Chapter 3 – Literature Review and Conceptualisation of the Study
This chapter presents the literature relevant to a discussion of assessment strategies in
Physics and the conceptual framework of the study. It starts by presenting the research
questions and the sources used to find out what is already known about the research
questions (3.1). The method used to review the literature, as well as the keywords used to
search the information, are also presented in this section. The definition of terms used in
this research, and a number of different learning theories used as a platform to guide the
discussion are presented and discussed in Sections 3.2 and 3.3 respectively. Section 3.4
begins with presenting arguments in favour of constructivism as central to Science
learning (3.4.1). It also presents and discusses arguments about the roles of both teachers
(3.4.2) and students (3.4.3) in assessment, and contexts within which different assessment
strategies can be considered (3.4.4). The contributions from various authors who worked
within the African context are presented and discussed in Section 3.5 as methodological
illustrations for the educational design research approach to research on interventions.
Drawing from the literature review findings and contextualising the problem posed by the
research questions, Section 3.6 presents the issues used to address the main research
question adequately.
3.1 Introduction
The research questions of this study are: What assessment strategies do secondary school
Physics teachers in Mozambique apply, and how can they be improved? In order to find
an answer to these questions, two research phases were considered. Firstly, the study
investigated through a survey approach the assessment practices used by secondary school
Chapter 3 – Literature Review and Conceptualisation of the Study
teachers in schools. The research question addressed by the Baseline Survey, as referred to
in Chapter 1, is:
What assessment strategies do Grade 12 teachers in Physics in Mozambique apply
and what can be said about their quality?
The second component of the study was characterised by an intervention approach aimed
at improving some of the assessment practices used by Physics teachers in schools. The
Intervention Study addressed the following research question (refer also to Chapter 1):
How can teacher assessment strategies be improved?
Both the Baseline Survey and the Intervention Study were informed by the literature
To find out what is already known from the literature about the two study phases, various
sources were reviewed both in printed form and electronically. General open source
software articles and information were used in order to gain a global idea of the current
assessment strategies used by Grade 12 teachers in Physics, as well as the quality of these
strategies. Keywords like ‘assessment strategies’, ‘assessment toolkits’, ‘science toolkits’,
and ‘mechanical Physics and assessment’ (for Grade 12 or its equivalent) were used to
obtain information on what is known about the research question addressed by the survey
approach and what the relevant arguments of several scholars are on assessment for
learning Physics in general. Thus, the information obtained from the review of these
keywords was used to inform the Baseline Survey, particularly in terms of the
characteristics of assessment strategies and teaching practices.
The research question addressed by the intervention component of the study was also
informed by the keywords referred to above, but the following additional search terms
were also used: ‘performance assessments’, ‘formative assessment’, ‘summative
assessment’, ‘prototypes’ and ‘demonstration experiments in secondary education’. The
term ‘demonstration experiments’, is included in this list because, in Science education
Chapter 3 – Literature Review and Conceptualisation of the Study
literature, it has been used with different interpretations. Some authors have been using it
with the same meaning as ‘laboratory experiments’. This term in this dissertation, refers to
activities in the Physics classroom in which students observe, carry out small experiments,
interpret phenomena or events occurring to objects, and report the findings, and are all
guided by a teacher and teaching materials. In general, relevant considerations following
from these keywords are that the future of assessment nowadays depends on the ability to
assess student skills in performing tasks; on the power of formative assessment in
monitoring student learning; on the role of summative assessment for accountability
purposes; and on the importance of demonstration experiments in science subjects
(Airasian, 2001; Black & Atkin, 1996; Gardner, 2006; Popham, 2002; Race et al., 2005).
Besides using scientific literature from the academic libraries of the University of Pretoria
and the Eduardo Mondlane University, other sources were explored by using the
following search engines on the internet:
-Academic Information System (University library);
- CAB abstracts;
-Google scholar;
-ISI web of science;
-Science direct; and
-Tucks (electronic journals for which the University of Pretoria has a subscription).
Table 3.1 indicates which keywords were used in which database search engines.
Chapter 3 – Literature Review and Conceptualisation of the Study
Table 3.1: Database search engines
ISI web
Assessment strategies
Assessment toolkits
Formative assessment
experiments in secondary
Mechanical Physics and
Prototypes and Physics
Performance assessments
Science toolkits
Summative assessment
A significant number of books and articles were found from all these sources. A
subsequent selection was made on the basis of years of publication, the education level,
and the context. Although the review considered non-African contexts (especially
European and American), the focus was on those references reporting research undertaken
within and about an African context, or with some similar characteristics, written during
the period 1996-2006, and on Grade 12 in Mozambique.
During the review of the databases and search engines, it emerged that some relevant
authors were quoted frequently. As the central areas of this research are classroom
assessment (both formative and summative), performance assessment, and Physics
learning, the literature review focused on authors in these areas, such as: Airasian (2000,
2001), Black (1998), Black and Atkin (1996), Black et al., (2003), Dekkers (1997), Harlen
(2006), Kathy and Burke (2003), McMillan (2001), Moskal (2003), Muller (2006),
Mutimucuio (1998), Popham (2002), Race et al., (2005), Stiggins (1987), Treagust et al.,
(1996), and Weeden et al., (2002).
Chapter 3 – Literature Review and Conceptualisation of the Study
Current writings (such as theses) in the field of Science teaching and learning and
reporting investigations within the African context and elsewhere often follow a
educational design research approach. As this approach is relevant when addressing the
intervention research question, a number of dissertations (viz. Mafumiko, 2006; Motswiri,
2004; Ottevanger, 2001; Tecle, 2006) have been included in the literature review as well.
Given the research questions for this study, the literature review focused specifically on
issues related to the ‘assessment strategies’ used for Science subjects, the type of ‘learning
evidence’ in ‘alternative’, ‘authentic’, ‘formative’, and ‘performance’ kinds of assessment,
and the role of both teachers and students in assessment. In summary, all of the authors
reviewed emphasise the need to improve the current teachers’ assessment strategies in
Having presented the research questions being addressed by both the Baseline Survey and
the Intervention Study, as well as the sources for the literature review, the next sections
deal with: definitions of terms mostly used in the dissertation (3.2); the arguments of
several authors on the theoretical orientation of assessment in education (3.3); the roles of
teachers and students in assessment; and the need to improve current assessment strategies
in Science, with particular emphasis in Physics teaching and learning (3.4).
3.2 Definition of terms
In this dissertation, several key terms are frequently used. For the purpose of the present
study and for the reader’s convenience, definitions of key terms used in this study are
presented in this section. However, before doing this, it is relevant to clarify the
distinction between assessment for learning and assessment of learning. According to
Black et al., (2003) assessment for learning is any assessment where the first priority is to
serve the purpose of promoting student learning. This kind of assessment is usually
informal, embedded in all aspects of teaching and learning, and conducted differently by
different teachers as part of their own individual teaching styles. Assessment of learning is
for grading and certification, occurs in formal settings or rituals, involves non-frequent
Chapter 3 – Literature Review and Conceptualisation of the Study
tests, is isolated from normal teaching and learning, is carried out on special occasions,
and is conducted by methods over which individual teachers have little or no control. This
study is about assessment for learning.
In this section, the following concepts and terms will be defined and discussed namely:
assessment, authentic assessment, classroom assessment, formative assessment, paperand-pencil tests, peer-assessment, performance assessment, portfolios, projects and
The term ‘assessment’ is defined in the Glossary of the 1999 Standards for Educational
and Psychological Testing as “any systematic method of obtaining information (from tests
and other sources) to draw inferences about characteristics of people, objects or programs”
(Chatterji, 2003). Airasian (2001) defines assessment as the process of collecting,
synthesising, and interpreting information to aid in decision-making. For this author,
assessment involves more than administering, scoring and grading paper-and-pencil tests,
and includes the full range of information teachers gather in their classrooms. This
information helps teachers to understand their students, monitor instruction and establish a
viable classroom culture. Given the two definitions, the researcher’s perception of
assessment is that, when the term is used to refer to assessment processes, the activities
include writing items or designing an assessment tool, making observations or gathering
data using an assessment tool, scoring responses from an assessment tool, developing a
scale with specified properties, and administering an instrument using prescribed
guidelines. Briefly, the term assessment in the present study is used to refer to a variety of
ways teachers gather, synthesise, and interpret information.
In this study, all kinds of assessments used by teachers in schools, from the traditional
approaches of paper-and pencil tests to a more constructivist and dynamic process of
gathering information following some prescribed guidelines are termed assessment
practices or assessment strategies.
Chapter 3 – Literature Review and Conceptualisation of the Study
Authentic assessment
This is the form of assessment in which students are asked to perform real-world tasks that
demonstrate meaningful application of essential knowledge and skills. McMillan (2001)
for instance, defines authentic assessment as an assessment that is constructed to be more
consistent with what people do in situations that occur naturally outside classroom. An
authentic assessment usually includes a task for students to perform and a rubric by which
their performance on the task will be evaluated. In order to determine whether authentic
assessment is successful, the school must ask students to perform meaningful tasks that
replicate real world challenges to see if students are capable of doing so (Wiggins, 1993).
The Mozambican curriculum goals stated in the Physics Syllabus for Grades 11 and 12
emphasise that “the starting point for students’ knowledge acquisition is practical work
and the nature and its phenomena is the stepping stone for proving any formulated
hypothesis” (MinEd, 1997:1). This shows that authentic assessment drives the curriculum.
Teachers have to determine the tasks that students will perform to demonstrate their
mastery, and then a curriculum is developed that will enable students to perform those
tasks well. Some educators (Meyer, 1992; Stiggins, 1987) distinguish authentic
assessment from performance assessment by defining performance assessment as
performance-based, but with no reference to the authentic nature of the task.
Classroom assessment
Popham (2002) defines ‘classroom assessment’ as the assessment that comprises a number
of assessment decisions taken by the teacher during the teaching and learning process.
These decisions occur mainly within the classroom environment, or are informed by the
classroom climate. In some educational systems the term ‘classroom assessment’ is
referred to as ‘non-standardised assessment’ meaning that the assessments are constructed
by teachers, specifically for classroom use, and focused on the particular type of
instruction provided in that classroom (Airasian, 2001). The information from classroom
assessment is used to provide feedback about the performance of students in a single class,
not of students in other classes. In the present study, the term classroom assessment is
used to refer to all kind of assessments undertaken by the teachers in the classroom during
Chapter 3 – Literature Review and Conceptualisation of the Study
the instruction process. Therefore, the terms ‘classroom assessment’ and ‘teacher
assessment’ are used interchangeably.
Formative assessment
According to Black et al., (2003:122) “formative assessment is a process, one in which
information about learning is evoked and then used to improve the teaching and learning
activities in which teachers and students are engaged”. This definition takes the idea of
formative assessment beyond the ‘micro-summative’ assessments of classroom tests and
homework. It broadens the sources of evidence and solidifies the notion of what should be
done with the evidence. The sources from which evidence can be drawn do not exclude
information gathered from formal assessments, but more important than the source of
evidence is the idea that the information obtained affects subsequent teaching and learning
Paper-and-pencil tests
Paper-and-pencil tests are assessments in which students write their responses to questions
or problems (Airasian, 2001). Examples of paper-and-pencil tests are essays, multiplechoice tests, written assignments, written reports, a drawn picture, or a filling in of a
worksheet. In general, paper-and-pencil tests are of two types: selection type – where the
student responds to each question by selecting an answer from the choices provided, and
supply type – which requires a student to produce or construct a response to a question or
Generally, peer-assessment is an assessment of the work of others by people of equal
status and power. The term can also be used to describe approaches to accountability
carried out on behalf of government agencies. In the context of student learning, peerassessment may be divided into the giving and receiving of feedback and making formal
estimates of worth of other students’ work (Brown et al., 1997). It usually involves an
element of mutuality and, beneath the processes of giving and receiving feedback, there
are implicit criteria of what counts as ‘good’ for different purposes and contexts. The
Chapter 3 – Literature Review and Conceptualisation of the Study
students’ notions of ‘good’ and ‘poor’ can be generated in large group classes and tutorials
and so provide a basis for reflective learning and more formal peer-assessment. Thus,
peer-assessment is rather a tool for learning than a tool for summative assessment.
Performance assessment
The length of responses in items where the student has to supply a response can vary
substantially. When, for instance, a student is required to produce complex constructions
such as Science experiments reports, book reviews and/or class projects, these
assessments are termed performance assessments. As the term suggests, performance
assessment requires a demonstration of student skills or knowledge (Moskal,
2003). Performance assessment can take many different forms, which include written and
oral demonstrations and activities that can be completed by either a group or an
individual. A factor that distinguishes performance assessments from other extended
response activities is that they require students to demonstrate the application of
knowledge to a particular context. Through observation or analysis of a student's
response, the teacher can determine what the student knows, what the student does not
know, and what misconceptions the student has with respect to the purpose of the
Portfolios (in education)
Portfolios, in general, constitute the chief method by which certain professionals such as
models, artists, photographers, architects, and journalists display their skills and
accomplishments. In the domain of education, a portfolio is a systematic collection of a
selected student work (Popham, 2002). It engages students in assessing their own progress
or accomplishments over time and establishes ongoing learning goals. A portfolio is not
an unrelated collection of student’s work but contains consciously selected examples of
work that are intended to show student’s growth toward important learning goals.
Chapter 3 – Literature Review and Conceptualisation of the Study
Projects are purposeful activities of a student or a group of students with a limited
duration. They can be finished products which include all written tasks that the students
do and which reflect a certain development process of collecting, interpreting and
reporting data (Brown et al., 1997). Thus, they are usually carried out in the final year of
the course but also may be used in the first year of the course to encourage students to
become active, independent students. Projects may be laboratory-based, library-based,
work-based, studio-based or community-based. The main purpose of the projects is to
develop enquiry-based student skills. While projects enables a student to explore deeply a
field or topic, develop an initiative, provide personal ownership of learning and enhance
time- and project-management skills, they have a disadvantage of being time consuming
to set up, monitor and provide feedback.
A prototype is a model upon which other similar materials are based. It represents all
products that are designed before the final product is constructed and fully implemented in
practice (Nieveen, 1999). In its initial stage, a prototype can be developed, discussed and
modified as required to build consensus. It is, therefore, designed with particular care. In
the process of developing a prototype, developers come to an agreement on what to show
and how to show it. In the context of the present study, prototypes are physical exemplary
materials on teaching and assessment strategies for teachers to use in the classroom that
demonstrate the acquisition of student skill and are based on a set of established
performance criteria.
This section has presented and discussed the terms or concepts frequently used in the
dissertation. The next Section (3.3) provides a number of perspectives of different authors
on assessment, which serve as a theoretical orientation to the study.
Chapter 3 – Literature Review and Conceptualisation of the Study
3.3 Theoretical orientation in assessment
In this section, three aspects are regarded as being relevant for providing a theoretical
orientation in classroom-based assessment for this study. The aspects are: (i) the objective
of assessment and the process of giving feedback to students; (ii) the need for teachers to
conduct effective assessment for learning; and (iii) the teachers’ preparedness on
conducting assessment that can generate evidence of authentic learning.
In terms of the first aspect and according to several authors (Black, 1998; Black et al.,
2003, Kathy & Burke, 2003; Lin & Gronlund, 2000), assessment may be conducted to
serve different purposes, such as assessment to satisfy demands for public accountability;
assessment to report an individual’s achievements; and assessment to support learning.
The focus of assessment in this study falls within the latter purpose (supporting learning)
because the study aims to improve those assessment practices that teachers apply. The
rationale of focusing on this purpose is that the main aim of schools is to promote student
learning and the teacher needs constant information about what the students know. Ideally,
assessment should provide short-term feedback so that obstacles can be identified and
tackled at an early stage in the learning process. This is particularly important where the
learning plan is such that progress with one week’s work depends on a grasp of the ideas
discussed in the previous week. This type of assessment aims at improving learning, and is
called formative assessment or assessment for learning.
It is clear that this assessment is the responsibility of the classroom teacher, but others,
inside and outside the school might support this work by providing appropriate training
and methods for conducting such an assessment. In Science subjects like Physics,
however, evidence that a formative assessment is really improving learning must be
accompanied by a type of assessment where students are asked to perform real-world tasks
and demonstrate the meaningful application of knowledge and skills. This leads to what
McMillan (2001) calls authentic assessment and its success depends very much on support
that the teacher must receive from various educational stakeholders inside and outside the
school. Therefore, in providing such support to teachers, Nuttall (cited in Kathy & Burke,
Chapter 3 – Literature Review and Conceptualisation of the Study
2003), argues that it is relevant for teachers to know how to generate evidence of authentic
learning. Authentic learning, as the Physics Syllabus for Grades 11 and 12 recommends, is
crucial for learning science and specifically experimental subjects like Physics. Nuttall
(1987) also describes a number of criteria for tasks that validly assess learning, namely: (i)
tasks that are concrete and within the experience of the individual; (ii) tasks that are
presented clearly; and (iii) tasks that are perceived as relevant to the current concerns of
the student. The value of these tasks, in researcher’s opinion, allows students to
demonstrate good performance because they promote interaction between students and the
teacher. In addition, they allow the teacher to get into the students’ thinking and reasoning
and to evaluate their potential.
Bell and Cowie (2001) distinguish between two types of formative assessment, namely
planned formative assessment and interactive formative assessment. These authors suggest
that planned formative assessment is used to elicit permanent evidence of students’
thinking, and such assessment occasions are semi-formal and may occur at the beginning
and end of a topic. A specific assessment activity is set for the purpose of providing
evidence that is used to improve learning. All the information is elicited through the task
set and the teacher and the student act on this information with reference to the topic itself,
with reference to the students’ previous performance, and with reference to how the
students and the teacher are proposing to take learning forward. Interactive formative
assessment is described by Bell and Cowie (2001) as taking place during student-teacher
interaction. This refers to the incidental or ongoing formative assessment that arises out of
learning activity and cannot be anticipated.
