Formative Assessment: It’s Not Just Another Thing to Do

Formative Assessment: It’s Not Just Another Thing to DoAs the weather gets warmer, the green bits of grass begin to peek out from the white snow, and we begin to see changes all around us. As educators, we are very familiar with change. We are regularly inundated with new, “hot topics” that are deemed the best practice for teaching students. I can remember being a new teacher, and feeling overwhelmed with different initiatives. Everything felt like just another thing to do.

Formative assessment was one of the last things added to this list. To me, it meant using craft sticks, asking lots of questions, writing the objective on the board, and using exit tickets. It felt like more than just one thing added to the long list of requirements I had as a teacher.

Having been removed from the classroom and working more closely with formative assessment, I realize “the what” of formative assessment was very clear to me as a teacher, however, the intent and purpose, or the “why”, of formative assessment was never clear. I knew exactly what I was expected to do – ask questions, use hand gestures, have kids write the objective at the top of their notebooks, restate the objective at the end of the lesson, and pull craft sticks. At the time, it felt as though these things would help keep students engaged and on-task in my classroom so that was why I was being asked to do them.

Now- I see the true “why” of formative assessment.

I used to . . . And now I . . .
Define formative assessment as using craft sticks, asking lots of questions and using exit tickets Define formative assessment as sharing clear learning targets, eliciting evidence and providing timely and effective feedback.
Think formative assessment strategies were used for checking-in with students to gage understanding as well as engage students in the lesson Think that formative assessment not only helps engage students in their own learning but also builds intrinsic motivation, turns students into learners and builds a classroom learning team.
Elicit evidence by asking questions to clarify directions and steps of a problem and thought these were good questions. Realize that research shows that I was not alone in this- 57% of a teacher’s questions are for management purposes- however, good questions show the students thinking as well as get students to think, all while informing the teacher of next steps.
Have students read the objective on the board and write it at the top of their notes as a way of sharing learning targets. Recognize that without kid-friendly language and a shared understanding these procedures were useless.
Exit tickets were for me to assess understanding of the day’s lesson and another grade to put into the grade book Understand they are NOT supposed to be for a grade but information to inform instruction. And they aren’t just for me but also allow the student to reflect upon his or her own learning.
Give students a grade and mark questions right or wrong as feedback Describe good feedback as written or verbal comments that help foster learning.

Now knowing the benefits of embedding formative assessment and how that can impact the culture of the classroom as well as the students, when I look back at a video of myself teaching and I wish I could go back in time to explain to myself that the strategies I was implementing were part of a much larger picture. It feels as though had I known the intent and purpose behind formative assessment it would have clarified several of the things I was being asked to do as a teacher, making all the strategies feel as though they were part of one initiative instead of several small tasks to do while also improving the learning that was occurring in my classroom. This initiative that was focused on helping my students learn more and me learn more about them as learners.

So while formative assessment may be the buzz word in education, or feel like just another change you have to make in your instruction, it isn’t just another thing to do – it will bring together all of the things you do to help transform all students into learners who are active participants in their own education.