How is Curling like Formative Assessment?

How curling is like Formative AssessmentWith the Winter Olympics fast approaching people are gearing up to watch that strangely addictive sport curling. For those of you unfamiliar with curling, you can find a quick overview here.

Both formative assessment and curling are ‘planned processes,’ so to speak. Formative assessment is a process used by teachers and students during instruction that provides feedback to adjust ongoing teaching and learning to improve students’ achievement of intended instructional outcomes. Wikipedia’s definition of curling suggests a great deal of strategy and teamwork goes into choosing the ideal path and placement of a stone for each situation, and the skills of the curlers determine how close to the desired result the stone will achieve. This gives curling its nickname of “Chess on Ice.”

Both of these ‘definitions’ mention the importance of a team. In curling, all four members’ efforts contribute directly to each shot. Much like all ‘3’ members of the classroom learning team – the individual student, his or her peers and the teacher – contribute to the success (or student learning) in the classroom on a daily basis.

In curling, when the ‘rock’ is in play, the curler can induce a curved path by causing the stone to slowly turn as it slides, and the path of the rock may be further influenced by two sweepers with brooms who accompany it as it slides down the sheet, using the brooms to alter the state of the ice in front of the stone. The ‘influence’ of the two sweepers is based upon constant, regular adjustment based upon what is happening in-the-moment between the rock and the ice. The ‘when and how’ of sweeping is really important, and relates to the when and how of feedback – to students, by students and for students.

The heat/friction created by the brooms on the ice helps the stones go farther. Good sweepers have good flexibility. Both ‘friction’ and ‘flexibility’ play a role in formative assessment. Friction gets created when students know where they are in relationship to the learning target AND have the tools (strategies and knowledge) to move from where they are to where they want and need to be (student directed learning). The flexibility within in the classroom created by the classroom learning team and the students directing their own learning allows the student to move where, when and how they need to move with the support of their teacher and their peers.