As is the case with planned assessment, in interactive formative assessment the purpose is
to improve learning by mediating the student learning. The process involves the teachers
noticing, recognising and responding to students’ thinking and it is more teacher- and
student-driven than curriculum-driven. Unlike the kind of permanent information that
accrues from planned assessment, this kind of assessment generates information that is
ephemeral. The latter kind of formative assessment is crucial for this study because it is
Chapter 3 – Literature Review and Conceptualisation of the Study
important for enhancing student learning, and therefore, the teacher must be supported in
knowing how to react in relation to what is deemed at the time to be worth noticing in the
student. Unlike in the planned formative assessment where there is a longer time gap in
responding, in the interactive formative assessment, the teacher’s response is immediate,
and the kind of planning that can still be made is on how to facilitate dialogue and tasks
between him/her and the students. In an interactive assessment, students are given
opportunity to argue about the assessment tasks and to challenge teachers’ responses to
their questions.
As for the importance of immediate and ongoing feedback, Race et al., (2005) elaborate
on how quality feedback can best be given to students. Amongst the several aspects of
quality feedback referred to by these authors, they mention the following aspects of
quality feedback: (i) time - the sooner the feedback is given the better; (ii) personality - it
needs to fit each students’ achievement; (iii) expressed - whether congratulatory or
critical; and (iv) empowerment - both congratulatory and critical feedback must not
dampen learning, but rather strengthen and consolidate it.
In conclusion, for the assessment objectives and feedback, three major aspects provide
orientation to the review on assessment for this study. Firstly, the assessment is carried out
to support learning, therefore, the provision of feedback should be on a short-time basis so
that obstacles in the learning process can be tackled in good time (Black, 1998; Race et al.,
2005). Secondly, teachers need to have at their disposal certain students’ tasks that can
validly assess particular learning and generate evidence of authentic learning (Kathy &
Burke, 2003; Lin & Gronlund, 2000; Popham, 2002). Thirdly, immediate and ongoing
feedback is crucial to facilitate student-teacher interaction (Bell & Cowie, 2001; Race et
al., 2005).
With reference to carrying out an effective assessment for learning, it is worth mentioning
that it requires having students actively engaged in finding solutions to problems they face
and developing the ability to construct knowledge. In this process, the role of the teachers
as facilitators is crucial in monitoring the assessment practice. James (2006), on the
relationship between assessment practice and the ways in which the processes and
Chapter 3 – Literature Review and Conceptualisation of the Study
outcomes of learning are understood, argues that three theories of learning and their
implications for assessment practice can be distinguished. These are discussed below.
Behaviourism: this is where the environment for learning is the determining
factor, the learning is the conditioned response to external stimuli, and rewards and
punishments are the powerful ways of forming or eradicating habits. The
implications for assessment practice are that the progress is measured by timed
tests, performance is interpreted as either correct or incorrect, and poor
performance is remedied by more practice in the incorrect items.
Constructivism: this is where the learning environment is determined by prior
knowledge - what goes on in people’s minds - emphasis is on ‘understanding’, and
problem solving is the context for knowledge construction through deductive and
inductive reasoning. The implications for assessment are that self-monitoring and
self-regulation are relevant dimensions of learning, and the role of the teacher is to
help ‘novices’ to acquire ‘expert’ understanding of conceptual structures and
processing strategies to solve problems. When students are involved in the
construction of their own learning through formative assessment, they develop the
ability to monitor and regulate their learning agenda.
Socio-culturalism: this is where learning occurs in an interaction between the
individual and the social environment. Thinking is conducted through actions that
alter the situation and the situation changes the thinking. The implication is that,
prior to learning, there is a need to develop social relationships through language,
because it represents the central element to our capacity of thinking.
It has been argued that the latter theory is not yet well worked out in terms of its
implications for teaching and assessment (James, 2006). Teaching and learning tasks need
to be more collaborative and students need to be involved in the generation of problems
and of solutions, because the current perspective of assessment within this perspective is
still inadequately conceptualised. For the context of this study, the constructivist theory of
learning is recommendable. The reason is that the Mozambican teaching system
emphasises the importance of considering children’s prior knowledge before helping them
understand other conceptual structures. The implication of this choice for assessment is
Chapter 3 – Literature Review and Conceptualisation of the Study
that this construction of children’s own learning can be easily facilitated through
formative assessment advocated by this study.
Regarding teachers’ readiness to conduct assessment, i.e., what teachers need to know in
order to assess learning and to generate evidence of authentic learning, James and Pedder
(2006) explain that, as a pre-condition to enhance assessment for learning, changing
pedagogical practice should be taken into account, particularly with the roles of both
teachers and students. Teachers should be supported in developing skills to plan
assessment, interpret learning evidence, and provide feedback to students and support
them in assessing their work and that of their peers. This means that teachers need to
practise new roles and try and evaluate new ways of thinking. Students should also be
helped to take on new roles as students. They should understand the learning goals and
identify the criteria used for assessing their progress, develop skills of peer and selfassessment, and make progress through constructive formative feedback from peers and
their teacher. This implies developing a language and eagerness for talking about teaching
and learning.
Within this framework, the present literature review seeks, amongst other issues, to
understand how teachers, who have been trained following a behaviourist theory of
learning (Buendía Gomez, 1999; Sitoe, 2006), can facilitate student learning (and
assessment) in a constructivist approach, as advocated by the Mozambican syllabus and
recommended by recent literature, without neglecting socio-cultural relationships. In fact,
for improved Physics learning, an effective formative assessment carried out in
conjunction with authentic assessment, as argued earlier on, can better be achieved if
implemented taking into account different learning theories. Students learn Physics better
when their prior knowledge is taken into account and when their ability to perform realtasks is encouraged (Dekkers, 1997; Mutimucuio, 1998); and this is also the reason why
authentic performance assessment is crucial. The combination of formative and authentic
assessments is very important because, while the performance of real-world tasks is
supported by authentic assessment, the learning of necessary basic concepts and principles
is merely dealt with by formative assessment.
Chapter 3 – Literature Review and Conceptualisation of the Study
3.4 Assessment strategies in Physics
The purpose of this section is to discuss arguments of several authors regarding different
assessment strategies used to assess Physics learning in varied contexts. It begins with
examining the principles of constructivism theory seen as central theory relating to
Science education in general, and to Physics learning in particular. The importance of
performance and authentic assessments in enhancing Physics learning is also discussed in
this part. The second and third parts discuss the role of the teacher and the role of the
students in assessment, respectively. The fourth part presents several arguments of the
authors reviewed about different assessment strategies and the context in which they are
used. Lessons drawn from this section are summarised in the fifth part.
3.4.1 Constructivist views of learning
Constructivism clarifies the views about the nature of human knowing, particularly the
nature of scientific knowledge, as well as a view about learning processes and validation
procedures of the acquired knowledge, and it is seen as a powerful theoretical resource
that maximises student learning (Mutimucuio, 1998; Treagust et al., 1996). Both
psychological and epistemological principles of constructivism emphasise that knowledge
cannot be separated from knowing subject. The epistemological principle states that the
function of cognition is adaptive and enables the student to construct viable explanations
of experiences of the world. The psychological principle states that students do not
passively receive knowledge but they actively build up their knowledge by a cognizing
subject (Treagust et al., 1996). When the assessment of the knowledge is taken into
account this process of building up knowledge becomes somehow problematic due to the
different levels of activities (both manipulative and mental activities) that the students
may be involved and to the different realities (realities accessible via sensory organs, via
theoretical understanding and via instrumentation) where they are living in. Therefore, in
assessment there is a need for consensus about levels of activities and different realities
and for this process of knowledge construction, what the student already knows is of
central importance. Consequently, knowledge about the world is seen as a human
Chapter 3 – Literature Review and Conceptualisation of the Study
construction, and this view of a student as an active agent, constructing his/her own
reality, determines life processes and changes of all living beings (Mutimucuio, 1998;
Piaget, 1972).
Literature on Science education and the perception of the issues pertaining to assessment
strategies in Physics were considered to expand the view on student difficulties when it
comes to assess the learning. Because constructivism is seen as the theoretical framework
on which most research into student thinking and learning is based, the discussion on
assessment strategies on Physics, either in Africa or internationally, is based on this theory
(Mutimucuio, 1998; Treagust et al., 1996). International literature (Airasian, 2001;
Moskal, 2003; Stiggins, 1987) emphasises the role of performance assessment as crucial
in assessing Physics learning. But for students to be able to learn Physics better they
should not only be asked to do performance tasks. They should primarily be able to
understand basic concepts related to the subject. This type of knowledge can be and is
mainly assessed through paper-and-pencil tests, but sometimes with other kinds of
formative assessment. In fact, available research findings indicate that assessing students’
basic skills seems not to be the problem with Mozambican secondary school teachers
(INDE, 2005; Lauchande, 2001). According to this literature, paper-and-pencil tests and
oral questioning have been used by these teachers with successful results at this respect.
The problem is that students are not assessed on their ability to perform real-world tasks,
i.e., their skills or proficiency in doing something. This is the rationale of choosing
performance assessment for this study as one of the assessment strategies that can help
teachers to improve student learning of Physics. This choice will be argued in Chapter 5 as
a conclusion from the Baseline Survey. Performance assessments call upon the students to
demonstrate specific skills and competencies, i.e., to apply the concepts and the
knowledge they have acquired. The form of assessment in which students are asked to
perform real-world tasks that demonstrate meaningful application of essential skills and
knowledge is authentic performance assessment and it is closely related to the
constructivist theory of learning. According to Muller (2006) one of the most critical
features of an authentic assessment is that it usually includes a task for students to perform
with a rubric against which their performance on the task will be evaluated.
Chapter 3 – Literature Review and Conceptualisation of the Study
On the other hand, Muller (2006) discusses the process of evaluating student performance
through rubrics. The author argues that performance assessments are typically criterionreferenced measures where a student performance on a task is determined by matching the
student performance against a set of criteria to determine the degree to which the student
performance meets the criteria for the task. To measure student performance against a predetermined set of criteria, a rubric, or scoring scale, is typically created which contains the
essential criteria for the task and appropriate levels of performance for each criterion. A
rubric is comprised of two components: criteria and levels of performance. For instance,
in a task where a student is asked to assemble an electric circuit (manipulative activity),
one of the criteria could be the student ability to obtain all the necessary equipment for the
task and the other criterion could be the student ability to assemble the circuit properly.
For both criteria, it can be defined whether the level of performance is poor or excellent.
The rubric describes the task itself, i.e., the assembling of the electric circuit. Each rubric
has at least two criteria of good performance and at least two levels of performance at
which that performance was achieved. The criteria are the characteristics of good
performance on a task. For each criterion, the teacher or the evaluator applying the rubric
can determine to what degree the student has met the criterion, i.e., the level of
performance. Table 3.2 shows the components of a rubric as well as the criteria and the
levels of performance that can be used to assess it.
Table 3.2: Components of a rubric
Rubric: Assembling an electric circuit
Levels of performance
Criterion 1: Student
Poor (e.g., from 0 to 1): Basic
Excellent (e.g., from 2 to 4): All
ability to obtain all the
equipment necessary for the electric
equipment for the assembling of the
necessary equipment.
circuit not found
electric circuit in place.
Criterion 2: Student
Poor (e.g., from 0 to 1): Electric circuit
Excellent (e.g., from 2 to 4): Electric
ability to assemble the
not accurately assembled and some
circuit accurately assembled and
circuit properly.
essential parts missing, leading to a
working properly.
malfunctioning of the circuit.
Chapter 3 – Literature Review and Conceptualisation of the Study
In between the levels of performance ‘poor’ and ‘excellent’ some other levels can be
considered namely ‘satisfactory’ and ‘good’ with redistribution of points to fit in the scale
of 0 to 4. Each criterion has its own scoring scale (e.g., from 0 to 4 points) and the scale is
applied along the different levels of performance with a previously established maximum
score (e.g., 20 points). Hence, a rubric appears to be a scoring scale used to assess student
performance in terms of a task-specific set of criteria.
In conclusion, both the psychological and the epistemological principles of constructivism
emphasise that students need to be actively involved in building up their knowledge. In
this process of knowledge construction, the discussion on assessment strategies taking
place in Africa and internationally, emphasises the role of performance assessment as
being crucial for assessing Science subjects. As was referred to earlier on in this
subsection, performance assessment alone cannot help students learn Physics. Other types
of assessment strategies - for instance, paper-and-pencil tests, verbal tests, and portfolios are also important and are needed to assist students to learn the necessary knowledge and
skills in order to do a performance assessment. This study, however, focuses on the use of
performance assessment because the Baseline Survey findings (see Chapter 5) have
indicated that teachers are already achieving some success by using those other types of
assessment leading to the successful completion of a performance assessment. Assessment
with these characteristics will be argued in Chapter 5 as a conclusion from the Baseline
Survey. Performance assessment deals with the role of students on demonstrating their
skills and competencies, as well as the role of the teachers in monitoring the learning
process and in evaluating the levels of such performances.
The following subsections addresses firstly, the role of the teacher in assessment and
secondly, that of the students. Thirdly, arguments of various authors about different
assessment strategies applied to different contexts are presented and discussed as platform
for designing the improved assessment strategy advocated by this study.
Chapter 3 – Literature Review and Conceptualisation of the Study
The role of the teacher in assessment
Before elaborating any further, it is important to explain the need to improve the current
assessment practice in schools. Effectively, assessment remains the weakest aspect of
teaching and learning in most subjects, including Physics. Nearly all school assessment
policies have weaknesses, which are reflected in corresponding weaknesses in the
assessment practice of teachers. For example, Weeden et al., (2002) argue that, in many
classrooms, the issue is not that teachers are not assessing enough, but that they are not
using the information they collect to help students learn.
The problem being pointed out by the present study is linked to the collection of learning
evidence and it is twofold: (i) that Grade 12 Physics teachers have been using limited
types of assessment (mostly paper-and-pencil tests); and (ii) that also with these limited
types, the collected evidence has only been used for accountability, and not for promoting
learning. A strong argument of this study is that any support for the role that a teacher can
play in the classroom should be directed towards trying to find a solution to this problem.
Race et al., (2005) on the problem of the limited types of assessment used by teachers, for
instance, discuss the importance of putting assessment into context and they stress the
need for teachers to consider several aspects of assessment. These aspects include
knowing why to assess, what to assess, and what the quality is of feedback they should
provide to their students. Regarding the issue of why to assess, these authors argue that
teachers might be supported to understand, amongst other aspects, that assessment is
carried out to guide student improvement and help them to learn from their mistakes
(formative assessment). In relation to what to assess, teachers’ role might be to assess the
‘process’ of how the students are achieving the learning outcomes and in a holistic
approach rather than the ‘product’ (outcome) itself. As for the feedback quality, the
authors emphasise the need for a timely, personal, expressed and empowering feedback
for student learning. The authors’ argument is that the use of a variety of assessment types
will support and inform student learning. Contextualised learning is in line with a
Chapter 3 – Literature Review and Conceptualisation of the Study
constructivist approach, but one cannot expect to assess different learning skills with
limited assessment types and taking into account different student backgrounds.
In relation to the collection of evidence, Harlen (2006) elaborates on how teachers must be
encouraged to collect student learning evidence as a normal part of class work either in an
informal or formal formative assessment. In particular, the author highlights the
importance of criterion-referenced assessment through which the student’s achievement is
described in terms of what s/he can effectively do, as opposed to norm-referenced
assessment that is based on the ranking of students in order of their achievement. Studentand criterion-referenced assessment must be the basis for judging the evidence, the
feedback must be judged and used by both students and teachers, and the assessment in
general should be directed for learning. The fact is that, according to the available
Mozambican literature (INDE, 2005; Lauchande, 2001), current teacher assessment
practice in Science subjects has a more formal summative character whereby the
collection of evidence is done as a separate task or test. The basis of judgment is criterionreferenced and the assessment is generally an assessment of learning.
The role of students in assessment
The arguments of several authors in Science education (Dekkers, 1997; Harlen, 2006;
Race et al., 2005) suggest that an effective assessment for learning strategies depends,
among other aspects, on active student involvement, their ability to assess their colleagues
and themselves, and on the profound influence assessment has on the motivation and
esteem of the students.
Dekkers (1997), for instance, argues that research on student knowledge of the world
requires a basis of scientific knowledge that the teacher and students share, as well as
effective communication between them. The author is of the opinion that, for the
establishment of such a base of knowledge, it is important to start with establishing which
knowledge is shared. If there is no such basis, no mutual understanding can develop.
Chapter 3 – Literature Review and Conceptualisation of the Study
On the issue of student involvement, Race et al. (2005) argue that the provision of
feedback either to individual or to groups of students helps to improve their active
participation in the learning process. The authors also emphasise that, if a teacher
increases the students’ participation, he/she must allow them to interrogate and challenge
his/her comments. In subjects like Physics, this is crucial because interrogation and the
expression of the student thoughts help to mediate their reasoning. Peer-assessment is
another factor regarded as relevant by these authors for successful assessment. They argue
that students learn more intensely when they have a sense of ownership of the agenda, and
by assessing their peers, they learn from each other’s successes and weaknesses. Providing
or negotiating assessment criteria, gradually introducing peer-assessment, and making
peer-assessment marks meaningful (i.e., making the marks count) are, according to the
same authors, some of the aspects regarded as being useful for a successful peerassessment. In fact, meaningfulness of assessment marks is also crucial in increasing
students’ motivation. On this respect, Harlen (2006) claims that most of the roles that
students can play in assessment in particular, and in learning in general, have much to do
with their motivation. It represents the construct that impels students to spend the time and
effort needed for solving problems and for learning. The author also argues that students
do not only gain motivation as an input from education, but it is also an outcome if they
are able to adapt to the world of changing conditions that occur beyond formal schooling.
When such changes occur rapidly, the motivation of students to learn new skills will be
stronger and their enjoyment of encountering new challenges will be greater.
Consequently, assessment is seen as one of the key factors that affect student motivation.
Still according to Harlen, some authors such as Stiggins (2001), claim that teachers can
enhance or inhibit student desire to learn more quickly through their use of assessment
than through any other instructional means they can use.
