In a recent blog – What is Formative Assessment – we defined it as:
“Planned classroom practice to elicit evidence of learning minute-by-minute, day-by-day in the classroom; and non-summative assessments that occur while content is still being taught. Both of these formative assessments can inform teachers of what students know or do not know, help students understand what it is they are ready to learn next, so teachers can adjust their instruction accordingly for each of their students.”
What’s perhaps most important about how we see formative assessment is the “minute-by-minute, day-by-day” part of this definition. It’s the planned classroom practice of eliciting evidence of learning at all times in the classroom. Formative assessment can inform teachers of what students know or do not know and help students understand what it is they are ready to learn next, so teachers can adjust their instruction accordingly for each of their students and students can adjust their learning tactics.
When teachers use assessment primarily to support learning, the divide between instruction and assessment becomes blurred (which is good). Everything students do, such as conversing in groups, completing assignments, asking and answering questions, working on projects, handing in– even sitting silently and looking bored or confused – is a potential source of evidence about what they do and do not understand.
Teachers who consciously use formative assessment in this manner – to support learning – understand that formative assessment is not a thing or an event (such as a test or a quiz), but an ongoing, cyclical process that is a seamless part of the classroom culture and routine. Using simple techniques, they quickly extract pointed information about student understanding during commonplace classroom activities. They analyze this information on the spot, and then use it to make instructional decisions that address the understandings and misunderstandings the evidence reveals.