Four Key Formative Assessment Practices – Building the Foundation for Classroom Success

Four Key Formative Assessment Practices – Building the Foundation for Classroom SuccessOur webinar – Creating a Classroom Culture of Learning: Key Formative Assessment Practices – is behind us and our last blog shared some interesting attendee feedback on questions we asked to start the event. We wanted now to dive into the four key formative assessment practices.

Teachers are being asked to do more and more in the classroom to advance student learning, and formative assessment can facilitate these additional tasks, including:

  • College and Career Readiness Standards – Teachers are expected to instruct students to think at deeper levels, problem-solve effectively, ask good questions, and take ownership of their learning – when students are engaged through the use of formative assessment strategies these skills are developed and enhanced
  • In Response to Intervention (RTI) – Teachers are being asked to gather evidence of learning to ensure the effectiveness of instruction for each student – using formative assessment strategies on an ongoing basis supports teachers in meeting this objective; collecting evidence and adjusting instruction
  • Individualizing Instruction – Teachers must tailor instruction based on students’ readiness to learn in order to ensure their progress – implementing formative assessment strategies help teachers identify where students are in their learning so instruction can be adjusted appropriately

Many teachers are already using formative assessment practices already, but for someone who is new to it, or for a grade-level team, school or district that is just getting started with trying to implement formative assessment more systematically, what’s a good starting point? Two major challenges for districts include:

  • Figuring out how to make formative assessment relevant across different grade levels and subjects
  • Figuring out how to choose the practices that will make a difference and help drive achievement and growth

Before diving into formative assessment strategies and room-level tactics, it’s important for educators to take a step back and examine the four key formative assessment practices that form the foundation of successful implementation. Ultimately educators need to understand where the learner is right now, where is the learner going, and how does the learner get there.

  1. Clarifying Learning. Educators need to set student expectations by setting lesson-sized learning targets. These daily and weekly classroom learning goals will help guide instruction. Generally speaking, students must understand what they are expected to learn before they can take responsibility for their own learning. In many cases, students have incorrect conceptions of what they are learning, why they are learning it, and what quality learning looks like. Clarifying learning targets for and with students is paramount.
  2. Eliciting Evidence. It’s important for educators to be able to elicit evidence of student learning minute-by-minute and day-by-day in their classroom. This can be done by engineering their classrooms discussions, questions, and learning tasks that allow for the measurement of successful lesson comprehension. Asking smart questions, waiting for student answers, and using all-student response systems are all part of ensuring that each student’s learning is measured before moving on to additional learning targets.
  3. Providing Feedback. Providing constructive feedback to students – beyond grades – is a critical part of a teacher’s job, but it’s not always easy. It needs to be timely, focused, and have the opportunity to be useful in the moment in order to move learners forward. From classroom discussions to comment-only marking, there are many techniques for providing feedback in a formative assessment classroom that we can explore (and will) in future posts.
  4. Activating Learners. Activating learners to be advocates for their own learning as well as that of their peers can truly transform learning outcomes. The self-regulation of learning, including self-assessment and self-monitoring, help empower students and they are more likely to believe in their ability to learn, develop internal attributions, a feeling of empowerment and a sense of autonomy. These behaviors not only can help students take responsibility for their own learning, but can lead directly to improved student performance.

Understanding these four key formative assessment practices can help educators determine which of the many strategies and tactics can make sense for their classroom environment. We will dive into each of these four practices in greater detail in subsequent blog posts, but we also provide professional development focused on all of these strategies – from a 101 workshop to cover all of them, to deeper-dive sessions into any of the four.