Students’ self-esteem is another important factor in learning and assessment (Race et al.,
2005). It is defined as the way people value themselves both as people and as students,
and shows the confidence that the person feels in being able to learn. This means that any
role to be played by students in assessment strongly depends on the level of their own self-
Chapter 3 – Literature Review and Conceptualisation of the Study
esteem. Those students who are confident about their ability to learn will approach any
assessment task with an expectation of success and a determination to overcome
Assessment strategies and the context
Airasian (2001) has pointed out that teachers normally use three main strategies to gather
their assessment information namely, observation, oral questioning, and paper-and-pencil
tests. According to this author, the paper-and-pencil methods is the most important
method teachers use to collect assessment information and they are of two general types of
methods, namely, selection and supply. In the selection type, students respond to each
question by selecting an answer from the choices provided. In supply or constructed
response type, the student produces a response to a question or task. In the selection type,
the advantage is that it provides the maximum degree of control for the question writer, in
a supply-type item, the question writer only has control over the question itself, since the
responsibility for constructing the answer resides with the supplier.
The observation method is one of the major strategy teachers use to collect assessment
data about students, instruction, and learning. It involves watching or listening to students
carry out some activity, or judging a product a student has produced. For example, when
students submit a Science project or set up laboratory experiment, the teachers also
observe and judge what the students have produced. Both planned and unplanned
observations have the advantage of allowing teachers to observe a particular of student
behaviour which is thus considered as important information gathering techniques in
The oral questioning is another method mostly used by teachers not only to collect
assessment information but also for guiding instruction. It can be used to review a
previously taught topic, brainstorm a new topic, find out how well the lesson is being
understood by the students, and to gain the attention of the disturbed students. The
advantage of this strategy is that it allows the teacher to gather information related to
Chapter 3 – Literature Review and Conceptualisation of the Study
assessment without the intrusiveness of administering paper-and-paper assessments.
Formal oral examinations, for instance, are used in subject areas such as foreign language,
singing, and speech. Oral questioning techniques are also seen as vital to complement all
other information gathering strategies.
Other authors discuss many other assessment strategies. With the portfolios strategy, for
instance, it is worth considering arguments by Kemp and Toperoff (1998). These authors
define portfolios as collections of student work representing a selection of performance.
Portfolios may be a folder containing a student’s best pieces, and the student’s evaluation
of the strengths and weaknesses of the pieces. It may also contain one or more works-inprogress that illustrate the creation of a product, such as an essay, evolving through
various stages of conception, drafting, and revision. According to Kemp and Toperoff
(1998), recent changes in education policy in the United States, which emphasise greater
teacher involvement in designing curriculum and assessing students, have been an impetus
to increased portfolio use in schools. They are valued as an assessment tool because, as
representations of classroom-based performance, they can be fully integrated into the
curriculum. And unlike separate tests, they supplement, rather than take time away from
instruction. Moreover, many teachers, educators and researchers believe that portfolio
assessments are more effective than ‘old-style’ tests for measuring academic skills and
informing instructional decisions. Popham (2002) distinguishes some advantages and
disadvantages of portfolios. Portfolio assessments are difficult to evaluate because they
are tailored to individual student’s needs, interests, and abilities and they take time to
carry out properly. On the other hand, however, they are a way of documenting and
evaluating growth and allow student self-evaluation and personal ownership.
Popham (2002) also supports performance assessment. He points out that many teachers
consider short-answer and essay tests a form of performance assessment, which means
that they equate this kind of assessment strategy with any form of constructed-response
assessment. Other authors (Airasian, 2000; Moskal, 2003) contend that genuine
performance assessments must have at least three characteristics. These are: multiple
evaluative criteria, in which the student performance is judged using more than one
Chapter 3 – Literature Review and Conceptualisation of the Study
evaluative criterion; prespecified quality standards, where each of the evaluative criteria
on which a student performance is to be judged, are explicated before judging the quality
of the performance; and judgmental appraisal, where genuine performance assessments
depend on human judgements to determine how acceptable a student performance really
is. For whatever reasons, many advocates of performance assessment prefer that the
student tasks should represent real-world rather than school-world situations (Airasian,
2001; Moskal, 2003; Stiggins, 1987; Wiggins, 1993). Authentic assessment and
alternative assessment are phrases used by some authors (McMillan, 2001; Meyer, 1992;
Stiggins, 1987) to describe performance assessment. Authentic assessment is so
considered because the assessment tasks are more closely linked to real-life and not to
school life, while in alternative assessments the tasks are alternative to those of traditional
paper-and-pencil tests.
3.4.5 When reading from this section
From the several arguments presented and discussed in the above section two major
lessons emerge as relevant for addressing the main research question of the present study:
Firstly, that a number of assessment strategies can be used to assess Physics learning and
the constructivist theory of learning appears to support some of them. Depending on the
assessment objectives being pursued (supply answers or constructed elaborated responses,
learning by doing, guiding instruction, evaluating student work) and on the context in
which the assessment takes place (normal classroom situation, laboratory setting, out-ofschool environment) one can make adequate decisions on which learning theory better suit
which assessment strategy. For this particular study, constructivism is appropriate to guide
students to learn in a laboratory setting with the aim of achieving the goal of learning by
doing. In fact, the Baseline Survey of this study was carried out taking into account both
the assessment objectives sought by the teachers and the context in which these teachers
were assessing their students. The constructivism theory, seen as central for Physics
learning, was influential in this study during the design and development of the exemplary
assessment materials (see Chapter 4).
Chapter 3 – Literature Review and Conceptualisation of the Study
A second lesson from the literature reviewed is that the roles of both teachers and students
are crucial for the success of any assessment strategy. It is important for the teachers to
know why to assess, what to assess, and what the quality is of feedback they should
provide to their students. A criterion-referenced student assessment must be the basis for
judging the learning evidence, the feedback to students must be judged and used by both
students and teachers, and the assessment in general should be directed for learning.
For the students’ perspective, the literature suggests that an effective assessment depends
mainly on their active involvement, their ability to assess their colleagues and themselves,
and on their motivation and self esteem. Therefore, any improvement of assessment
practices can only be effective if it includes those assessment practices or strategies that
emphasise formative approaches as a way of improving student learning. This study then,
addressed these aspects during the Intervention Study through an instructional strategy of
students’ knowledge construction named Predict-Observe-Explain (see Chapter 4, Section
4.3, under design guidelines for the intervention).
Having presented the arguments of various authors on the topic under investigation, the
following section reviews the literature on intervention studies conducted within an
African context in the field of Science education.
3.5 Some intervention studies in science education
The content of this section is presented through two perspectives, namely the findings of
the reviewed intervention studies, and the methodological and substantive implications of
such an approach for the present study.
During the review of the literature, some writings related to research on interventions were
sourced. Most of this literature was in the form of PhD theses written within an African
context and emphasising an educational design research approach as the most suitable for
intervention studies. The writings are rooted in the field of assessment in Science
Chapter 3 – Literature Review and Conceptualisation of the Study
education, and are particularly related to probing students’ understanding of Science using
this approach. From all the authors reviewed in this field, the findings from research by
Mafumiko (2006), Motswiri (2004), Ottevanger (2001) and Tecle (2006) are relevant to
the research reported in this thesis.
For example, the aim of Mafumiko’s study - Micro-scale experimentation as a catalyst for
improving the chemistry curriculum in Tanzania - was to investigate the possible use of a
low-cost approach to practical work that could contribute to improving the teaching and
learning of chemistry in Tanzanian secondary schools. The study focused on designing
and evaluating an intervention of micro-scale experiments to support curriculum materials
at this level. The main research question addressed by this study was ‘what are the
characteristics of micro-scale chemistry materials that contribute to the initial
implementation of practical work in chemistry education in Tanzanian secondary
schools?’ The key findings were that (i) teachers and students were able to implement
most of the lesson activities according to advice provided in the curriculum materials
(classroom implementation); (ii) teachers regarded having access to the support materials
in advance as very helpful for preparation of the lessons in general (opinions about the
study approach); (iii) teachers considered micro-scale experiments as a useful way of
conducting practical work because it enabled them to involve a large number of students
with minimum resources (opinions about conducting practical work); (iv) students
involved in the micro-scale experiments found them helpful in enhancing their learning of
chemistry, made the subject enjoyable and, hence, increased students’ participation in the
lessons (opinions about the approach); (v) students found their involvement in chemistry
micro-scale experiments as increasing their confidence in doing more experiments as well
as their awareness on safety and environment (opinions about learning of chemistry). In
general, these findings indicated that for the teachers, the materials provided adequate
support information during the preparation of students’ practical work with the
development approach which needed less time, and less sophisticated equipment.
Tecle (2006) in The potential of a professional development scenario for supporting
biology teachers in Eritrea addressed the question of ‘what are the characteristics of a
Chapter 3 – Literature Review and Conceptualisation of the Study
professional development scenario that effectively supports biology teachers in Eritrea
implementing a more student-centred approach?’ Similar to Mafumiko’s study, this study
adopted an educational design research approach to guide the analysis, design, evaluation,
and revision processes of the professional development scenario (intervention). This study
found that teachers regarded prototyping of professional development scenario as being
important and useful in providing them support on subject matter knowledge, lesson
organisation, using concepts maps, and handling group activities. However, in some cases
teachers were observed encountering problems with group work activities and throughout
the tryouts, the issue of time continued to be problematic. Teachers needed more time,
particularly in drawing conclusions from the activities. In general, teachers appreciated the
summative evaluation workshop because it provided them with exemplary materials, a
forum for active discussion, the opportunity to observe exemplary practice, and a learning
environment for practicing and augmenting the skills for teaching practically-oriented
biology lessons.
Motswiri (2004) conducted an investigation on Supporting chemistry teachers in
implementing formative assessment of investigative practical work in Botswana and
addressed the research question of how can exemplary curriculum materials support senior
secondary chemistry teachers in Botswana with the implementation of formative
assessment of students’ investigative practical work. This study also followed an
educational research approach where a prototyping process was used for an orientation
study aimed at (i) articulating initial design specifications for the envisaged exemplary
materials, (ii) developing and trying out several versions of prototypes, and (iii) field
testing the final version. Findings from this study indicated that teachers were critical
about the congruence of the exemplary materials (the intended practice appeared to be
incongruent with the teachers’ current practice), but they were positive about their clarity
(the materials were regarded understandable) and their cost (the suggested implementation
was possible within the limitations of available resources in the science laboratories).
However, the teachers were not often observed to demonstrate formative assessment
orientations in terms of asking questions related to helping students to reflect critically on
results they expected, activities they carried out, and results they obtained. They seemed to
Chapter 3 – Literature Review and Conceptualisation of the Study
be in need for more support in terms of formative assessments with particular emphasis on
time management. Their use of practical work was more frequent in the body of the lesson
(where students were helped with probes to participate in planning and experimenting)
than in the lesson introduction and lesson conclusion. Students, in contrast, enjoyed the
lessons, especially during lesson introduction and learned subject-specific knowledge in
terms of investigation procedures.
Ottevanger (2001) on Teacher support materials as a catalyst for science curriculum
implementation in Namibia addressed the question of what are the characteristics of
materials that adequately support teachers in the initial implementation of Science
curriculum innovation in the classroom. With the same research approach used in the
other studies, Ottevanger’s study found that (i) from the scientific process point of view
the teacher support materials have led to well-organised lessons in the majority of cases
and were useful as a resource in offering extra information on the topic of the lesson. This
was seen by the author as a positive step forward in the Namibian context. (ii) The
connection between the specific experiment and the relevant theory needs to be further
strengthened. (iii) Students’ involvement in the lessons increased during the lessons
supported by the developed materials. (iv) Students indicated that they liked using
materials from local context, doing group work and cooperating with other students. They
also referred to the fact that their teacher appeared to be better prepared than in their usual
classes. (v) Although teachers seemed to address the time issue in their own ways, this
appears to be a continuous problem in completing lessons. In conclusion, this author
claims that in the context they were used, teacher support materials containing procedural
specifications have shown themselves able to act as a catalyst in the initial implementation
of the new curriculum in the classrooms.
The relevance of all these interventions for the present study can be described from both
methodological and substantive perspectives. Although the focus of all these studies was
on improving student-centred learning, and not particularly on assessment strategies, their
methodology can still be successfully applied to the present study. There are similarities
between the present study and the literature discussed that support this argument. Firstly,
Chapter 3 – Literature Review and Conceptualisation of the Study
all studies focused on design and formative evaluation of exemplary materials where the
search for characteristics of an effective intervention was conducted while teachers and
students were working on that intervention. Secondly, there was a decision to focus on a
certain topic or theme to concentrate on. Thirdly, the tasks carried out either by students or
by teachers were designed in a standardised manner. Fourthly, the methodology included
anticipation of potential implementation problems through application of a systematic
process of formative evaluation of the products. Fifthly, the support materials for teachers
were designed in such a way that they provided help at four support levels, namely,
subject knowledge, lesson preparation, teaching methodology, and assessment and
feedback. All these aspects are concurrent and characterise the methodology of research
on interventions.
Substantively, from all the contributions and arguments presented in the reviewed studies,
the emphasis is on the importance of developing teacher support materials and on the
design and tryout of authentic material in a classroom environment. With regard to the
importance of the materials, most of the teachers considered such materials as very useful
for their lessons, they could be used as broad guides for future lesson preparations, and
they represented an opportunity for them to engage in a learning process while working in
their own environment. In relation to the design and tryout of the materials, it is worthy
mentioning a number of practical aspects that arose during the processes which needed to
be carefully monitored. These aspects include: the role of the teacher in guiding student
activities; the role of students as group workers; the time involved in discussions; and the
overall monitoring of both teacher and student behaviour as compared to the normal
classes. All of these aspects relate to what Black and William (2006) and the Assessment
Reform Group (ARG) (1999) from the UK refer to as effective assessment for learning, as
opposed to assessment of learning. ARG (1999) argues that the heart of learning evidence
lies in the power of formative assessment and that any feedback for students is only
effective if used to guide improvement. In addition, effective assessment for learning
depends on effective feedback to students, on their active involvement, and on the
adjustment of teaching to the results of student assessment. Harlen (2006) discusses
assessment for learning as a cycle of events with the students in the centre of it. The cycle
Chapter 3 – Literature Review and Conceptualisation of the Study
starts with the goals or objectives of the assessment task through which the teachers intend
to collect evidence. Then, in possession of enough evidence, it follows an interpretation
process aimed at judging the students’ achievement so that decisions about next steps can
be properly taken. Finally, teachers decide about how to take next steps related to student
activities in the learning process, which in turn are directed towards the assessment goals.
In fact, one of the issues that the present study wishes to address is related to limited
assessment strategies used by Mozambican teachers to collect evidence of learning in
schools. The point is that, seemingly, teachers do not only collect insufficient evidence for
learning, but also the little evidence being collected, is of poor quality. It seems that
teachers apply assessment strategies that allow them to obtain learning evidence only of
basic knowledge and skills and even this evidence is not used for improving student
learning. The interpretation of the evidence to judge students’ achievement is only
criterion-referenced, and the ultimate assessment goal is to report on students’
achievement. So, one may conclude that the assessment process of Mozambican teachers
does not represent Harlen’s complete cycle of assessment events and this leads to an
ineffective assessment for learning.
Having reviewed some of the intervention studies carried out in the African context and
presented the lessons that can be derived from these studies, the next section provides a
platform on how these lessons can be used to conceptualise the study and to guide the
formulation of preliminary operational research questions of this study.
3.6 Summary and conceptualisation of the study
The topic of this study is to investigate assessment practices used by Grade 12 teachers in
Physics in Mozambique and, if needed, to develop an intervention aimed at improving the
quality of classroom assessment. Where the literature was reviewed from various angles,
the findings were summarised from the perspective of the research questions. This section
summarises what was learnt from the reviewed literature as a whole and provides direction
about the conceptualisation of the study.
Chapter 3 – Literature Review and Conceptualisation of the Study
To begin with, one of the most relevant theories in students’ knowledge construction is
constructivism (Mutimucuio, 1998; Treagust et al., 1996). It was argued that it represents
a powerful theoretical resource that may maximise student learning. In fact both the
current Mozambican Grade 11 and 12 syllabuses for Physics, and the secondary school
curriculum under review, acknowledge and recommend its utilisation. The problem,
however, is that while it is recommended for the students in schools, training institutions
are still educating teachers within the paradigm of behaviourism. The challenge of this
study is to improve assessment practices of teachers and ultimately to help them
implement the recommended curriculum.
In the second place, depending on the assessment objectives to be achieved and the
context in which the assessment takes place, student achievement in Physics learning
should be assessed using different assessment strategies and in varied learning contexts.
Therefore, in the process of investigating assessment practices being used by secondary
school teachers, there is a need to be constantly alert to what the teacher actually needs to
achieve taking into account the conditions in which she or he is working.
In the third place, there is the crucial role played by both teachers and students in
assessment. Teachers must know why to assess, what to assess, and understand the
importance of quality feedback which they provide to their students. Successful
assessment practices take place with active involvement of the students, their ability to
assess their peers and themselves, and on their motivation and self esteem. This is likely to
occur when using those varied assessment practices that emphasise formative approaches.
In the fourth place, one of the most successful assessment practices in Science education is
performance assessment because of its crucial role in assessing student’s day-to-day
activities. This type of assessment calls upon the students to demonstrate specific skills
and competencies and requires them to perform real-world tasks that demonstrate
meaningful application of essential skills and knowledge. So, the improvement of teacher
assessment practices sought by this study, as will be argued in Chapter 5 (Section 5.3),
implies taking into consideration the importance of performance assessment without,
Chapter 3 – Literature Review and Conceptualisation of the Study
however, neglecting the role played by all other different assessment strategies described
in subsection 3.4.4.
In the fifth place, the reviewed literature has put an emphasis on assessment for learning,
where the results are used to inform the teaching and learning process, as opposed to
assessment of learning, which is mainly for grading and certification. In undertaking
assessment for learning teachers must consider completing the entire cycle of assessment
events if it is to enhance learning. This cycle of assessment should:
1. Determine the goals of learning and therefore of assessment.
2. Collect enough evidence of learning.
3. Judge whether students’ achievement is sufficient.
4. Decide on the next steps in the process of learning and teaching.
Harlen (2006) in this respect, points out that if assessment is to be effective for learning,
an entire cycle of goals-evidence-judgment of achievement-next steps in learning-goals
has to be completed. The teacher must collect evidence related to goals; interpret the
evidence in order to judge the student’s achievement; use achievement data to influence
decisions about the next steps in learning geared towards the goals. However, and
according to some literature reviewed (see, for instance, INDE, 2005; Lauchande, 2001), it
seems that Mozambican teachers do not follow the complete process of conducting an
effective assessment to inform learning. Teachers do not seem to collect enough evidence
of learning - due in part to the use of limited assessment strategies - and they do not use
the information they collect to help students learn either. Therefore, the teachers do not
complete the cycle of events that might characterise an effective assessment for learning.
