" and "why" of that understanding as a means to optimize teaching and learning. "Formative assessment can be formal or informal and includes eliciting, analyzing, and responding to information about student understanding" (Ruiz-Primo & Furtak, 2004, as cited in Aschbacher & Alonzo, 2006). Understanding how students learned -- or how they did not -- will help a teacher to develop future lessons. Understanding students' learning will enable a teacher to decide how to proceed with a particular topic of study and whether students require re-teaching, perhaps with a different approach, or can engage fully in enrichment activities after demonstrating mastery of the material presented.

This is not to say that formative assessments must be graded, or even done in a formal way. The purpose of a formative assessment is to see how students are doing while they are in the learning process, as opposed to a summative assessment, which is designed to measure how much learning took place. One can think of formative assessments as practice for students, "just like a meaningful homework assignment (Chappuis & Chappuis, 2007/2008, cited in Dodge, n.d.).

In the World Around Us, there were three lessons with opportunities for formative assessment. In People, the teacher could listen students as they discussed the American colonies and the different European groups who populated. Based on her own understanding of the subject, the teacher could decide whether the students had sufficiently researched their topics to participate meaningfully in a discussion with their peers. The teacher could also assess the students' ability to engage in the lesson and make accommodations for different learning styles if the assessments indicated that this was necessary.

For Money, the teacher could again listen to students' conversations as they worked collaboratively to solve the math problems. Discussion of the math problems as a class, once students were finished working, would provide another opportunity for formative assessment. By showing their work, either on paper or a whiteboard, students give their teacher an opportunity to see the process used for solving the problems. The teacher could use that information immediately to inform instruction.

The Music lesson also provides the teacher with an opportunity for formative assessment. Students are taught to play three notes on a recorder. As the teacher listens to students play, she can immediately determine whether or not a student is producing the correct tone and provide further instruction, as needed.

Elements of Effective Assessment Design

Perhaps the important consideration for effective assessment design is determining the level of achievement students should demonstrate. A component of any lesson is an achievable standard by which students can be measured. The "feedback loop" (Bejar, 2007) is a term used to describe the process whereby a teacher uses the assessment result to inform instruction. To put it simply, the teacher does not know if the student "arrived" if she did not first specify the destination!

In the World Around Us, the three lesson plans include outlines for formative assessments. In the future, the teacher should specify desired outcomes in terms of student achievement for each activity. For People, for example, the formative assessment might look at the types of questions students asked each other in their discussion groups. The teacher may determine ahead of time that students should ask questions that require factual answers as well as questions that demonstrate higher-order thinking. Listening to students raise such questions will enable the teacher to determine the students' level of understanding. For Money, the standards set forth in the formative assessment may require that students get a certain percentage of the word problems correct and/or solve them within a specified time limit. With Music, the teacher may decide that students should play the march on their recorders with no more than two errors.


The World Around Us incorporated cooperative learning strategies, movement, and music. Students were engaged in the three lessons and performed as expected. Collaborative work seemed to lessen tensions students might otherwise feel when giving presentations. Collaborative work also served to minimize frustration as students tackled learning objectives that may have seemed more challenging had they been working individually. The Music component of the unit was particularly enjoyable for students. It provided them an opportunity to do an activity that was a bit outside the norm for a social studies lesson.

Dodge (n.d.) makes in clear that teachers must make time for formative assessment. Teachers sometimes complain that assessments take up too much of students' valuable learning time. More time spent teaching means more learning, right? No. "Students are actually learning less. Without time to reflect on and interact meaningfully with new information, students are unlikely to retain much of what is "covered" in their classrooms."

Teachers, and new teachers especially, must remember the importance of assessments when designing their lessons and unit plans. As one creates the learning objectives and activities, one must always keep in mind the destination. How are students going to get where the teacher wants them to go? How will the teacher measure students' progress along the way? How will the teacher use the information gained from formative assessments to tailor the content and the delivery method for all students and all learning styles? These are the questions an effective teacher will bear in mind in the design of good learning experiences for the students.


Aschenbacher, P., & Alonzo, a. (2006). Examining the utility of elementary science notebooks for formative assessment purposes. Educational Assessment 11(3 & 4), 179 -- 203.

Bejar, I.I. (2007). Considering the implications of assessment design decisions: Some lessons learned in the American context. Measurement, 5(1), p. 57-62.

Dodge, J. (n.d.). What are formative assessments and why should we use them? Scholastic Professional, http://www2.scholastic.com/browse/article.jsp?id=3751398

Summary Table: Changes to the Lesson Plans for the World Around Us

Lesson Plan Title

Old Lesson Plan

Revised Lesson Plan


Assessment: (Summative) the teacher will let the students chose… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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