Making the Connection Between Checking for Understanding and Formative Assessment

Making the Connection Between Checking for Understanding and Formative AssessmentI was doing some searches online on the topic of ‘checking for understanding’ and came across a nice blog post at Pushing Forward titled Ready-to-use Tools: Checking for Understanding. While he doesn’t mention the term ‘formative assessment’ – he uses on-the-spot assessment strategies instead – much of what he details dovetails nicely with what we’ve been blogging about here on formative assessment.

In his post, Bret Olson discusses five strategies that are a good place to start if you’re a teacher unsure of how best to employ formative assessment in your classroom, and they are definitely worth repeating.

  1. Take them to teacher’s college. Here, Bret suggests telling your kids exactly what you’re doing. Explain some of the new techniques and tactics that you’ll be using and why. This is smart! The kids are too and they’ll realize that you’re doing something different and appreciate why you’re doing it. Getting students involved from the beginning makes both learning and teaching more effective.
  2. Learn to teach with no hands. You can use your hands of course, but your students are not allowed to raise hands to answer questions. Why? Hand-raising limits the ability for teachers to effectively elicit evidence of learning from the entire classroom, save for those kids who consistently raise their hands. We wrote a blog on what this can ultimately lead to in classrooms – Instructional Strategies:  Raising Hands in Class and the Outlier Effect. Be sure to check it out.
  3. Questions that ‘work’ for everyone. Asking good, open-ended questions, and encouraging all students to participate in finding the answer or answers, can lead to more student interaction as well as robust (and educational) discussion. Check out this blog we did on the research behind the importance of asking higher-order questions:  Instructional Strategies – Higher Order Questions and Student Engagement. You can also check out Educational Strategies: 13 Mistakes to Avoid When Asking Questions.
  4. Wait for it! Give students a chance to answer (or clarify) the question before jumping in. As an educator it’s often hard to give this wait time, but it can be valuable. This blog showcases research on wait time in the classroom and its connection to increased student engagement:  Formative Assessment: Higher-Order Questions and Increased Wait Time Increase Student Engagement.
  5. “Before anything else…” Plan in advance how you plan on using CFUs within your lesson plan, at least until it becomes second nature. Formative assessment is a planned process, which really helps when you are working on the integration of new strategies and techniques. If you read our blog, you’ll know that we propose building formative assessment into a formalized teacher professional development program that meets regularly. Powerful tools like formative assessment and CFUs need active peer involvement. We call them Teacher Learning Communities or TLCs.

These five strategies that Bret so nicely outlined in his blog really hit the mark. If you’re an educator would you add anything else to the list?


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