Arguments from literature indicate that teachers must be helped to put assessment into
context by considering aspects such as why to assess, what to assess, what quality of
feedback they should provide to their students, and the curriculum perspective. In this
respect, criterion-referenced assessment must be the basis for judging the student
performance, the feedback must be judged and used by both students and teachers, and the
assessment in general should be directed for learning. From this lesson, it is suggested that
Chapter 3 – Literature Review and Conceptualisation of the Study
this study addresses the issue of ‘collecting evidence for learning’ and its interpretation for
judging the student achievement. Furthermore, formative assessment should be considered
as the heart of learning evidence and, as supported by ARG (1999), feedback for students
will only be effective if it is used to guide improvement.
A concluding remark is that, although all these authors stress the importance of using the
collected evidence to take decisions about the next steps in learning, the literature review
has shown that somehow there is neither sufficient research of the extent to which
assessment strategies are being used for Physics as a subject, nor any reported professional
support for teachers to assist them in the development of performance assessment material
for use in an ordinary classroom environment. This means that the main question posed by
this study remains unanswered in the review of the literature.
This study addresses these shortcomings by contextualising the problem with a focus on
secondary school Physics for Grade 12. Apart from the constructivist approach, three
other lessons learnt from the literature review can be highlighted as far as the
characteristics of materials are concerned. Firstly, there is the need to help teachers by
developing and letting them use exemplary support materials on performance assessments
that can help students construct their knowledge. Exemplary materials of this nature
should help teachers in several aspects of subject knowledge, lesson preparation, teaching
methodology, and assessment and feedback. These characteristics should guide them for
future lesson preparations, provide them with the opportunity to learn while working, and
help them to learn how to develop the materials for topics other than the ones selected for
this study. The design and tryout of the materials aspects such as the role of the teacher,
the role of students, the class management, and the overall monitoring of student
behaviour during lessons, are also aspects to feature in the materials. Secondly, the
development of such materials should be done in an ordinary classroom environment to
allow users to participate in the process while working in their normal routine. Thirdly the
learning evidence should be used to feed the teaching and learning process and, hence,
formative assessment is crucial.
Chapter 3 – Literature Review and Conceptualisation of the Study
In this study the following main research question was examined by the intervention:
How can the teacher assessment practices be improved?
In order to address this question adequately, and drawing from the literature, it is of
paramount importance to design an intervention that builds upon teachers’ present
knowledge, skills and experiences with formative assessment in the classroom. As
referred to in previous chapters, this implies a prior investigation using a survey approach
and aimed at knowing what assessment practices Grade 12 teachers in Physics in
Mozambique apply. Some operational research questions are formulated for the Baseline
Survey, and are listed below.
What assessments practices do Grade 12 teachers apply?
What can be said about the quality of the assessment practices?
How relevant are the assessment practices for student learning?
Although these research questions generate valuable baseline knowledge about the actual
classroom assessment, this knowledge is descriptive by nature and does not provide
indications as how to improve the teacher assessment practices as implied by the main
research question. The improvement of teacher assessment practices is achieved through
working together with teachers in producing and using assessment materials. Briefly, and
as was referred to in Chapter 1 (Section 1.1), the main question is twofold, i.e., it implies
knowing firstly, what assessment practices Grade 12 teachers apply (Baseline Survey) and
secondly how to improve them (Intervention Study).
All baseline and intervention research questions are described in detail in Chapter 4
(Research Design and Methods). At this point, it is relevant to capture what the reviewed
literature says about how to improve teacher assessment practices, and what are the most
common assessment practices used to assess Science learning.
Chapter 3 – Literature Review and Conceptualisation of the Study
From the several assessment practices recommended by the literature and from which an
intervention for improvement can be conducted, a choice is made concerning performance
type of assessment as the focus of this Intervention Study. As was referred to earlier, the
rationale for this choice is that, amongst all mentioned assessment strategies, performance
assessments appear to be of vital importance in assessing the student understanding of key
physical concepts. Performance assessment can also be seen as an adequate means of
improving teacher practices of assessing physical and related skills, because all schools
expect students to demonstrate a number of skills, from simple communications skills like
reading, writing, and speaking, to more complex psychomotor skills like building a cartoy or setting up laboratory equipment. In spite of the importance of all these student
skills, when it comes to Science subjects like Physics, the students must not only be able
to grasp the concept or the process, but also to explain and use it to solve real-life
problems. For example, after students have learnt to identify the direction of power in one
electric circuit (e.g., via multiple-choice tests), they must be able to go through the process
of identifying, by themselves, some other unknown directions of electric circuits given to
them. This kind of hands-on demonstrations of concept mastery is essential in Physics.
In this regard, Airasian (2000) argues that there has indeed been growing emphasis on
using performance assessment to determine student understanding of the concepts they are
taught and to measure their ability to apply procedural knowledge. Gronlund (1998) also
emphasises the role of performance assessment in providing a systematic way of
evaluating reasoning and skill outcomes. These outcomes are important, for instance, for
Physics because the subject is concerned with solving problems and developing laboratory
skills. Moreover, the current educational trend to shift from norm-referenced assessment
(ranking of students in order of achievement) to criterion-referenced assessment
(description of what students can do) has created a need for a more direct assessment of
how well students can perform. Therefore, it is important for this study to allow students
to demonstrate, through performance assessment, their ability to do real-world tasks while
observing all the procedures involved. It is also relevant to emphasise that, while all other
assessment strategies can successfully be conducted in a classroom environment or as
homework, effective performance assessment is most likely to succeed when: (i) it is
Chapter 3 – Literature Review and Conceptualisation of the Study
undertaken in a laboratory context where students can perform real demonstration
experiments; (ii) a set of procedural steps is followed – ranging from specifying clear
performance outcomes to selecting a proper method of observing, recording and scoring;
and (iii) a systematic method of combining them with traditional tests is used. The specific
use of any of the above-mentioned assessment strategies depends on the specific learning
outcomes to be achieved. This means that to select an adequate assessment strategy, a
number of intended learning outcomes must be prespecified. Effectively, for this study the
performance outcomes have been identified as the need to demonstrate and develop
explanations about force and inertia. Each of these outcomes corresponds to certain areas
of performance being assessed. Performance outcomes commonly use verbs such as
‘identify’, ‘construct’, ‘demonstrate’ or appropriate synonyms.
In relation to what aspects of teacher assessment can be taken into account in order to
know what assessment practices Grade 12 teachers actually do apply in a contextualised
environment, the literature emphasises (as already has been concluded), amongst other
formative assessment practices, the importance of performance assessment. However, it is
also a lesson from the literature that a pre-requisite for students to be able to learn Physics
better, is the prior understanding of the basic concepts related to the subject and, according
to the literature, this can normally be assessed using mainly paper-and-pencil tests.
Among the variety of other recommended formative assessment practices are observation
methods, oral questioning, peer-assessment and portfolios.
These and other assessment practices are examined by the Baseline Survey reported in
Chapter 5, while Chapter 4 describes procedural steps, approach, learning outcomes, and
performance areas of the Intervention Study. Specifically, Chapter 4 presents the research
design of the study (as a rationale for having two phases); the operational research
questions of each component (following from this preliminary formulation); the research
Chapter 4 – Research Design and Methods
This chapter introduces the research design and methods of the study of investigating and
improving assessment practices of Grade 12 Physics teachers in Mozambique. Section 4.1
presents the rationale for having two phases, the research approach for each phase, the
general formulation of the research questions addressed by the phases and some
reflections on research methodology. Section 4.2 discusses the research paradigm, which
was chosen from the research questions addressed in the previous subsection. Section 4.3
elaborates on the research design of the study. The section starts by presenting the
research design of the Baseline Survey (the first phase of the study). The research
questions addressed by this phase of the study, population and sampling, data collection
strategies, and data processing and analysis methods are also presented in this part. The
section also discusses the research design of the Intervention Study (second phase), the
educational design research as the approach followed in this phase, and the guidelines for
designing the intervention. Section 4.4 presents arguments about the validity and
reliability of the study while ethical issues are discussed in Section 4.5. Finally, Section
4.6 presents the conclusion and provides an orientation for the following chapter.
4.1 Introduction
The purpose of this study was to investigate the assessment practices of Grade 12 Physics
teachers in Mozambique and how these practices can be improved. The rationale for this
study, as discussed in Chapter 1, was that the quality of Physics learning demonstrated by
students leaving secondary school is poor and there are reasons for believing that
inadequate assessment practices are one of the main contributory reasons for this. As was
referred to in Chapter 2, the problem was perceived as a problem at school level.
Therefore, it was essential to have a good understanding of the present assessment
Chapter 4 – Research Design and Methods
practices carried out by secondary school teachers in schools and classrooms in order to
design an effective ‘intervention in assessment’. The context in schools can be
characterised by various influences from different educational and social entities (see
Chapter 2, Section 2.3). In order to gather relevant information pertaining to assessment
practices in such a diversified target population, a study by means of a variety of data
collection strategies had to be undertaken so that findings can reflect the characteristics of
the wider population. This implied that this research should have a preliminary Baseline
Survey to develop a good understanding and insight prior to the Intervention Study aimed
at designing an intervention that included developing Physics assessment prototypes for
teachers to use in their classrooms to optimise the teaching and learning of Grade 12
Physics in the classroom.
The Baseline Survey focused on the identification of assessment practices currently used
by Grade 12 teachers in Mozambican schools and their knowledge and skills on assessing
students. Teacher knowledge and skills are addressed by investigating the quality and
relevance of the classroom assessments. The main research question for the Baseline
Survey was formulated as follows: What assessment practices do Grade 12 teachers in
Physics in Mozambique apply and what is their quality? This research question is in line
with the aim of the study which is divided into three specific research topics namely (i) the
types of assessment practices (diagnostic, formative, summative) currently in use by
Grade 12 Physics teachers in schools, (ii) the quality of these practices and (iii) their
relevance for classroom practice. Therefore, the research question is also operationalised
into three operational research questions, which are:
1. What assessments practices do Grade 12 teachers apply?
2. What can be said about the quality of the assessment practices?
3. How relevant are the assessment practices for student learning?
The design of the survey is based on the context in which Physics teachers are working in
schools as well as on the insights of what the literature highlights as good practice in
classroom assessment. More generally, the Baseline Survey lays down the groundwork for
Chapter 4 – Research Design and Methods
the Intervention Study. Based on the assumption that the assessment practices will help
teachers to develop abilities to monitor improvements in student learning and in the
performance of the educational system, questions about the types of assessment practices,
their quality, and their relevance for classroom practice were included in the Baseline
Survey. This assumption was supported by views from the literature reviewed in Chapter
3 (subsection 3.4.4), other authors (Black et al., 2003; Popham, 2002; Weeden et al.,
2002), and also from the Science education experts in general.
In light of the findings from the Baseline Survey, the main research question of the
Intervention Study – which became the main research question of the study - is: How can
teacher assessment practices be improved? The process of reviewing the literature on the
importance of improving teacher assessment practices (Chapter 3, Section 3.5) has
emphasised the need to support teachers both in terms of conducting effective assessment
for learning, where the assessment results are used to enhance the teaching and learning,
as well as the development of authentic assessment material in a classroom environment.
According to van den Akker (1999), an evolutionary prototyping of curricular or
assessment products and their subsequent representations in practice are viewed as more
productive than linear development approaches. Formative evaluations of subsequent
assessment versions are essential to such productiveness, and an educational design
research approach is seen to enhance knowledge growth. Therefore this intervention, as
discussed in Chapter 3 (Section 3.6), focuses on (i) the design and formative evaluation of
exemplary performance assessment materials for demonstration experiments aimed at
assisting teachers to improve their assessment practices and on (ii) a laboratory written
report by students. A great emphasis has been put on lesson materials rather than on
assessment materials throughout the intervention. This is because any assessment strategy
can only be successful if it is applied using quality lesson materials. Good lesson materials
provide adequate support information for the preparation of student assessments, they are
broad guides for future lesson preparations (including assessment tasks), and teachers and
students implement most of their lesson activities according to advice provided in the
lesson materials.
Chapter 4 – Research Design and Methods
The demonstration experiments and the students’ report are designed to focus on only two
Physics concepts namely force and inertia, whereas the intervention addresses the
functions of assessment namely diagnostic, formative and summative assessment. The
reasons for selecting these two Physics concepts are given in subsection 4.4.3. As stated
earlier in Chapter 3 (Section 3.1) ‘demonstration experiments’ refers to students’ activities
of observing, carrying out small experiments, interpreting phenomena, and reporting
findings, and are all guided by a teacher. Demonstration experiments may be performed
either individually or in small groups of students and they take a few minutes to perform.
When these experiments take longer to perform (from 30 min to hours), the literature
refers to them as laboratory demonstration experiments. In this study, a decision was made
to use the term ‘demonstration experiments’ because of the characteristics described
The intervention applies the methodological approach of educational design research
suggested by van den Akker and Plomp (1993). The potential of educational design
research is that the search for characteristics of an effective intervention is conducted
while working on that intervention. The research approach is discussed in Section 4.3
while the research paradigm, considered suitable for addressing the research questions of
the study, is discussed in the next section, Section 4.2.
4.2 Research paradigm
Several authors have argued that to choose the type of knowledge claim, the researchers
have to adapt certain assumptions about what and how they will learn during their inquiry
(Creswell, 2003; Lincoln & Guba, 2000; Mertens, 1998). According to these authors, this
claim can be named ontology, epistemology, philosophical assumption, or paradigm.
Philosophically, the researcher makes claims about the nature of the reality, i.e., what is
knowable (ontology), what is the relationship between the researcher and the researched
(epistemology), the language of the research (rhetoric), and what the process of studying
the reality (methodology) will be.
Chapter 4 – Research Design and Methods
According to Creswell (2003), there are four schools of thought about knowledge claims
namely post-positivism, constructivism, advocacy, and pragmatism. Post-positivist
researchers claim that causes probably determine effects. These researchers challenge the
traditional notion of the absolute truth of knowledge and they claim that when studying
the behaviour of human beings one cannot be positive about the claims of knowledge.
Constructivists often address the process of interaction among individuals and focus on
the specific contexts in which they live and work in order to understand their historical
and cultural settings. Advocacy researchers believe that inquiry needs to be intertwined
with politics, and the research should contain an action agenda that may change the lives
of the researched, the institutions where they work, and the researcher’s life. Pragmatists
claim that knowledge arises out of actions, situations and consequences rather than
antecedent conditions, and their main concern is with applications and solutions to
Within this framework, the scientific position of this study (as referred to in Chapter 1,
Section 1.3) is rooted in the pragmatic knowledge claim. The research process did not
begin with any one system of reality to identify the type of research method to be applied;
rather, it started by identifying the problems to be solved, i.e., from the research questions
formulated and went on to identify the suitable research methods that were relevant in
obtaining valid and reliable answers to these questions. The research was geared towards
the best understanding of the research problem. The truth was not solely based on dualism
between the researcher’s mind and reality, but it was on what worked at the time. Both
qualitative and quantitative methods were applied to collect and analyse data with the
main aim of understanding the complexities of the current situation and to produce
findings that contribute to a solution to the problem.
4.3 Overview of the research design
In line with the pragmatist claim described above, this study intended firstly, to find out
what classroom assessment practices teachers are using in schools before choosing any
particular type of assessment to monitor improvements and secondly, to generate a
methodological approach and guidelines for the design and development of an adequate
Chapter 4 – Research Design and Methods
study approach aimed at improving such practices. The most suitable strategy to identify
current assessment practices is the survey approach, where a study was conducted using
questionnaires, observations, and interviews for collecting data. As several authors quoted
in Chapter 3 have argued (Airasian, 2001; Dekkers, 1997; Moskal, 2003; Stiggins, 1987),
in order to expand teacher assessment practices in Science subjects, demonstration
experiments are important to improve performance assessments, particularly in Physics
(White & Gunstone, 1992). The intervention was aimed at improving teacher assessment
practices in Physics, and was conducted in such a way that teachers and students could
conduct demonstration experiments performing real-world tasks while working in their
normal classroom schedule under existing conditions and materials. Thus, the
improvement of assessment practices proposed by this study was investigated under
ordinary classroom circumstances and not in a setting specifically created for this
research. So, the study approach was geared towards what works in schools and how this
can be improved on the basis of intended consequences.
Methodologically the study applied, for the survey approach, mixed methods in
recognition of the fact that both quantitative and qualitative methods may have limitations
and one can neutralise the limitations and biases of the other (Creswell, 2003).
Triangulation was considered as a means to seek convergence of findings. Still regarding
the survey, the principle of using different data sources and multiple data collection
instruments was used to guarantee triangulation. For the intervention, the strategy
consisted of formative evaluations of exemplary assessment materials (specifically
designed for this study) where the quality was verified by investigating the validity,
expected practicality and expected effectiveness of the materials produced (Nieveen,
1997; van den Akker, 1999; van den Akker and Plomp, 1993).
Subsection 4.3.1 presents the research design of the Baseline Survey. It discusses the
methodological aspects of operational research questions, population and sampling,
instrumentation and data analysis.
Chapter 4 – Research Design and Methods
4.3.1 Research design for the Baseline Survey
In order to address the objective of the research, it was necessary to start by undertaking a
preliminary identification of assessment practices currently used by Grade 12 Physics
teachers in Mozambican schools. Specifically, this implies a search of the kind of
assessment practices Grade 12 teachers of Physics currently apply at classroom level and
what can be said about the quality of these practices. The country has a population of 120
secondary school teachers teaching Physics in Grade 12, distributed in 30 schools of
General Secondary Education – cycle 2 (ESG2) (per June 2004). As the purpose of the
Baseline Survey was to inform the Intervention Study about assessment practices used in
this target population of teachers and schools, and not to gain a national representative
picture, it was believed that a small survey of some purposively selected Mozambican
secondary schools from different provinces would be sufficient. In other words, it has
been assumed that the perspective of various purposively selected school contexts would
be representative for the characteristics of teachers, students, and schools.
