Spring has finally arrived. Along with warmer weather comes the final opportunity of the school year to refine your teaching strategies and help your students learn and grow. While many teachers know that embedded formative – assessment can be a powerful tool for evaluating and supporting student learning, it can be challenging to find time—especially in the packed days of spring—to check in on what’s working for your students.
Formative assessment is distinct from other types of assessment that take place throughout the year. It’s a teaching practice focused on continual checks for student understanding, that can help you make informed decisions about the next steps in instruction for each student. Formative assessment might look like students giving each other feedback in pairs or small groups, a classroom discussion, student self-assessment or a quick quiz or poll. And at its best, formative assessment becomes an integral part of a teaching and learning cycle that helps both students and teachers grow.
So, how do we know if we’ve chosen the right formative assessment strategies to support student learning? What can we look at to determine where new approaches, different tools or adjustments are needed?
Here are seven simple things to look for in your own classroom to understand if your formative assessment practice is effective:
- You regularly identify and share learning expectations with students. Teachers who communicate what students should learn and the goals for their progression help students take ownership of their learning.
- You continuously elicit evidence of student learning. Formative assessment is not an isolated event. Teachers who check in frequently and in different ways on student learning gain more information and help students to grow in the process.
- You adapt instruction to meet students’ immediate learning needs. Formative assessment is, at its core, designed to help teachers advance and better support student learning by making that learning (and gaps in learning) more visible. By using that information to adjust instruction on a continual basis, you will help students realize their full potential in the classroom.
- You provide feedback to move learning forward and create a structure for students to act on it. Education expert Dylan Wiliam identifies two key aspects of effective feedback: it must “identify any gaps between a desired learning goal and the student’s present status towards that learning goal, and 2) students must take action to close that gap.”
- Students welcome and act on feedback. There are a number of ways to provide feedback to students that can help to create a positive, growth-oriented classroom culture.
- Students are engaged when they are involved in classroom discussions. When students “tune out,” they’re no longer learning. Eliminating hand raising and replacing it with other discussion techniques, for example, can significantly improve student engagement. In this vein, a teacher using randomizer techniques when asking questions can help shift the culture of learning so that all students are expected to have something to say.
- Students support one another and take responsibility for their own learning. Effective formative assessment encourages students to reflect on their own learning and assess it, which can also lead to improved student performance.
How does your own formative practice measure up? Is it time for an overhaul or just a minor tune-up? Ultimately, you’ll know your practice is effective when checking for student understanding becomes second nature. For the most experienced among us, the line between teaching and assessing blurs. Even before we reach that summit, every step along the way can bring us closer to creating classrooms that foster continual learning and growth.