Synectics for and as Formative Assessment

One strategy I learned from Bruce Wellman a long time ago is called a synectics. Wellman and Lipton (2011) describe it as a way to engage and focus the group energy in a low-risk setting. Synectics comes from the Greek and means “joining together of different and apparently irrelevant elements.” Me? I like to use it for and as formative assessment.

Here’s an example:

Synectics for and as Formative Assessment


At the beginning of the unit (lesson, meeting, teacher professional development, etc.), I can get a feel for what the students think they know (or feel) about a new topic. Their background knowledge and assumptions surface as they pick and share. I can use the data they share as a way to gauge what they know, might know or where misconceptions might lie. In a meeting with adults, if we have a touchy topic, it might provide the opportunity to get all the voices in the room and allow us to ascertain various pieces of background information or assumptions behind the topic we are about to discuss. At the end of a lesson or a teacher professional development opportunity, it allows me to see what students have learned, what connections they’ve made and again, see if there may be lingering (or new) misconceptions.

This strategy works with a single picture, a group of pictures where participants have choice or with pictures or objects on the table from which to choose. Typically,  I set expectations up so that folks have about 60 seconds to pick and complete the sentence, about 30-45 seconds (30-Second Share is another technique) to share their completed sentence. As the teacher or leader it is useful to hear what students and participants come in with and what they leave with. This strategy allows you to make adjustments either before you get started with the “content” or adjustments and follow-up after the learning/sharing. It is low-risk, gets all voices in the room and provides insightful information upon which the teacher or leader can act.

So two things from you – share a synectic you have used or share your response to the example above. Either way, your thinking about, and your practice of, formative assessment matter!

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Kathy Dyer

Kathy Dyer is a Sr. Curriculum Specialist for NWEA, designing and developing learning opportunities for partners and internal staff. Formerly a Professional Development Consultant for NWEA, she coached teachers and school leadership and provided professional development focused on assessment, data, and leadership. In a career that includes 20 years in the education field, she has also served as a district achievement coordinator, principal, and classroom teacher. She received her Masters in Educational Leadership from the University of Colorado Denver.

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