As indicated in Chapter 3 (Section 3.6), a preliminary research aimed at identifying the
assessment practices used by secondary school Physics teachers in Mozambique, was
undertaken. The aim is expressed in three operational research questions. Because the
research questions are formulated in line with the three corresponding research purposes
(see Section 4.1), it is useful and relevant to gain a good understanding of a number of
characteristics of the assessment practices applied by teachers, viz. the types of assessment
practices, their quality, and their relevance for learning. These three elements constitute
the perspective from which the characteristics of assessment practices are viewed during
the survey in schools.
The identification of types of teacher assessment practices to be looked at in the classroom
was firstly informed by the literature review and later refined by the pilot phase of the data
collection instruments. From the variety of formative assessment practices referred to by
the literature as crucial for what teachers need to know in order to undertake a
contextualised assessment, observation methods, oral questioning, peer-assessment, and
portfolios are the most critical (see Chapter 3, subsection 3.4.3). While oral questioning,
Chapter 4 – Research Design and Methods
peer-assessment and portfolios were directly observed from the classroom by the
researcher, teachers’ own observation methods were not easily observable. In order to
accomplish this, the strategy was to analyse how teachers observed students’ process of
designing and developing finished products resulting from a certain planned activity.
From this analysis, it was possible to record the teacher’s own comments and suggestions
for improvement. Finished products include all written tasks that the students do and
which reflect a certain development process of collecting, interpreting and reporting data.
These products are known in schools as projects. In addition to these assessment practices,
paper-and-pencil tests were also investigated due to their potential in assessing student
abilities to understand basic concepts.
As a result of lessons learnt from literature and improvements arising from the pilot phase
the following types of teacher assessment practices used in the classrooms, namely
portfolios, peer-assessment, verbal tests, paper-and-pencil tests and projects were
investigated in this study. These assessment practices are deemed relevant and good types
of assessment to be used in classroom assessments (Popham, 2002; Weeden et al., 2002).
Since these practices had been already referred to by the literature as assessment strategies
that teachers normally use in schools, the identification of the types for this study was
done by verifying which ones were more frequently used by Mozambican secondary
school teachers to assess their students.
The term ‘quality’ of assessment practices refers to all aspects of validity and reliability of
these practices. As referred to earlier in Section 4.1, the quality of assessment practices
includes the teacher knowledge and skills for assessing student work. Thus, the quality
aspect was investigated by analysing how teachers were assessing oral communication
during lessons, written work, presentations, notebooks, and laboratory work of their
students. According to several authors, these student tasks, if regularly undertaken, are
indicators of the quality of assessment, particularly for science subjects (Black et al.,
2003; Race et al., 2005; Weeden et al., 2002). In the context of this study, the quality of
assessment practices used by teachers was investigated by two means: (i) verifying the
Chapter 4 – Research Design and Methods
frequency of use, by teachers, of these student tasks and (ii) checking their validity and
As in the two previous aspects, the element of relevance was investigated on the basis of
what the literature suggests is good practice. Popham (2002) for instance, argues that if the
teacher shares the goals to be achieved with the students and involves them in the
evaluation of their own work, this allows students to know what is expected from them.
Thus, the issue of assessment relevance was addressed by investigating (i) how teachers
engage students in the evaluation of their performance, and (ii) how often they use the
assessment results to guide the student learning.
This section is composed of four subsections. Subsection elaborates on the three
operational research questions referred to earlier in this chapter and how the research
design will address these. Subsection presents the population and the sample of the
Baseline Survey. Subsection describes the instrument development. The process of
instrument development and piloting, triangulation, identification of data sources, as well
as the procedures followed during the survey, are all presented and discussed in this
subsection. Subsection presents the methods used for analysing data. Research questions for the Baseline Survey
The main research question and the three operational research questions are presented and
described in this subsection. The main research question addressed by the Baseline Survey
What assessment practices do Grade 12 teachers in Physics in Mozambique apply
and what is their quality and relevance?
This question was addressed by a survey of 12 teachers from six schools in Gaza,
Zambézia and Cabo Delgado Provinces, and of five educational officers from the Ministry
of Education and Culture in Maputo. Taking into account the aspects of which
Chapter 4 – Research Design and Methods
characteristics of assessment practices were to be investigated (types, quality and
relevance), the formulation of the operational research questions for the Baseline Survey
followed the same classification. Three operational research questions were formulated.
The first operational research question sought to identify the types of assessment practices
used by teachers, namely:
a) What assessment practices do Grade 12 Physics teachers apply?
Assessment practices investigated in the classroom included the five types mentioned
earlier, namely portfolios, peer-assessment, verbal tests, paper-and-pencil tests, and
projects. As was mentioned earlier, the criterion used to identify the types of assessment
practices used by teachers in schools was to verify and count how many times (i.e., how
often) the teachers used each assessment practice during several classroom sessions.
Therefore, in order to address this question the teachers were asked to give information,
amongst other questions, on the following sub-question:
a. How often do you use each of the following assessment practices? Portfolios,
peer-assessment, verbal tests, paper-and-pencil tests, projects
By means of questionnaires, interviews and through classroom observations, it was
possible to verify - by checking the frequency (daily, weekly, monthly, never) of using the
different assessment practices - which assessment practices the teachers have been applied
during the classroom assessment. Teachers were also allowed to describe other possible
assessment practices, which they use.
The second operational research question addresses the quality of the assessment, namely:
b) What is the quality of the assessment practices?
Aspects of assessment quality include not only the frequency but also the characteristics
of the assessment tasks in terms of students’ knowledge or skills (reasoning, memory or
Chapter 4 – Research Design and Methods
process) being assessed by certain assessment type or activity. These elements were
addressed by the following sub-questions:
b1. How often do you assess the following student activities? Oral communication
during lessons, written work, presentations, exercise books, laboratory work,
solving problems
b2. What can be said about the validity and reliability of the assessment practices?
The validity and reliability of the student activities was verified by the kind of feedback
given to students by teachers in those different activities. Aspects of expression (whether
the feedback was congratulatory or critical), time (timely feedback or given afterwards),
and personality (individualised or in-group feedback) were used for the most assessed
activities (Race et al., 2005).
Finally, the third operational research question deals with the relevance of these
assessment practices for learning, namely:
c) How relevant are the assessment practices for student learning?
The relevance of the assessment practices refers to those elements that express the level of
students’ involvement in their own assessment, as well as the follow-up actions to be
undertaken by the teacher after handing the assessment results out. Two sub-questions
were formulated to address this question, namely:
c1. How do you engage students in the evaluation of their performance?
c2. How often do you use the assessment results, for what purposes, and how?
Teachers were given several alternative options on students’ involvement in the evaluation
of their performance namely (i) I do not involve them at all; (ii) by handing the results out;
(iii) by involving them in self-assessment; (iv) by sharing with them the goals to be
achieved; (v) by explaining to them the implications of the evaluation; (vi) by reflecting
with them on the assessment data. Particular emphasis was given to peer-assessment due
to the impact of this type of assessment in self-assessment (Race et al., 2005).
Chapter 4 – Research Design and Methods
The three operational research questions were investigated using various target
populations, which are described in the following section. Population and sampling
There were three target populations relevant for addressing the operational research
questions of the Baseline Survey. These are listed below.
Teachers – are the active subjects in the assessment processes being investigated.
School directors - have the responsibility for implementing the government
regulations on assessment and on monitoring the quality of teaching in their
school. They also play a role in creating a supportive school culture.
Education officers – are responsible for providing the infrastructure to schools and
inspect whether schools do a good job in terms of quality education.
As the Baseline Survey was aimed at gaining an impression of the assessment practices of
Physics teachers in schools, it was believed that a small survey of Physics teachers and
school directors from six Mozambican secondary schools from various provinces,
representing the different contexts (urban-rural, different regions in the country), would be
sufficient for this purpose (see also Chapter 1, Section 1.3 and Chapter 4, subsection
4.3.1). As referred to in Chapter 2 (Section 2.1), the country is composed of eleven
provinces, clustered into the North, Centre, and South. Three provinces were drawn from
these regions – one from each – and two schools were selected from each of these
provinces. Maputo City was only considered for pedagogical officers and assessment
specialists. No schools were selected from Maputo City because schools in this area
appeared to be exhausted by extensive research activities taking place at the time. In order
to enable comparison between teachers’ responses, schools were selected according to
their capacity of having at least two teachers teaching Physics in Grade 12. However,
there were still three schools in which only one teacher taught Grade 12 Physics. This was
the case in Pemba and Montepuez Secondary Schools in Cabo Delgado and Mocuba
Chapter 4 – Research Design and Methods
Secondary School in Zambézia. Where this occurred, an additional teacher was taken from
Grade 11. In the end, two Physics teachers from each of the two selected schools in the
three provinces (in total 12 teachers) were sampled. The school directors were also
sampled for participation in the study. In total, the intended sample was composed of
twelve teachers and six school directors. Only four school directors, however, participated
in the study as such, because two of the school directors were also Physics teachers and,
due to practical limitations, they could only participate in one capacity. Given the focus of
the study the role of the teacher was considered more important and, therefore, they had to
provide information as teachers and not as directors. It was very important to obtain as
much information as possible about the assessment practices carried out by teachers and
the number of teachers excluding these ones would have been insufficient for this purpose.
Besides, five educational officers (two pedagogical officers and three assessment
specialists) from the Ministry of Education and Culture (MEC) were asked to participate
in the study. The pedagogical officers and assessment specialists were purposefully
selected from the MEC in Maputo City due to their responsibilities for monitoring the
assessment system within the Ministry. Of these pedagogical officers, one is the Director
of the National Institute for Educational Development (INDE) - an institution responsible
for curriculum review for both primary and secondary education - and a former Head of
the Department of Assessment and Certification in the Ministry, and the other is the
National Education Inspector. Concerning the assessment specialists, all of them were
science subject specialists working in different departments within the Ministry. Table 4.1
summarises the details of the realised sample for the Baseline Study.
Chapter 4 – Research Design and Methods
Table 4.1: Sample of Baseline Survey
Nr. of
Nr. of
Nr. of
Joaquim Chissano Secondary School
Chókwè Secondary School
Maputo City
Ministry of Education and Culture
25 de Setembro Secondary School
Mocuba Secondary School
Pemba Secondary School
Cabo Delgado
Montepuez Secondary School
The samples of schools (and therefore the samples of teachers, school directors and
educational (both pedagogical and assessment) officers were purposive samples, as they
were drawn with the purpose of obtaining insight into three important perspectives on the
classroom practice namely instruction in relation to assessment, management’s
perspective in relation to teachers’ preparedness for conducting appropriate assessments,
and inspectorate regarding quality control of the teacher assessment practices, with the
view to using the information to design an intervention study and not to generalise to full
populations. With these samples, all activities were undertaken to address the main
research question for the Baseline Survey formulated at the beginning of subsection Data collection strategies
This subsection comprises four parts. The first part presents the number and
characteristics of data collection instruments used in this study, and a summary of the
content of each instrument. The second part discusses the development process of the
various instruments, the piloting process, and the validation of the instruments by experts.
The third part starts by providing information on the type of data collected to answer
operational research questions, the way it was collected, the triangulation process of
instruments and data sources, and ends with a summary of all information in a data
Chapter 4 – Research Design and Methods
collection matrix. The fourth part presents procedural information on the number and
sequence of activities that were carried out in preparing and conducting the Baseline
Survey for this research.
Instruments and data collection strategies
Five data collection instruments were developed for the Baseline Survey namely, a
questionnaire for teachers, a classroom observation schedule, and three interview
schedules for teachers, school directors, and pedagogical officers.
The questionnaire for teachers (Appendix A) consisted of four main sections. The first
section contained information about the questionnaire itself (e.g., what is it about, why
should it be filled in) and requested personal background information about the
respondents (name, gender, age, school, etc.). The second section requested information
about the types and quality of assessment practices used by teachers in the classroom. This
information was sought through five closed questions of multiple choice and Likert scale
type of items. The third section was about the relevance of the assessment practices and
comprised of four questions of multiple choice items. The fourth and final section
contained evaluation questions with one question containing multiple-choice items and
another one being open-ended. It is worthy to mention that, although the majority of the
questions were closed, they provided teachers with the opportunity to express their views
and opinions by exploring the ‘other specify__’ type of items. Furthermore, in the
evaluation questions teachers were asked to comment about any other issue that was not
addressed in the questionnaire.
The classroom observation schedule (Appendix B) contained four sections. The first
section contained background information about the teacher and the school, the second
was about the physical appearance of the classroom and the teaching and learning
environment. The third section presented the description of the students (e.g., number,
gender, age), and the fourth section comprised a number of close questions (Likert scale
items) related to the types of assessment practices undertaken by the teachers and their
relevance for learning. More specifically, the questions addressed the extent to which
Chapter 4 – Research Design and Methods
assessment practices were applied by teachers, their quality as demonstrated by teachers
and students, their appropriateness for instruction, and their validity and reliability for
student learning.
The interview schedules for teachers, school directors, and pedagogical officers
(Appendices C, D, and E) comprised of 13, nine, and ten questions respectively. All
schedules had an introduction stating the aim of the interview and the reasons why the
interviewees and their respective schools were chosen to participate in the study. The
introduction also indicated that the identity of the interviewees would remain anonymous
and the information confidential. The interview questions addressed similar issues as in
the questionnaires such as types, quality and relevance of assessment practices with the
intent to cross check the information. There were three additional aspects addressed in the
interviews with the pedagogical officers from the MEC. The first aspect was related to the
objectives of the teachers’ assessment as seen by the Ministry. The second asked how the
translation of these objectives into practice is compared to the information provided by the
national examinations undertaken by the Ministry. The third was meant to seek the
opinions of the interviewees about the impact of the supervisory visits to schools.
Overall, the questionnaires and interviews were designed to gather information about the
types, quality and relevance of assessment practices used by secondary school teachers in
schools. The classroom observation schedule was also used by the researcher to
triangulate the information on assessment practices given by teachers and school directors.
But more importantly, it permitted the observation of the physical conditions of the
classrooms, the teaching and learning environment, and the characteristics of the students.
The different instruments used with different data sources allowed for cross checking of
the information and increased its validity and reliability.
Development process and piloting
The first version of data collection instruments for Baseline Survey was developed by the
researcher and the instruments were appraised by experts to ensure their validity. The
instruments were all piloted before the data collection process. Questionnaires and
Chapter 4 – Research Design and Methods
interview schedules for teachers and school directors, as well as, classroom observation
schedules, were piloted with five Grade 12 Physics teachers randomly selected from
schools around Maputo. School directors’ interviews were piloted with two directors of
some secondary schools also located in the Maputo area. The interviews for pedagogical
officers were piloted with two pedagogical officers from INDE. The main objective of the
pilot phase was to increase the validity of the instruments in terms of language, depth of
assessment content approach, and time required for completing the instruments. For
instance, one expert on designing assessment instruments and one Science educator
specialist were asked to provide their comments and suggestions on how to improve the
quality of the instruments (content validity). Both experts scrutinised all the instruments in
order to determine their validity in terms of face validity. The reliability of the instruments
was checked by verifying the consistency of the responses and to ensure that respondents
answered related items in a similar way (internal reliability). More specifically, the
piloting was intended to find out whether all members of the sample, especially teachers,
would be able to understand the instruments and to complete the questionnaires in time.
After revision of the first version, the instruments were finalised. All the participants in
the pilot phase were asked to comment on the content and practicality of the instruments.
Overall, the pilot phase was instrumental in improving the validity and practicality of the
data collection instruments by generating valuable suggestions for improving of the final
Data collection and triangulation
As was discussed earlier, in order to gather the information needed to answer the main
research question of the Baseline Survey and to assure the validity and reliability of the
information gathered the principle of triangulation of data sources and of instruments was
The information needed to obtain answers for the specific research question a. included
(x1) the types and frequency of usage of a certain type of assessment practice, (x2) the
opinions about why teachers assess and evaluate the student performance, including about
Chapter 4 – Research Design and Methods
the teacher preparedness level and (x3) the physical conditions under which the
assessment practices are carried out. This information could best be obtained from
questionnaires with the purposively selected teachers. More generally, teachers were
asked to reflect about the different assessment practices they use in their classroom, their
purposes, how they conduct them in practice, how they evaluate the final performance of
the students, and under what physical conditions they work. To validate the information
from the teacher questionnaires a number of interviews were conducted with the teachers.
In the interviews they also had to respond to the questions about types and quality of
assessments with the aim of supporting or refuting their arguments expressed during
questionnaires. Classes were observed and interviews conducted with school directors
(who are also teachers) and with pedagogical officers for the same purpose.
For the answers to the specific research question b. the information needed included (y1)
data about the frequency of assessing, by teachers, of certain students’ activities, and the
teachers’ opinions firstly about whether the assessment practices used allow students to
demonstrate their performance (y2) and secondly about the characteristics of their scoring
procedures of these practices (y3) – whether they are clear, consistent and unbiased. The
information about the quality of assessment practices was mainly obtained through
questionnaires (to teachers and school directors) and interviews (to school directors and
pedagogical officers). Pedagogical officers were also interviewed to gather their views
about the level of preparedness of teachers in designing and administering classroom
assessments and as sources of information complementary to the information provided by
teachers and school directors. The validation of the information from both data collection
instruments was done by researcher’s observations of the classroom practices and by
written notes provided by the assessment specialists.
Regarding the information necessary to address the specific research question c. data
included (z1) the use by teachers of assessment results to monitor student learning, and
(z2) the teacher preparedness to design classroom assessments including the coverage of
relevant topics, and student involvement in the evaluation of their own work. This
information was obtained from teachers and school directors through questionnaires. To
Chapter 4 – Research Design and Methods
validate this information two means were used: (i) the first was the interviews with school
directors, both to cross check the information provided by other teachers and the
observations during lessons (external reliability) as well as to enable teachers to express
their own views about assessment practices currently in use in their schools; (ii) the
second was written notes from the assessment specialists who were asked to state in
writing not only how they perceive the classroom assessment as taking place in the
schools, but also the MEC’s philosophy of what they consider as desirable assessment
practices for schools as well as the level of teacher accomplishment of them particularly as
assessment specialists have been playing a major role in the supervision of the teaching
quality and in the development of national assessments.
