Whether you’re one to make New Year’s resolutions or not, there are some easy to implement classroom strategies that can have positive changes. One such strategy we’ve blogged about extensively here is formative assessment. Not to be confused with interim or summative assessments, formative assessment is a planned classroom practice designed to elicit evidence of learning minute-by-minute and day-by-day. The idea here is to inform the teacher of what students know or do not know, help students understand what it is they need to know, and give teachers the temperature check they need to make adjustments in their teaching.
When teachers use formative assessment primarily to support learning, the divide between instruction and assessment becomes blurred (which is good). Everything students do, such as conversing in groups, completing assignments, asking and answering questions, working on projects– even sitting silently and looking bored or confused – is a potential source of evidence about what they do and do not understand.
Teachers who consciously use formative assessment in this manner – to support learning – understand that formative assessment is not a thing or an event (such as a test or a quiz), but an ongoing, cyclical process that is a seamless part of the classroom culture and routine. Using simple techniques, they quickly extract pointed information about student understanding during commonplace classroom activities. They analyze this information on the spot, and then use it to make instructional decisions that address the understandings and misunderstandings the evidence reveals.
NWEA’s Keeping Learning on Track (KLT) curriculum outlines five strategies that are the foundation of successful formative assessment practice in the classroom:
- Clarifying, sharing, and understanding learning intentions and criteria for success
- Engineering effective classroom discussions, activities, and learning tasks that elicit evidence of learning
- Providing feedback that moves learning
- Activating learners as instructional resources for one another
- Activating learners as owners of their own learning
Within each of these five practices are numerous techniques, strategies and tactics which are proven to work for any number of classroom environments. It’s this flexibility and its proven success that has hoping all teachers make 2015 a year of using formative assessment in their classroom.
To help make your New Year’s resolution a reality, here are five tips for effectively integrating formative assessment into your daily classroom routine:
- Start small – pick 1-3 strategies/techniques (see the links below to some ideas) 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.
In closing, here are some helpful posts we’ve published that can help kick start your formative assessment resolution:
22 Easy Formative Assessment Techniques for Measuring Student Learning
8 Formative Assessment Data Sources that Help Students Become Better Learners
36 Digital Formative Assessment Tools for the Classroom