Classroom Strategies: Planning for and Building Instructional Agility

Classroom Strategies:  Planning for and Building Instructional Agility Not too long ago I heard Tom Schimmer talk about instructional agility. The phrase really captured me; it surfaced ideas and questions that I’ve thought about for quite a while. That “What’s next?” question that we as teachers ask so often fits into this thinking. I thought it would be good to connect this question to using formative assessment in the classroom.

We’ve blogged before on numerous occasions about formative assessment as being a planned process that involves both students and teachers collecting evidence of learning to adapt what’s happening in the classroom. The agility that Tom speaks of in his talk fits into the need to adapt and how often.

Teachers are using more formative assessment strategies and using them more frequently. Sometimes it is planned (most effective) and sometimes it is an in-the-moment decision. Teachers are looking at (some are just collecting) the data. Some teachers (and students) are using the data to make changes. For students, these changes can include such decisions as too hard/too easy, set a new goal, try a different strategy, ask for help, etc. For teachers these decisions might include keep going, reteach, spend less time on this or form small groups. The “agility” part is required to make these in-the-moment adjustments.

Being instructionally agile pushes us as teachers to be open, ready and willing to make the immediate adjustments in our teaching. It seems like it is much easier to do this if we’ve planned for it. Planning the use of key diagnostic or hinge-point questions in our lessons and options A, B and C for instruction based on the results (data collected from) we gather from students, prepares us to be more agile in-the-moment.

Tom also spoke about one of my favorite concepts – that being that formative assessment is a verb. When we (and the students) view it as such, there is a paradigm shift in our classroom – one that empowers us to be more agile in our instruction. It takes us to a place that Leslie Lambert talks about where, if formative assessment is done well, it is difficult to tell when instruction stops and assessment begins. It takes us to the place where students are paramount to assessment and assessment is used as a tool for learning.

Agility in sports requires practice…and practice to the point where moves become second nature. Depending upon the sport, one can find a list of training exercises, drills, for increasing agility. Minute-to-minute and day-by-day teachers are gathering data about student learning. Instructional agility develops over time as teachers do four things:

  1. Make plans to use formative assessment strategies during instruction
  2. Plan options (directions for the learning to go) for the lesson based upon the evidence of learning collected
  3. Gather the evidence of learning
  4. Make one or more of the planned (immediate) adjustments in instruction

Over time both the planning and the adjustments become more automatic (for both teachers and students). But just like the agility drills for football, martial arts, soccer or basketball, we start out on a small scale and somewhat slow building both speed and agility in implementing and making adjustments.

How are you building your instructional agility? How do you plan for it? What does it look like in your classroom? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.