As referred to earlier, apart from interviews, questionnaires and written notes from
assessment specialists, the researcher also conducted classroom observations. Eight
classroom observations were conducted with eight teachers; the remaining four teachers
did not have their classes observed because they were not available at the time of
observations. Classroom observations were deliberately not announced in advance to
avoid simulation of lessons. This was also the reason why only one class was observed per
teacher where the objective was mainly to obtain information about the unplanned
assessment practices, the teaching strategies, and the physical conditions of the typical
Physics classroom. Verifying teachers’ formal assessment practices was not necessarily
the objective of the observations, because formal assessments are planned and announced
in advance and they did not take place on the dates of the observations.
Overall, while teachers mainly provided information about type, quality, and frequency of
assessment practices, school directors, pedagogical officers and assessment specialists
were asked to give their opinions about the quality of assessment practices, the use of
assessment results for monitor student learning, and the level of teachers’ preparedness in
designing acceptable assessment practices.
Thus, in order to guarantee valid and reliable information and for triangulation purposes, a
variety of data collection strategies, instruments, and data sources were used to answer the
Chapter 4 – Research Design and Methods
formulated research questions. This is summarised in the following data collection matrix
(Table 4.2).
Table 4.2: Data collection matrix
From teachers via:
From school
directors via:
officers via:
specialists via:
Information variables
a. Assessment practices used
-types and frequency (x1)
-opinions about why do they
assess, how much of the teaching
time they spend on assessment and
how do they evaluate the student
performance (x2)
-level of teacher preparedness
-physical conditions (x3)
b. Quality of assessment
-frequency of certain student
activities (y1)
-allowing students to demonstrate
performance (y2)
-clear, consistent and unbiased
scoring procedures, etc. (y2)
c. Relevance of assessment
- frequency of using student
assessment results (z1)
-level of student involvement in
evaluating their own work (z2)
-coverage of relevant topics and
appropriateness for instruction (z2)
Qn = questionnaire, Iv = interview, Ob = classroom observation, Wn = written notes
In practice, questionnaires and classroom observation schedules were the main data
collection instruments. Interviews were conducted after the completion of the
Chapter 4 – Research Design and Methods
questionnaires and the observation of classes in order to guarantee the reliability of the
information. To avoid copying of information, the interviews were conducted on the same
day with all teachers, one after another.
Research procedures
The main research activities of this study started with the literature review that was carried
out between June 2003 and April 2004. The document analysis at the MEC, aimed at
obtaining statistical information about the number of secondary schools teaching Grade 12
Physics in the country as well as their number of Physics teachers, was undertaken from
May to June 2004. Then the instrument development phase was initiated where the first
version of the self-completed questionnaires, classroom observation schedules, and
interview schedules were developed by the researcher. These were then piloted. Then the
main fieldwork was conducted during which a number of activities were undertaken
sequentially. As was referred to earlier, firstly questionnaires were administered to the
twelve selected teachers from the six schools. Then interviews were conducted with
teachers and thereafter, classroom observations were undertaken, focusing on teachers’
instructional practices. These took place in August 2004 and March 2005. The interviews
with the school directors took place from August to October 2005. In November 2005, the
interviews with pedagogical officers from the MEC took place. Finally, the written notes
which had been requested by assessment specialists and from the MEC (who were
previously asked to provide their thoughts in writing about Physics classroom assessment)
were collected in February 2006.
The subsection presents the methods used to analyse the data. Data processing and analysis methods
Self-completed questionnaires from the teachers were analysed quantitatively using
categorisation of questions and calculation of frequencies (Bardin, 1977) following a set
of procedures for describing, synthesising, analysing, and interpreting data (Gay &
Airasian, 2003). Frequencies were produced from the analysis and were presented in
Chapter 4 – Research Design and Methods
graphs and tables. The software package, Statistical Package for the Social Sciences
(SPSS - version 8.0), was used to directly capture all quantitative data from different data
collection instruments. Data were analysed and presented using frequency tables.
Interviews and classroom observations were analysed qualitatively through summarisation
of questions and categorisation of the responses (Miles & Huberman, 1994). Thematic
content analysis was employed to analyse the data (Bardin, 1977; Race et al., 2005).
Contact summary forms with excerpts for illustration were then filled in to review the
interview and classroom observation notes and an overall summary of the main findings
was produced. Two main concurrent flows of activity were followed, namely (i) a process
of deciding on the meaning of each item of data or set of data by noting similar patterns or
explanations and (ii) a process of assembling information that allows to draw conclusions
and to take further action. Findings from the Baseline Survey are presented and discussed
in Chapter 5.
Subsection 4.3.2 is the research design of the Intervention Study. The section introduces
the educational design research approach, elaborates on the design of Physics assessment
materials prototypes, and ends with a discussion of design guidelines for the intervention.
4.3.2 Research design for the Intervention Study
The study on investigating and improving assessment practices in Physics in secondary
schools in Mozambique focuses, on designing and developing Physics assessment
materials aimed at helping teachers to improve their assessment practices in schools.
Following from the main research question of this study, as formulated in Chapter 1
(Section 1.2), the aim of this study is twofold, namely to identify assessment practices
used by secondary school Physics teachers in Mozambique and to undertake an
intervention aimed at improving these practices. The Baseline Survey described in
previous sections of this chapter addressed the first part of the aim. The Intervention Study
dealt with in this section addresses the second part of the study aim and its research
question is formulated as:
Chapter 4 – Research Design and Methods
How can the teacher assessment practices be improved?
In order to find an answer to this question, and following from what was referred to in
Chapter 3 (Section 3.5), the Intervention Study applies an educational design research
methodology as suggested by van den Akker and Plomp (1993). Findings of the Baseline
Survey indicated that, although teachers have regularly been using paper-and-pencil tests which are good for grasping the basic concepts, performance assessment is important for
students to be able to perform real-world tasks and Physics cannot be taught and assessed
without practical or laboratory work (see Chapter 5). This argument led to the
reinforcement of what is already the Mozambican government policy of adopting the
constructivist approach to learning and teaching. In fact, constructivist perspective
underpinned the approach applied in this study in improving teacher assessment practices.
A number of Physics assessment prototypes were designed in the context of demonstration
experiments and they were formatively evaluated in classroom tryouts.
This study was conducted following a process of analysing the problem context, carrying
out a Baseline Survey, recommending a type of intervention to be made, and designing
and formatively evaluating assessment prototypes. This process reflected a nature of two
mixed method approaches namely survey and educational design research.
Three subsections comprise this section. Subsection elaborates on the nature of the
educational design research approach. Subsection discusses educational design
research as applied in this study, that is, in the context of the Physics assessment materials.
Subsection presents the design guidelines for the Intervention Study. This
subsection also provides orientation elements for the prototyping process as design
specifications for the Physics assessment materials. Educational design research
According to van den Akker (1999), educational design research could be an appropriate
approach for a complex situation where the appropriateness and effectiveness of an
Chapter 4 – Research Design and Methods
intervention is unknown beforehand and its success depends on the design and
implementation process within a wide variety of the contexts. This is indeed the case for
Mozambican schools where many people (particularly teachers, students, and teacher
educators) are unfamiliar with the process of designing assessment materials.
Furthermore, curriculum materials (including assessment ones) in the country are
developed using several theories but rarely utilise findings from research. Therefore, as
was referred to in Chapter 2 (subsection 2.2.2), since the Ministry of Education and
Culture is in the process of reviewing the curriculum for secondary education (including
assessment issues), timely and adequate information is required for the reviewers to make
the right choices in such a complex and dynamic situation.
Educational design research is a systematic process of designing, developing and
evaluating instructional programs, processes, and products that must meet the criteria of
validity, practicality and effectiveness (Seels & Richey, 1994; van den Akker, 1999; van
den Akker & Plomp, 1993).
The function of the educational design research, as is the case in any scientific research, is
the search for understanding, which results in contributing to the body of knowledge or
theory. This search can occur with a very broad purpose through conducting scientific
research in a certain domain or at micro level of specific research projects. In education
research, the search intends: (i) to contribute to the body of scientific knowledge or
theories about education; (ii) to contribute to improving practice; and (iii) to inform
decision-making and policy development in the domain of education. Within the context
of a research project, various functions of research can be distinguished, namely to
describe, to compare, to evaluate, to explain, and to design and develop.
The research process in educational design research (also called development research)
comprises educational design processes undertaken in cyclical stages of analysis, design,
evaluation and revision activities. The stages could be refined continuously until reaching
a satisfying balance between the intended and the realised stage. McKenney (2001) cited
by Plomp (2006) gives an illustration of the cyclical process as set out in Figure 4.1.
Chapter 4 – Research Design and Methods
(Source: McKenney, 2001)
Figure 4.1: The cyclical process of educational design research
According to Plomp (2006) three distinctive phases can be distinguished from this
example as set out below.
1. Preliminary research: this involves a needs and content analysis, and a literature
review (including site visits) leading to a conceptual framework.
2. Prototyping phase: this requires iterative and cyclical design, development with
formative evaluation of the several prototypes as the most important research
activity aimed at refining the intervention.
3. The Assessment phase involves semi-summative and final evaluation to conclude
whether the solution or intervention meets the pre-determined specifications.
Throughout all these activities the researcher will do ‘systematic reflection and
documentation’ to produce the theories or design principles as the scientific yield from
the research.
Chapter 4 – Research Design and Methods
As already reported, this study started with the preliminary research on relevant literature
about what scholars regard as good practice in classroom assessment, as well as on the
context analysis (Baseline Survey) of what assessment practices Grade 12 Physics
teachers use in schools.
During the prototyping phase the guiding orientation for employing educational design
research in designing exemplary materials and fulfilling the functions mentioned above, is
that these prototypes must be of good quality (Nieveen, 1999). Nieveen suggests a
framework for making the concept of quality in exemplary materials more transparent,
which includes three criteria namely: validity, practicality, and effectiveness. Validity is
attained when there is internal consistency between the materials and the state-of-the-art
knowledge (content validity), and between the different components of the materials
(construct validity). Practicality is attained when the materials are usable by teachers and
students in a way that is compatible with the developer’s intention. Effectiveness is
attained when students appreciate that the desired learning tasks and the learning
programme are taking place.
The cyclical character of educational design research does not mean that activities are just
undertaken repeatedly. The quality criteria are taken into account and they are given
different emphasis in different stages of the research. For example, during the preliminary
research where the emphasis is on analysing the problem and reviewing the literature, the
criterion of validity is the most dominant, with some attention given to practicality, whilst
in that state no note is yet taken of effectiveness. On the other hand, in the prototyping
phase much attention is paid in the formative evaluation to the criterion of practicality,
whilst effectiveness becomes increasingly important in later iterations. Finally, the
systematic reflection and documentation is undertaken at the end of each designing cycle,
and it is aimed at enhancing design principles and implementation solutions. Table 4.3
depicts the phases of educational design research, the quality criteria emphasised in each
phase, and the activities being undertaken.
Chapter 4 – Research Design and Methods
Table 4.3: Quality criteria related to phases in educational design research
Short description of activities
More emphasis on
Review of the literature and of (past and/or present)
research phase
validity, less on
projects addressing questions similar to the ones in this
study. This results in a framework and first blueprint for the
Initial emphasis on
Development of a sequence of prototypes that will be tried
validity and
out and revised on the basis of formative evaluations. Early
prototypes can be just paper-based for which the formative
evaluation takes place via expert judgments.
Later on mainly
Evaluate whether target users can work with intervention
practicality and
(practicality) and are willing to apply it in their teaching
gradually shifted to
(relevance & sustainability), also whether the intervention
is effective.
Various terms are used in the literature for the preliminary research activity, such as
‘orientation’ (Hadi, 2002), ‘needs and context analysis’ (McKenney, 2001), ‘front-endanalysis’ (Ottevanger, 2001), and ‘in-depth orientation’ (Thijs, 1999). The preliminary
research in the Physics Assessment Materials (PAM) for this study is called ‘Baseline
Survey’. In relation to the prototyping activities, some other authors have used different
terms such as ‘design and development and evaluation stages’ (McKenney, 2001) and
‘development and evaluation and semi-summative evaluation stages’ (Hadi, 2002),
respectively. During the prototyping stage activities consist of tasks to articulate the
design ideas into the empirical development stage.
Formative evaluation of the research activities takes place in all phases of educational
design research. As illustrated by Table 4.3, it serves different functions in the various
development cycles. It also has various layers in design research activities, from the more
informal in the early phases of a project (self-evaluation, one-to-one evaluation, expert
review) to small group evaluation aimed at testing the practicality and effectiveness, to a
full field test (if applicable).
Chapter 4 – Research Design and Methods
Procedurally, the prototyping phase of this study (the most important research activity)
includes: (i) selecting limited exemplary themes or topics; (ii) designing assessment tasks
in a standardised fashion; (iii) anticipating teachers’ potential difficulties in the
implementation process; (iv) providing detailed procedural specifications; and (v)
applying a systematic process of formative evaluation of the products. On the basis of
these considerations, a careful design of assessment materials is expected to improve the
initial implementation process and ultimately the outcomes.
As was referred to in Chapter 3 (Section 3.5), several studies have been conducted using
educational design research as an intervention approach, such as those done by Mafumiko
(2006), McKenney (2001), Motswiri (2004), Ottevanger (2001) and Tecle (2006). For
example, Mafumiko (2006) examined how micro-scale experimentation can serve as a
catalyst for improving the chemistry curriculum in secondary schools in Tanzania.
McKenney (2001) explored the possibilities of computer-based support for Science
education materials developers in Africa. Motswiri (2004) investigated how to support
chemistry teachers in implementing formative assessment of investigative practical work
in Botswana. Ottevanger (2001) investigated teacher support materials as a catalyst for
science curriculum implementation in Namibia. Tecle (2006) explored the potential of a
professional development scenario for supporting biology teachers in Eritrea.
The research model by Mafumiko (2006) (Figure 4.2) is used to inform the research
model for the Intervention Study of this study due to its similarities with this study. It is a
design study aimed at improving a science curriculum in secondary schools in a similar
context to that of Mozambique. Mafumiko’s model shows a development process of
teacher support materials and student worksheets in chemistry in four different versions
following a subsequent design, formative evaluation, and revision steps of prototypes.
Chapter 4 – Research Design and Methods
Appraisal by
3 experts
Version I
Design guidelines
and specifications
Classroom tryout by 3 teachers
& their students
Version II
Interactive panel
session with
5 experts
Version III
Version IV
Try-out & appraisal
by 76 science student
teachers at university
Figure 4.2: The original model by Mafumiko (2006)
While the first version was developed by the author following design guidelines and
specifications of exemplary lesson materials, the subsequent versions (1 to 4) were
designed and formatively evaluated by experts and users. The quality of the prototypes
was sought through subsequent analysis of the validity, and practicality and effectiveness
of the materials. Due to the shortage of time, a full trial of the prototype Version 3 with
teachers and students in the classroom did not take place and the intervention was
restricted to appraisal by university students and experts. This led to the situation were
only the expected practicality and the expected effectiveness of the third version of the
prototypes were demonstrated. More evaluation is needed to demonstrate the actual
practicality and the actual effectiveness of the intervention.
In the following subsection the educational design research in the context of the Physics
assessment materials of this study is further discussed. Design of the Intervention Study
The study on investigating and improving assessment practices in Physics in secondary
schools in Mozambique is characterised by a mixture of a survey and educational design
research approaches. The exploratory character of the Baseline Survey previously
undertaken and the cyclical nature (design, evaluation and revision) of the Intervention
Chapter 4 – Research Design and Methods
Study are important means of establishing evidence of a good quality within the
limitations of this study. In general, the intervention for this study, that is PAM materials,
was developed following an educational design research approach (Figure 4.3).
Baseline Survey
Intervention Study
Preliminary research
Version 1 Version 2 Version 3 Version 4
Literature review on Physics classroom
Design of the prototypes and classroom
assessment and Mozambican education
tryouts (more emphasis on validity and
policies. Survey on assessment practices.
expected practicality with gradual shift to
1. Flowchart auto shapes indicate the findings from literature review, Baseline Survey and context analysis.
2. Block curved arrows indicate cyclical character of educational design research approach.
3. Increasing gray area means gradual up-scaling of the study.
Figure 4.3: General research design of the study
As already reported in Section 4.3 and in Chapter 3, the preliminary research phase, aimed
at providing information about assessment strategies used for Science subjects, such as
alternative, authentic, formative, performance assessments, and the role of both teachers
and students in assessment, was undertaken. The policies of the Mozambican education
system, particularly related to classroom assessment, were also reviewed including the
developments around the curriculum review for secondary education (see also Chapter 2).
Based upon the findings of this Baseline Survey, informed decisions were taken regarding
the topics to be investigated, the type of assessment practice to be used as an example for
improvement, the teaching, learning approach to be followed, and the assessment strategy
to be adopted during the Intervention Study. The findings also provided orientation on the
formulation of design specifications that generated the methodological direction for the
design of the prototypes and its tryout in the classroom.
Chapter 4 – Research Design and Methods
After the preliminary phase, the intervention study consisted mainly of the prototyping
stage where the prototyping process is presented in terms of a series of subsequent design
and formative evaluation and revision steps of versions of prototypes. Four versions of
prototypes were developed before the final product was constructed. Validity, expected
practicality, and expected effectiveness of the draft prototypes were the focus of this stage
with the aim of acquiring clear empirical evidence of the performance of both teachers and
students during the classroom tryout. Three experts, four teachers, and three university
students (also mathematics or Science teacher) appraised the first version. The second
version was produced on the basis of the revision made from the first version and was
used in a classroom tryout by two teachers and their 62 students. The third version was
developed following suggestions from users (teachers and students) and was appraised by
two experts in an interactive discussion. As was referred to earlier, the practicality and
effectiveness of the third version of the prototypes were only ‘expected’ because this
version was only appraised by university students and experts and not via empirical
testing. This phase resulted in the fourth and final version of the materials. The analysis of
the expected effectiveness of this version was done through an evaluation workshop with
university students and teachers including final suggestions from experts. Suggestions on
the possible incorporation of the material into the new curriculum under review and
consequent possible use by teacher training institutions of the PAM materials were given.
