Perspective: Two Teachers Weigh In on Formative Assessment Effectiveness

Perspective:  Two Teachers Weigh In on Formative Assessment EffectivenessAs teachers, we’ve all experienced that point in our careers where we might feel we’re simply speaking to students instead of teaching them. We can impart all the knowledge in the world to our students but is it sinking in? Or is it bouncing off a blank stare?

Here at Teach. Learn. Grow. we’ve imparted a lot of information on formative assessment – techniques and tactics for implementing it in the classroom; digital tools and tips to make it easier to implement; and research and proof points on its effectiveness at improving student learning. But what do teachers think about formative assessment?

I’ve worked with many teachers over the years, helping them to implement formative assessment in their classroom, and I thought I’d share some of what they thought at the end of that two-year professional development program. I asked them the following:

  • Before formative assessment I used to…
  • Now I…
  • I changed because…
  • What I notice is…

Greg Russo started practicing formative assessment in his classroom as a middle school social studies teacher and has since moved it with him into high school. He was an early adopter of formative assessment. In his words:

Before formative assessment I used to…

  • teach a unit without checking in on the progress of my students’ understanding.  I would not know how they were truly doing until I gave the unit assessment.  Once the unit assessment was complete, the learning for that topic would be over – regardless of what the students learned or did not learn.  I also did not share the big picture of the unit with the students.  They did not know what was coming next.

Now I…

  • share the unit plan with the students as a first step.  I then pre-assess to already differentiate the unit for students that have a strong prior knowledge on a unit.  I have students monitor their progress on a daily basis.  I also use formative checks throughout the unit to not only adjust instruction, but also to drive small groupings.

I changed because…

  • deep down I know the teaching I was doing was not nearly as effective as it could/should be.

What I notice is…

  • there are no surprises.  Students know exactly what the expectations are for a particular unit.  As soon as students do not “get” a concept, we are able to check and adjust instruction to address these issues.  Students are able to take ownership of their learning, and seem to feel like active/engaged members of the classroom.

Jill Valdez was an early and avid adopter of formative assessment in her 5th grade classroom. In her words:

Before formative assessment I used to…

  • Give scheduled assessments that typically provided summative data.
  • Focus my re-teaching on the lowest students based on that data and then moved on.
  • Do some guessing or assuming about student achievement.
  • Not give students enough freedom to step up into their role as a learner nor provide them the direction and tools to do so.
  • Get frustrated with the inconsistent motivation and enthusiasm in my room. It was more connected with my enthusiasm and motivation which got exhausting.

Now I…

  • Trust my students with making more decisions in their learning.
  • See the enthusiasm as mutual and how it feeds off our efforts vs. me carrying that weight.
  • Have strong “proof” about where each student is and where they need to go.
  • Am more transparent about what we are learning and why.
  • Hear students articulating what they know and need to know (in academic language).

I changed because…

  • I was inspired by seeing the results from others.
  • I needed a shift to reenergize my teaching.
  • I wanted to grow.
  • I wanted all my students to grow.
  • It was the right thing to do (and I’m all about that).

What I noticed is…

  • Formative assessment has the biggest payoff – more than anything else done in my classroom.
  • Formative assessment changed the classroom environment in many ways.  What it looked like/ sounded like.  How I interacted with students.  How they interacted with each other.
  • Students had a new found confidence and glow.
  • Student achievement increased.
  • Student ownership of learning increased.
  • Other staff members noticed.

If you’ve used formative assessment in your classroom, we’d love to hear what your before and after experience has been. What was your teaching like before? What do you do now that formative assessment is part of your teaching arsenal? Why did you change? What have you noticed? Share your thoughts in the comments section below. We’d love to hear from you.