There are many definitions of formative assessment floating around that can all be classified as correct, and our own international formative assessment expert, Dylan Wiliam, offers his summation (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Formative_assessment):
All those activities undertaken by teachers, and/or by students, which provide information to be used as feedback to modify the teaching and learning activities in which they are engaged.
Formative assessment is a practice teachers can learn to use to help gather the information they need to understand where students are and how to adjust instruction to help build understanding. A key element of making a formative assessment strategy succeed –as discovered in the six years of research and development of the Keeping Learning on Track program – are Teacher Learning Communities (TLCs) that give teachers the opportunity to learn formative practice together. TLCs allow teachers to support each other in making change in their classroom – it’s a major shift in the way teachers learn and ultimately engage with students. With a structured introduction to the research basis and theoretical framework of formative assessment practice, strategies and techniques can be immediately implemented in the classroom.
Community meetings and ongoing collaboration
Teachers start with learning formative assessment strategies; they continue their learning through ongoing Teacher Learning Community meetings where they receive collaborative support to more effectively make meaningful instructional changes in their classrooms. These meetings are for learning, discussing, and ultimately embedding best practices, and reinforce the team’s accountability for implementation.
This combination of initial and ongoing teacher professional development – focused on formative assessment – supports teachers to make substantive and sustained changes to their classroom practice by providing time and structure for ongoing collaboration. This increases teachers’ ability to:
— Use classroom techniques that elicit evidence of student learning minute to minute and day by day
— Identify and share learning expectations with students
— Provide and structure feedback that moves learning forward
— Structure opportunities for students to take ownership of their learning and act as instructional resources for one another
So does it work?
Megan Franke, a professor at the Graduate School of Education & Information Studies at UCLA, studied 22 teachers across six schools who were participating in an ongoing collaboration-based professional development program. In her interview four years after the program began, she found that all 22 teachers maintained some level of implementation and 10 teachers continued learning in noticeable ways. Specifically, teachers changed their practice to listen more carefully to the details of their students’ thinking and then use what they learned to make ongoing instructional decisions. (Capturing teachers’ generative change: A follow-up study of professional development in mathematics. American Educational Research Journal, 38(3), 653–689.)
The one characteristic of teacher professional development that contributed to this sustained result was the opportunity for teachers to collaborate and discuss student thinking and learning. Teachers reported that the level of support from colleagues was critical because it made the reform a school endeavor rather than a single teacher’s endeavor.
Teacher Learning Communities within the framework of a formative assessment strategy are an important element to sustaining this new practice. If you’re a teacher, student, principal, or part of an overall teacher professional development endeavor, we’d love to hear if you’ve tried any collaboration techniques like these and what the results were. Drop a comment below.