During the development of the four versions of the PAM prototypes, the quality was
verified and increased in terms of their validity, expected practicality and expected
effectiveness (Mafumiko, 2006; Nieveen, 1999; Ottevanger, 2001; van den Akker, 1999).
1. Validity refers to the internal consistency between the materials and the state-ofthe-art knowledge (content validity) and to the fact that the various components of
the intervention are consistently linked to each other (construct validity). The first
phase of formative evaluation occurred with Version 1 of the prototype through
appraisal by experts, university students, and schoolteachers and focused on
improving more the validity and less the practicality of the prototype.
2. Practicality refers to the usability of the materials by teachers and students
(including experts) in ways that are compatible with the developer’s intention. In
Chapter 4 – Research Design and Methods
other words, it means performing the design and tryouts of the activities in the
conditions put in place in the learning environment, which are prescribed by the
current Grade 12 Physics curriculum, and under the schedules of the Physics
teachers. The second phase of formative evaluation took place only with Version 2
by classroom tryout by teachers and students and the emphasis was more on
expected practicality of the material with little reference to its effectiveness.
3. Effectiveness refers to the extent to which all users (particularly teachers and
students) appreciate the experiences and outcomes of the intervention and the
learning task. In general, it reveals the implications of the intervention for both
teachers and students in light of the acquired theoretical innovations. The
effectiveness of the material was verified in Version 3 of the prototype through
appraisal by three experts and constituted the third and last phase of formative
evaluation. At the end, Version 4 had improved aspects of validity, expected
practicality, and expected effectiveness as intended by the intervention.
Figure 4.4 depicts the research model of the Intervention Study, which includes the
preliminary and the prototyping phases.
Chapter 4 – Research Design and Methods
workshop with
3 university
students and 2
guidelines and
Version 4
1st expert
appraisal by 3
Version 1
Appraisal by
4 teachers
Version 2
tryout by 2
teachers with
their 62
Version 3
2nd and
final expert
appraisal by
2 experts
Appraisal by
3 university
Figure 4.4: Research model of the Intervention Study
As was referred to earlier in this section, the model by Mafumiko (2006) was used to
inform the research model for the Intervention Study. Three elements in Mafumiko’s
original model have been adapted. The first one refers to the use of findings from the
Baseline Survey to inform the design process of Version 1. The second element refers to
the increased number of appraisers of the Version 1 of the prototypes. The third element is
linked to the final appraisal of the prototypes where, due to the shortage of time, it was not
possible to try out the final version in the classroom with users to verify its actual
practicality and effectiveness.
In summary, the research design for the development of Physics assessment materials for
the study on investigating and improving assessment practices in Physics in secondary
schools in Mozambique proceeded in the two phases described below.
Chapter 4 – Research Design and Methods
1. The preliminary research phase consists of a review of the literature about
assessment, an analysis of Mozambican education policies, and a Baseline Survey
aimed at identifying assessment practices used by teachers in schools.
2. The prototyping phase consists of the development of a number of Physics
assessment prototypes to be used by teachers in schools as a way of improving
their assessment practices. This phase included:
a. the development of the prototypes in cyclical series of design and
formative evaluation of the different versions of the prototypes using
quality criteria of validity, expected practicality and expected effectiveness
of the material in the various prototyping stages; and
b. systematic reflection and documentation consisting of analysis of the
expected effectiveness of the prototypes and of the sustainability of the
study findings.
The findings of the preliminary research are discussed in Chapters 2 (Context of the
study), 3 (Literature review and conceptualisation of the study) and 5 (Assessment
Practices of Mozambican Physics Teachers). Subsections and present the
design guidelines and the research procedures for the intervention study. The instrument
development for the various formative evaluations and the findings of the Intervention
Study are discussed in Chapter 6 (Improving Teacher Assessment Practices in Physics in
Mozambique). Guidelines for design of the intervention
Before elaborating on the guidelines for designing the intervention on assessment
strategies, it is necessary to discuss how the intervention that is being studied can be
looked at from a curriculum perspective. The rationale for presenting this curriculum
perspective lies in the fact that assessment is always a component of a curriculum and the
intervention will necessarily consist of lessons within which assessment will be the focus
of interest. This argument is supported by international literature according to which
assessment, instruction and curriculum go hand-in-hand and any attempt to predict a
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future direction for assessment must consider the factors that can influence curriculum
changes (NRC, 2001; Popham, 2002; van den Akker, 2003). Sadler (1989), quoted by the
NRC (2001), provides a conceptual framework that places classroom assessment in the
context of curriculum and instruction. Within this framework, three elements are required
for formative assessment to promote learning, namely: a clear view of the learning goals
derived from the curriculum; information about the present state of the student derived
from assessment; and action – taken through instruction – in order to close the gap.
Popham (2002) refers to the idea that teachers need to know how to create their classroom
assessment devices, interpret, and use statewide test results, and then plan instruction
based on instructionally informed assessments. This author also supports the view that
teachers must be concerned with their instruction and with the fact that their assessments
address appropriate content. Van den Akker (2003) argues that the various curriculum
components are a powerful tool in understanding the planning of student learning and the
development of accompanying learning materials. He describes, in what he calls a
vulnerable curriculum spider web, ten curriculum components to consider in curriculum
design and implementation and points to the fact that the crucial challenge for curriculum
improvement is to establish balance and consistency between the various curriculum
components (see Figure 4.5). With the term “spider web” the author’s intention is to
illustrate an existing similarity between a spider web and a chain: the spider web is as
strong as its weakest part; similarly, a chain is as strong as its weakest link. In fact,
focusing on assessment means that the intervention is focusing on one of these
components of the curriculum and any effort to improve assessment should be in a
balanced and sustainable manner, taking into account all the components of curriculum.
One relevant lesson that can be learnt from these arguments is that, before putting more
emphasis on assessment materials, one should focus on the quality of the lesson materials.
For the teachers to be able to conduct effective assessment strategies they need support on
preparing good lessons and therefore they need materials of good quality.
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Teacher ro
(Source: van den Akker, 2003)
Figure 4.5: The vulnerable curriculum spider web
Each of the ten components of the spider web addresses a specific question about the
planning of student learning. Table 4.4 shows the curriculum components and their
corresponding focus questions.
Table 4.4: Curriculum components
Curriculum component
Focus question
Why are the students learning?
Aims & Objectives
Toward which goals are they learning?
What are they learning?
Learning activities
How are they learning?
Teacher role
How is the teacher facilitating learning?
Materials & Resources
With what are they learning?
With whom are they learning?
Where are they learning?
When are they learning?
How far has learning progressed?
(Source: van den Akker, 2003:4)
The van den Akker curriculum spider web (Figure 4.5) shows the dynamic interactions of
various components of a curriculum with the rationale at the centre of the spider. It is used
in this study to describe the student-centred approach as the focal point to which the other
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nine components are linked. The pertinent question under ‘rationale’ is ‘why are the
students learning?’ and this means that the answer to this question has implications for the
teaching and learning methods followed, as well as the materials and assessment strategies
used. Therefore, the ‘rationale’ is the central mission in the learning process.
Similarly, since assessment practices are the focus of this study, for them to be successful,
one may look at the various components of which each assessment can be composed, and
thus, the assessment strategy is the central aspect of the assessment process. These
components are visualised in the assessment wheel shown in Figure 4.6 (adapted from
Howie, 2006).
Role of
Role of
(Source: Howie, 2006)
Figure 4.6: Assessment components
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The wheel illustrates that, for assessment strategy to lead to effective learning, several
aspects of classroom context must be taken into account and each one must supports the
other. These aspects are indicated in the wheel in an order (clockwise) which reflects the
complete cycle of learning and assessment events advocated by Harlen (2006) and
supported by van den Akker (2003). Students must understand what they are supposed to
be learning and what is to be assessed and then have a confidence that teachers know
these. This understanding includes clarity in aims, goal, content, activities, (assessment)
criteria, as well as students’ roles and those of the teachers prior, during and after the
assessment task. The assessment strategy must also include important planning elements
like materials (resources) with which students are supposed to be assessed, where
(location) the assessment task will be taking place, and when (time). In the end, the way
all these aspects are communicated to students (reporting method) is crucial for effective
assessment of learning to take place. Having the assessment strategy at the centre of the
wheel implies that the manner in which progress of the student learning can be assessed
depends on all these various assessment components. Any changes in the assessment
strategy will have to consider changes between its various components as this could affect
the student learning.
The quality criteria of the PAM materials discussed in subsection are inherently
linked to the van den Akker’s typology of curriculum implementation and Howie’s
interconnections of the assessment component. All these assessment components embody
how the curriculum evolves in all its typologies (intended, implemented and achieved) and
show the importance of linking assessment (assessing student learning), instruction (what
is being taught and how), and curriculum (what should be taught). The validity aspect
focuses on the intended curriculum, the practicality aspect focuses on the implemented
curriculum, and effectiveness of the materials refers to the achieved curriculum.
In order to reduce the number of assessment components during the classroom tryouts,
some adaptations and combinations of the components presented in this wheel have been
made. These combinations also ensured that the assessment materials are user friendly for
both teachers and students. Thus, in the assessment components of aim, goal, and location
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some elements of why the teacher is assessing and in which context the assessment takes
place, were added, which resulted in a new component named Rationale and Setting,
while content included the student performance expectations and constituted another
component called Content and Performance Expectations. Activity, roles of both teachers
and students, and time were all embedded in one assessment component named Method,
and criteria and reporting method were put into the component of Assessment. The
component of resources stood alone as such and was renamed Materials and Resources to
imply that these resources include not only books and pencils but also laboratory
equipment. This resulted in five assessment components, which are listed below.
1. Rationale and setting: Why is the teacher assessing, toward which goals, and in
which context is the assessment component being applied?
2. Content and performance expectations: What content, and on which intended
learning outcomes is the assessment focused?
3. Method: (i) What are the activities of the students? (ii) What are the activities of
the teacher? (iii) With whom are the students doing the assessment? (iv) At what
time in the teaching and learning process is the assessment best applied?
4. Materials and resources: With what materials and resources are the students being
5. Assessment: How is the quality of the students’ final product or task being judged?
Having presented and discussed the arguments in favour of employing certain assessment
components in the Intervention Study, the following discussion is about guidelines for
designing teacher support assessment materials. Howie (2006) cites Gronlund (1998:18)
arguing that during the process of designing assessment materials leading to effective
assessment one needs (i) to have clarity on all intended learning outcomes, (ii) a variety of
relevant assessment procedures, (iii) fair procedures for all students, (iv) specified criteria
for judging students’ successful performance, (v) feedback to students that emphasise
strengths and weaknesses, and (vi) a comprehensive system of grading and reporting.
Based on these arguments, and as also discussed in Chapter 3 (Section 3.5), it is advisable
to design exemplary teacher support assessment materials that focus on four support
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levels, namely subject knowledge, lesson preparation, teaching methodology, and
assessment and feedback. In the context of this study these support levels are described
1. Subject knowledge
This level of support is specific to the topics under investigation. It includes
making connections with other related topics and a contextualisation in relation to
students’ prior knowledge focusing on what may support or hinder the students’
understanding of the studied topics. It is important that teachers make sure that all
these aspects are dealt with before students start to perform the assessment task.
2. Lesson preparation
This includes advice to the teacher on the background of the problem that students
are expected to solve. It also includes procedural specifications on investigative
experimental work, the type of questions to ask while guiding students in the
assessment task, and the necessary resources or equipment that students would
3. Teaching methodology
It includes advice on how to guide students in a student-centred approach for
demonstration experiments. This refers to the roles of both the students and the
teacher, which includes monitoring how students acquire content knowledge and
practical skills.
4. Assessment and feedback
This support provides guidance on how to assess the products or characteristics of
the students’ activities and how to use the results as formative assessment feedback
for future planning.
Because Physics support assessment materials are meant to change the teachers’ routine
and practice by turning their assessment (or even teaching) activities into a more
investigative approach, these materials need to be:
based on the objectives of Curriculum Plan for Secondary Education for Physics,
Grade 12;
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developed from materials teachers already use;
made to reflect clearly stated learning outcomes identified in the core curriculum
that students are expected to study;
designed with adequate support for teaching, and assessment strategies such as
lesson preparation, subject knowledge, teaching methodology, and assessment and
made to engage students, support curriculum implementation and instruction,
improve student teaming, and to report individual student progress; and
made to help teachers adopt a student-centred approach that includes investigative
work and formative assessment.
Turning teacher assessment activities into an investigative approach in the context of this
study means having teachers using not only already designed assessment materials but
also participate in developing, trying out, evaluating and using their own assessment
Taking into account the assessment components discussed earlier, the following is a
discussion of the design specifications for the four support levels as applied to the context
of designing the Physics assessment materials.
1. Subject knowledge
Two Physics concepts were the focuses of the prototypes namely force and inertia with
the aim of helping teachers to assess their students formatively. The two topics were
chosen for the following reasons. Firstly, the topics have been identified by the literature
as sources of various student alternative conceptions or misinterpretations in many areas
of physical Science. Many articles have discussed a number of student alternative
conceptions about force as related to motion (Champagne et al., 1980; Clement, 1982;
Dekkers, 1997; Gunstone, 1987; Thijs, 1987). Dekkers, for instance, lists 19 generalised
student statements about situations involving force and the interpretations of their own
beliefs expressed in those statements. Due to the fact that in many instances force implies
an alteration of state of rest or motion of an object, these student alternative conceptions
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constitute difficulties to the understanding of the concept of ‘inertia’. Secondly, within the
Grade 11 and 12 Physics Syllabus, these two topics have been given a great deal of
attention. They are extensively taught in both grades and, added to the concept of energy,
they appear to be the most difficult for students.
The teaching (and assessment) strategy proposed by this study to examine the students’
understanding of the two concepts is Prediction-Observation-Explanation (POE)
suggested by White and Gunstone (1992). This strategy requires students to carry out
three different tasks. Firstly, they must predict the outcome of some event, and must
justify their prediction. Secondly, they must see or perform a demonstration of the event
and must describe what they see. Finally, they must reconcile any imbalance or conflict
between what they predicted and what they have actually observed. Details entailing each
of these tasks are discussed under teaching methodology’s support level.
Having indicated the topics used as examples for the demonstration experiments, the
rationale of choosing them, and the proposed teaching strategy, the following subsections
discuss how these two topics can be introduced (following the proposed strategy) and
presents some activities as examples.
a) Introduction to the concepts of force and inertia
At the beginning of this subsection the introduction of the force concept is discussed.
There are various ways of introducing this concept. Some literature recommends starting
the teaching of the concept following a cognitive conflict approach whereby the students’
prior knowledge and understanding (including their alternative conceptions) on the related
subject matter is probed (Clement, 1993; Dekkers, 1997; Mutimucuio, 1998; White &
Gunstone, 1992). Firstly, and following the recommendation, the probing can start by
giving students some examples of a variety of forces, such as gravity, normal or
supporting forces, forces in collisions, and forces of springs. At this teaching stage,
students do not yet have a clear notion of interactions between pairs of objects but this can
later be given attention at Newton’s Third Law of motion. Secondly, students can be
helped to understand the concept of force in two conditions: at rest and in motion. When
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an object is at rest, the sum of all acting forces is zero. For the condition of motion, the
sum of all acting forces can be zero (uniform motion) or different from zero. For this
study, the activity describes a laboratory demonstration experiment of a moving object
with uniform motion. The aim of the experiment is to identify and compare forces acting
on moving objects following the POE strategy. This leads to the formulation of Newton’s
First Law, according to which, when the sum of all forces is zero, an object at rest or in
uniform motion in a straight line will continue in its state, unless it is compelled to change
that state by external forces acting upon it.
Two experiments by Galileo can be used to introduce the physical significance of
Newton’s First Law of motion. In one experiment, and studying the motion of a sphere
moving on a horizontal surface, Galileo observed that, if the sphere were pushed with a
given force, it would move through a certain distance before stopping (Figure 4.7).
Hand starting a sphere’s motion
Friction forces
Figure 4.7: A sphere set in motion
When analysing the experiment, it becomes relevant to find out why the sphere comes to
rest some time after the pushing force has stopped acting. The reason is that in any
moving object (pushed or pulled) there are acting opposing forces, which are impeding the
movements. These forces are acting between the moving object and the surface where the
object is and they are called ‘friction forces’ (see Figure 4.8).
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Friction forces
Pulling force
Figure 4.8: Forces on a moving object
Friction forces always act where there is a contact between the moving objects and the
surface on which they move and they are forces opposing that movement. In the example
of the experiment on Figure 4.7, the friction force acts between the sphere and the
horizontal surface and is opposing the movement of the sphere.
In another experiment, Galileo decided to polish the surface on which the sphere was
moving to see whether the characteristics of the movement would change. In this case, he
realised that the sphere had traversed a bigger distance compared to the previous
experiment, before the surface was polished. Then Galileo came to the conclusion that, if
it was possible to completely eliminate the force that tends to oppose the movement of the
sphere (the friction force), the sphere, after experiencing the action of the initial force
(with the push), would continue moving with constant speed in a straight line. From
Galileo’s conclusions, Newton formulated his First Law of motion, known also as Law of
Inertia, as follows:
Every object continues in its state of rest, or of uniform motion in a straight line,
unless it is compelled to change that state by external resultant forces exerted
upon it.
The key word in this formulation of Newton’s First Law is ‘continues’: an object
continues to do whatever it happens to be doing (rest or uniform motion in a straight line)
unless an external force is impressed upon it. If it is at rest, it will continue in a state of
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rest. If it is moving, it continues to move without turning or changing its speed. Objects at
rest tend to stay at rest – objects moving tend to continue moving. This is the physical
significance of Newton’s First Law of motion and this tendency of objects to resist
changes in motion is called ‘inertia’.
Having discussed the introduction of the force concept, the following subsection discusses
how inertia can be introduced. Drawing from the previous discussion about force and once
Newton’s First Law is clearly understood, the teacher can easily introduce the concept of
inertia. The tendency of objects to remain in its state of rest or of uniform motion in a
straight line is called inertia. The inertia of objects is observable when (i) an object at rest
is suddenly set in motion or (ii) when an object animated with uniform motion in a straight
line has the value of its speed or its direction changed. This change is caused by an
external influence, which means that the resultant of all forces acting on the object is
different from zero. These resulting forces different from zero will cause acceleration. As
a conclusion, the inertia of an object will be observable only if the object is accelerated.
