Formative Assessment: Teaching What Matters Most

Teaching-What-Matters-MostGrant Wiggins’ latest blog at TeachThought – 4 Easy Steps to Teach What Matters Most – does a great job of underscoring why educators need to slow down and get student feedback on their teaching. While most teachers are rushed, some even under pacing guides, the benefits to gathering student feedback are quite clear.

In his blog, Grant lays out four steps, the first three of which are clearly rooted in formative assessment best practices:

Part 1: Build in and identify in your map/syllabus/unit/lesson plan what we call white space. White space is a placeholder for any results that are likely to occur that require slowing down or re-teaching or re-practicing. Practically speaking, each week has a half-period or a whole-period built into the week’s plan for such adjustment.

Formative assessment is all about re-teaching, based on what consistent feedback is telling us about student learning. Eliciting evidence of student learning brings on teacher “adjustment” so that educators reach all students and learning is moved forward.

Part 2 is to devise 1-2 quick exit slips or informal formative assessments related to unit goals, and use those results to inform use of white space.

Beyond exit tickets, there are numerous formative assessment strategies and tactics that teachers can use to inform what adjustments need to be made so that all students learn what’s being taught.

Part 3 is to identify the parts of the unit that can be skipped or shortened, if need be, to ensure that unit goals are fully addressed. Putting an asterisk by those activities alerts you to the possibility. (It also has the virtue of helping you identify relative priorities in a unit: not everything is equally important in a lesson plan).

By eliciting evidence of student comprehension there comes the possibility that not everything needs to be covered. It goes without saying that if everyone understands the concept being taught, it stands to reason that time can be devoted to other areas of the lesson plan. Formative assessment tactics can provide this feedback, usually pretty quickly.

While it may seem that slowing down the pace of teaching may hurt student learning (or those pacing guides), in actuality formative assessment speeds up the overall progress of student learning. And student progress is what teaching is all about and what ultimately matters most.

What do you think matters most in teaching… pace or results?