When we think of educational assessments, we need to think about all assessment practices. Formative assessment may be a buzz word in education these days, but it’s more than that; it brings together all of the things a teacher can do to help transform all students into learners who are active participants in their own education. A classroom where formative assessment is prioritized helps smart and savvy district leaders and educators…
- Enable better instructional decisions by collecting and applying evidence of learning in the moment
- See a measurable difference for students by giving quality feedback
- Boost student achievement and ownership of learning by encouraging collaboration
Whether or not formative assessment becomes an organizational habit often depends on an organization’s support of its teachers, as staff must be able to meet regularly to sustain their learning. Here are a few things district and teacher leaders can do to build a community of support for formative assessment in the classroom.
- Before adding a new community of practice or deciding that there’s no time for one, consider whether there’s a way to rethink existing communities of practice or meeting times. In most districts, some collaborative structures already exist to support teachers’ learning. These include grade level teams, professional learning communities (PLCs), book study groups, whole faculty study groups (WFSGs), and data teams.
- Be very clear about the purpose of your ongoing meetings in these groups. PLCs have been widely implemented as a result of the work of the Dufours and Bob Eaker (DuFour, Richard, and Robert E. Eaker. Professional Learning Communities at Work: Best Practices for Enhancing Student Achievement. Bloomington, IN: National Education Service, 1998.) The original focus of these groups was student achievement data and common formative assessments. Over time, though, PLCs have adapted to meet a variety of needs, including administrator and teacher learning. PLC meetings that are specifically carved out for formative assessment practice should stand out in two ways:
- Only those using formative assessment strategies regularly—generally teachers—attend
- The focus is solely on teachers getting better at what they do every day: teaching. These meetings are most fruitful if they start after all participants gain base-level knowledge of formative instructional practices (e.g. in a workshop or common setting). The purpose of the meeting is to support teachers in integrating and expanding on that content. This ongoing collaborative process can cultivate a culture of learning that pushes, supports, and guides teachers to try new strategies, share triumphs and failures, and offer recommendations to one another in a non-evaluative environment. It takes time and effort, and research shows that this step is essential to long-term capacity building (Hattie, John. Visible Learning: A Synthesis of over 800 Meta-analyses Relating to Achievement. London: Routledge, 2009)
- Be specific about the numbers. Some best practices include:
- Keeping groups small enough for lively discussions, at about 6–10 participants
- Identifying exactly what “regular” meeting times will look like, such as meeting every 4 or 6 weeks
- Setting aside 75, 90, or 120 minutes to learn
- Deciding if you want more, shorter meetings or fewer, longer meetings
The organizations that support their teachers’ consistent use of formative instructional strategies across grade levels and subject areas experience more than just increased student engagement. They also see greater teacher engagement and collaboration, which results in an enhanced instructional environment for all students.