Engineering your classroom environment to regularly solicit evidence of student understanding creates engaged students, while providing teachers the information they need to adjust instruction as needed.
In research conducted by Jones and Krouse back in 1988, twenty-one student teachers were randomly assigned to learn one of two instructional approaches. Teachers introduced to a data-based problem-solving approach to instruction were encouraged to evaluate the effectiveness of their instruction according to changes in the achievement of the students in their classroom. This approach required teachers to collect and analyze data on student learning, make changes to instruction to address any instructional obstacles, and finally, reexamine student progress. These teachers were compared to another group who were introduced to more traditional methods of instruction such as instructional procedures and techniques for classroom management. Teachers trained in this problem-solving approach to instruction were more likely than the comparison teachers to use systematic and frequent observations of student performance when planning and evaluating instruction. (1988, The effectiveness of data-based instruction by student teachers in classrooms for pupils with mild learning handicaps. Teacher Education and Special Education, 1(1), 9–19.
In general, classroom discussions that follow the traditional lecture format involve the teacher explaining materials or processes to the class and then unsystematically checking and monitoring the progress of a few students. These types of discussions do provide evidence that can be used to adapt instruction to meet students’ immediate learning needs. The key is soliciting that evidence on a minute-to-minute, day-by-day basis and then using that data to make teaching adjustments.
Here are five quick tips for integrating formative assessment into your daily classroom routine:
- Start small – pick 1-3 formative assessment strategies/techniques and practice them until they are routine – for both you and your students. Be persistent here; things may not go as planned the first few times you try.
- Be transparent with the students about what you are doing and why – What happens if you start out by saying, “How do you think you did on this lesson today? Rate yourself from 1-10.”? Without prior knowledge, practice or criteria students can use to gauge how they did, this would be challenging.
- Teach the students about formative assessment so they can use it too – Students will be curious about why you are doing things differently and expecting them to do the same. Teaching them to set goals, gather evidence of their learning, make adjustments and learn more will have benefits to you and your students that at this point you cannot imagine. One of my favorite stories is the high school girl who had never been successful in math talking about the changes in her classroom – “It’s about what you know, what you don’t know and what you’re going to do about it.”
- Integrate it daily (which for many of us means planning the use) – Pedagogy is practice. Formative assessment supports learning minute-to-minute and day-by-day. As we hone our practice of formative assessment, it becomes routinized and we hope it reaches a point for it is difficult to tell where teaching stops and assessment begins as learning is the driving factor for both. And formative assessment is a tool for learning.
- Celebrate the shifts – as the culture in your classroom shifts (that unspoken classroom contract), celebrate it. As students become resources for one another in ways you haven’t seen before – celebrate. As students begin to use academic vocabulary, articulate where they are in their learning and ask for what they need to learn – celebrate. As students become learners, as learning becomes the habit, as mistakes and assessments are seen as additional opportunities to learn – celebrate.
Engineer your classroom environment with formative assessment in mind and set teachers and students up for success.
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