Newton’s First Law is another way of showing that all matter (objects) has a built-in
opposition to being moved if it is at rest or, if it is moving, to having its motion changed.
This property of matter is called inertia. The effect of inertia is evident, for instance, on
the occupants of a car which stops suddenly. The occupants will be lurched forward in an
attempt to continue moving. The larger the mass of an object, the greater is its inertia; that
is, the more difficult it is to move, when at rest, and to stop, when in motion. So, the mass
of an object is the measure of its inertia.
Some activities on both force and inertia can be suggested for students to carry out
following the POE strategy. Below is an example on how to identify and compare forces
on moving objects.
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b) An introductory activity using the POE strategy (e.g., identification and comparison of
forces acting on moving objects)
A prerequisite for the demonstration experiment is that students should previously have
used spring balances to measure forces, and that uniform motion from the kinematical
perspective has been discussed. As a first experiment, the POE strategy recommends that
the lesson can start by asking students to name all forces acting on a soccer ball kicked
into the air (prediction). After this exercise they can be asked to kick the ball (as shown in
Figure 4.9), observe its behaviour through its entire trajectory, and name all the forces
acting on the ball (observation).
Figure 4.9: A soccer ball kicked into the air
In the end, they must be asked to compare what they have predicted and what they
actually observed during the experiment (explanation).
In a second experiment the students can be shown the set-up depicted in Figure 4.10. A
trolley is placed on a smooth runway, with spring balances attached to front and back. At
the back, a hanging mass is attached to the balance by means of string and pulleys. At the
front, the trolley is pulled forward by hand (Fpull).
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Figure 4.10: Identification and comparison of forces acting on moving objects
Predict: Using the POE strategy, students are asked to predict, individually, how the
forward and backward force will compare, if the trolley is pulled forward at constant
speed. They are also asked how these forces will compare, if subsequently a bigger
constant speed is chosen.
Observe: After the predictions, the experiment is carried out, preferably with the students
in small groups. The hanging mass should be big enough for the friction to be negligible.
This will ensure that the same forces forward and backward are found at all constant
speeds ranging from 0 to 2 m/s (meters per second). A constant speed is obtained pulling
the trolley along with a knot in a string revolving above the set-up, which is propelled by
an electrical motor from a cassette player. Using various gears, different constant speeds
can be obtained.
Explain: The result of the observation is compared with what is found in the textbooks
about the behaviour of the forces acting on moving objects and it can therefore be named
Newton’s First Law of motion. The result of the experiment can then be discussed in the
class: ‘What did the students think would happen?’, ‘Which are the acting forces?’, ‘Why
were the backward and forward forces equal?’
It is important to mention that, although these experiments are useful in identifying and
comparing forces, they cannot necessarily be used to combat potential students’
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alternative conceptions on forces. They only offer students the empirical evidence that
their expectations and their alternative conceptions can be deficient. They do not provide
explanation about what students already know that can guarantee the shift from their own
conceptions to the scientific view.
2. Lesson preparation
Teacher support on the preparation of lessons in which the formative assessment will take
place includes advice from the teacher on the characteristics of the lesson and student
readiness in terms of the background of the problem that they are expected to solve.
General characteristics of the Physics demonstration experiments include content specific
knowledge (e.g., description of the intended learning outcomes) and procedural
specifications of laboratory work (e.g., materials required for the experiments, the timing
of the activities, and suggestions on how to deal with potential problems that may occur).
In general, the teacher support for lesson preparation includes two main aspects.
a) General description of the lesson
Firstly, this involves a description of the main concepts (force and inertia) to be
dealt with during the experiments and how they will be formatively assessed.
The teacher may start the lesson by asking brief questions to students on what
they already know about concepts like mass and speed. A discussion about
these concepts may help the teacher to understand and evaluate student
predictions and/or their responses during experiments.
Secondly, there is a description of what constitutes the lesson (for instance, that
the students will work in groups of a maximum number of four students each).
Thirdly, there is a description of the intended learning outcomes based on the
Physics Syllabus for Grades 11 and 12 - the aims of the lesson must be clearly
formulated by the teacher (emphasising the POE strategy) to help students
understand what is expected of them.
b) Lesson preparation
Explain what is to be done and when (lesson plan and timing).
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Explain the working method: for example, explain that everyone in the
classroom must be organised into groups of a maximum number of four students
Anticipate potential difficulties during the experiments associated with the
student-centred practice.
Locate the materials (equipment) required for the experiments. This activity is
important to make the teacher aware that the experiments are designed to
support student-centred practice using locally available materials.
3. Teaching methodology
As referred to earlier, the teaching methodology used to teach and to investigate student
understanding of the two Physics concepts is the Prediction-Observation-Explanation
(POE) strategy. One of the most powerful contributions of the POE strategy to learning is
that it is more direct in revealing students’ understanding than the usual style of verbal or
paper-and-pencil tests. It focuses on a specific phenomenon of learning. The prediction
that is required from students is more likely to imply genuine application of the previous
knowledge rather than asking a simple question in the form “explain why…”.
Furthermore, the students are more likely to evaluate how their knowledge applies to a
real situation, because the experiment is directly shown, than the more general thinking
implied by a single question. Another key characteristic of the POE strategy is that it
allows students to decide what reasoning they must apply in any given situation, whilst
their predictions are based on their everyday experiences and beliefs.
Besides the three main tasks that students are required to carry out (predict, observe,
explain), some critical steps are to be taken into account when applying this strategy
(White & Gunstone, 1992). The first step is that teachers must ensure that all students
understand the nature of the situation about which they are supposed to make a prediction.
Teachers should also ensure that all students have the same understanding of the situation
before proceeding. This can be done by encouraging students to ask questions about the
situation under consideration. The second step refers to the importance of having all
students indicate, in writing, both the prediction and the reasons supporting the prediction.
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This is important because it allows the students to decide what knowledge is appropriate
to apply and then apply it. The way students must indicate their prediction and the
supporting reasons can be either in open-ended form, i.e., having students writing their
predictions on their own words, or on a previously prepared sheet of paper. Recording the
reasons for prediction is crucial for the value of the teaching strategy because it shows the
link between the concepts involved in the learning situation. The third step occurs during
the actual experimentation. It is important that all students write down their individual
observations while the experiment takes place. Very often different students will see
different things, and if observations are not written down at the time they are made, some
students might change their observations as a result of hearing what others claim to have
seen. The fourth and last step refers to the students’ reconciliation of any discrepancy
between what they predicted and what they actually observed. Normally this is difficult
for students, but it is advisable because students’ explanations at this stage reveal much
about their understanding.
4. Assessment and feedback
The ultimate objective of this support level is defined in terms of assessment of learning
and thus, the emphasis is on all functions of assessment namely diagnostic, formative, and
summative. The diagnostic and formative functions of assessment are expressed by a
number of design guidelines to facilitate experimental work and of elements of feedback
provision that the teacher needs to consider. These design guidelines, as taken from the
literature (Dekkers, 1997; Garrett & Roberts, 1982; Gunstone, 1991; Tamir, 1991; van den
Berg & Giddings, 1992), are listed below.
Agreement – having stated the problem to be investigated, the teacher and the
students must agree on the procedures to be followed, the evaluation of the
explanations given during the experimental work, and the conclusions.
Learning outcomes – the teacher must be tightly prescriptive about the ideas that
the students are supposed to acquire and develop.
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Student participation – In practical work, particularly in laboratory demonstrations,
the teacher must produce the event to be investigated according to the purpose to
be achieved, while the students attempt to interpret it and make sense of it.
Type of experiment and aims - Teachers must avoid having too many aims of the
experiment to be achieved at once. This may lead to none being pursued.
Critical thinking and reporting – Teachers are to make sure that students develop a
critical attitude towards their actions and interpret the activity’s data only in the
light of the experimental work pursued and of their own knowledge and
As for providing formative feedback to students, when facilitating demonstration
experiments, teachers must consider a number of elements of feedback provision in three
main stages of the lesson, namely (i) in lesson preparation, (ii) in the course of the lesson,
and (iii) in the end of lesson (Motswiri, 2004). These elements are presented and discussed
in Chapter 6 (Section 6.5).
Concerning the summative function of assessment, the use of assessment criteria is crucial
to help monitor the performance of students. The criteria to be adopted for assessing
student understanding of the inertia concept using laboratory experiment must be such that
they provide information about how students performed the task at the end of the
experiments. Scoring rubrics are used to assess the student responses to the performance
task. These rubrics are observable in nature, and there are specific aspects a student should
perform to carry out a performance properly.
Two types of scoring criteria are frequently discussed in the literature, namely analytic
and holistic (Moskal, 2003). Analytic scoring rubrics divide a performance into separate
facets and each facet is evaluated using a separate scale (see, for example, the different
performance levels of the rubric on assembling an electric circuit in Table 3.2). Holistic
scoring rubrics use a single scale to evaluate the larger process. In order to develop
observable scoring criteria for the POE strategy, analytic scoring rubrics were considered
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(refer to Appendix P, Table 2) and the guidelines discussed below were taken into account
(Moskal, 2003:15).
The criteria set forth within a scoring rubric should be clearly aligned with the
requirements of the task and the stated goals and objectives. A list can be
compiled that describes how the elements of the task are into the goals and
objectives. This list can be extended to include how the criteria set forth in the
scoring rubric map into both the elements of the task and the goals and objectives.
Criteria that cannot be mapped directly back to both the task and the goals and
objectives should not be included in the scoring rubric.
The criteria set forth in scoring rubrics should be expressed in terms of observable
behaviours or product characteristics. A teacher cannot evaluate an internal
process unless this process is displayed in an external manner. For example, a
teacher cannot look into students' heads and see their reasoning process. Instead, it
is necessary for students to explain their reasoning in written or oral form and the
scoring criteria should be focused upon evaluating the written or oral display of the
reasoning process.
Scoring rubrics should be written in specific and clear language that the students
understand. One benefit of using scoring rubrics is that they provide students with
a clear description of what is expected before they complete the assessment
activity. If the language employed in a scoring rubric is too complex for the given
students, this benefit is lost. In other words, students should be able to understand
the scoring criteria.
The number of points that are used in the scoring rubric should make sense. The
points that are assigned should clearly reflect the value of the activity. On an
analytic scoring rubric, if various facets are weighted differently from other facets
of the rubric, there should be a clear reason for these differences.
The statement of the criteria should be fair and free from bias. The phrasing used
in the description of the performance criteria should be carefully constructed in a
manner that eliminates gender and ethnic stereotypes. Additionally, the criteria
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should not give an unfair advantage to a particular subset of students and which is
unrelated to the purpose of the task. Research procedures for the intervention study
This subsection presents the research procedures for the Intervention Study. It describes
the number of activities carried out during the design and development phases of the PAM
prototypes and the period in which these activities took place. Details about how
appraisers of the materials and the participating schools, teachers, and students were
prepared for their roles in the intervention are all presented in different sections in Chapter
6 according to their level of involvement (refer to Sections 6.2 to 6.5).
The Intervention Study consisted of a cyclical development of the PAM prototypes in four
versions and was undertaken between April 2006 and February 2007. The first version of
the PAM prototype was designed by the researcher based on (i) lessons from Baseline
Survey findings and (ii) design guidelines and specifications of exemplary assessment
materials described earlier (subsection, which were adapted from design
specifications used by similar intervention studies in Science education (refer to Chapter
3, Section 3.5). This version was appraised by three experts, three university students, and
four secondary school teachers. The design and appraisal of this prototype was carried out
from April to June 2006. The design and development of the second version – also by the
researcher - was undertaken between July and September 2006 and followed suggestions
and recommendations from appraisers of the first version. This version was then tried out
in the classroom with two teachers and 62 of their students in October 2006. Then the
analysis of the tryout findings, which started during the tryout in October, was finalised
earlier in November 2006. The findings led to the design - also by the researcher - of the
third version of the prototype. It then followed a final appraisal by two experts between
November 2006 and January 2007. Finally, the fourth and final version of the prototype
was designed and evaluated in a workshop with three university students and two teachers
in February 2007.
Chapter 4 – Research Design and Methods
4.4 Validity and reliability
No research study is perfect. However, controlling the possible threats, which might
interfere with the interpretation of the cause-effect relationship, is crucial (Coolican,
1999). Understanding the concepts of validity and reliability helps to analyse the possible
weaknesses derived from uncontrolled variables particularly in experimental research. The
general definition of validity is that it is a demonstration that a particular instrument does
indeed measure what it is supposed to measure (Cohen et al., 2000). Reliability is defined
by Cohen et al., (2000) as a synonym for consistency and replicability over time, over
instruments and over groups of respondents.
For this particular study, three means were considered to establish validity. The first was
face validity where for both research phases (baseline and intervention) the validity was
checked in all the corresponding data collection strategies, namely questionnaires,
interviews schedules, classroom observation schedules, including the evaluation
instruments of the classroom tryouts. The validity was checked by inspecting whether the
instruments indeed measure what it is supposed to measure in terms of level and breadth.
The second was content validity (Cohen et al., 2000) of the instruments, which was
controlled through consultation with colleagues, teachers, experts, and also by relying on
the researcher’s experience to ensure the representativeness of the researched area.
The third was external validity (Yin, 1994) of the intervention, which deals with the
problem of knowing whether the demonstration experiment results can be generalisable to
a broader perspective. This is a particularly difficult notion to achieve for a case study like
the one reported in this dissertation. Although no statistical generalisation is possible from
the sample involved in the study to the population of Mozambican Grade 12 Physics
teachers and students, yet this study strives to generalise the findings to the broader theory
underlying the design and development of the intervention. Yin (1994) speaks in this
context of analytical generalisation. There will have to be more replications of these
findings in more classroom tryouts to determine whether the same results may occur.
Chapter 4 – Research Design and Methods
In terms of reliability the issues of internal and external reliability were addressed. Internal
reliability or consistency was verified to ensure that questionnaire respondents answer
related items in similar ways. External reliability or stability was verified by cross
checking information on assessment practices used by teachers by comparing the
information provided in the questionnaires to that of the interviews and including the
classroom observations.
4.5 Ethical issues
The subject of ethics in social research is potentially a wide-ranging and challenging one.
Therefore, it was fitting for this study to address the main issues that may confront the
researcher in the field. However, before discussing the issue of confrontation with the
field, including the researcher’s own integrity and transparency, it is important to state that
the ethics requirements, as prescribed by the University of Pretoria, were met. Prior to the
research, permission were sought from the Faculty of Education regarding ethical
considerations involved in the study. The procedures suggested were approved by the
Faculty and permission to undertake the study was granted.
Regarding the issue of field confrontation and researcher’s integrity, four aspects deserved
consideration for the course of the research.
a) Debriefing and right to non-participation (Coolican, 1999) – All participants in this
research were informed prior to the research about the full nature and rationale of the
study they were to be involved in, and there was an effort to avoid any negative
influences. The researcher had to emphasise the voluntary nature of the participation, as
well as the right of the participants to withdraw at any time should the discomfort be
greater than anticipated.
b) Confidentiality and privacy - The researcher guaranteed anonymity or requested
permission to identify individual participants. For example, when the use of tape
recordings appeared to be necessary, permission was sought. Interviewees and teachers
observed during classes and those who participated in the tryouts were all asked for their
permission to be identified. For the particular aspect of recorded interviews, the
Chapter 4 – Research Design and Methods
participants were given the right to assume that the records of the interviews would be
safeguarded and used as anonymous data only for research purposes.
c) Intervention (Coolican, 1999) - Since the design and development of assessment
prototypes was an activity that caused alteration to the teachers’ normal routine, there was
a need to improve some working conditions. For instance, coffee and snacks were
arranged for the teachers in such situations where they had to stay in school much longer
than their normal time schedule.
d) The role of the researcher (Plomp, 2006) - This research was conducted in close
collaboration with teachers and students who were actively involved, often as members of
the research team. The situation led to problems of finding a balance between the role of
the researcher as a designer, an evaluator, and an implementer. Making the research open
to scrutiny and critique by educational experts, deserving attention to validity and
reliability of data and instruments, and having a good quality of research design appeared
to be key measures for this potential conflicting role. For instance, the quality of the
design was sought through triangulation (of data and its analysis), empirical testing (of the
intervention), and systematic documentation, analysis and reflection (of the design,
development, and evaluation of the intervention process).
4.6 Conclusion
The research design of the study on the investigation and improvement of assessment
practices used by Grade 12 teachers in Physics consists of two main stages. The first
stage, the Baseline Survey, involves the identification of assessment practices currently
used by the teachers in Mozambique. The survey is based on the context in which Physics
teachers are working in schools as well as on the insights of the literature on what is
deemed to be good classroom practice. The literature review (as presented in Chapter 3)
focuses on the role, current practices, and ways of improving the teacher assessment
practices in secondary Science education as surveyed in many educational systems in both
developed and developing countries. Expert appraisal and networking with people
working in similar fields have also added value to the preliminary research of the overall
study. This stage led to the necessary groundwork to the following stage of the research
study. The overall findings of this stage are discussed in Chapter 5.
Chapter 4 – Research Design and Methods
The second stage of the research design is the Intervention Study, which consists of the
design and development of prototypes for assessing the performance of Grade 12 Physics
students as a way of helping teachers to improve their classroom practice. The prototypes
consist of demonstration experiments and a written report and they were designed and
developed on the topics of force and inertia, selected from Grade 12 Physics Syllabus for
Secondary School in Mozambique. These topics were chosen because of their suitability
to apply the POE strategy in inquiring student understanding of Science concepts,
particularly for performance assessments (to be discussed in Chapter 5). The development
of the prototypes uses a cyclic approach of design and formative evaluation in such a way
that successive versions of the material evolve into a final product with empirical evidence
of its practicality. The validity, expected practicality and expected effectiveness of the
material were verified trough appraisal from curriculum, science, and assessment
specialists and tryouts by potential users, i.e., teachers and students. The design and
appraisal of the subsequent versions of the prototypes, as well as the findings of the
classroom tryout, are presented and discussed in detail in Chapter 6.
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