We often use interim and summative assessments to measure student learning a unit or chapter at a time. But when it comes to gathering evidence of student understanding minute-to-minute and day-by-day, there’s a better tool for the job: formative assessment. Formative assessment supports learning by allowing the teacher and student to share what they know or where they’re experiencing difficulty so they can adapt instruction and learning together.
While there are many different strategies and tools available to support formative instructional practice, the process itself does not need to be complex or time-consuming; in fact, it can be simple. The key is finding a few strategies that work best for the teacher and students. And today, it’s even easier to implement some of these formative assessment strategies because there are digital tools (tablet or phone apps) and websites to help you.
One of the most common formative assessment strategies is called the exit ticket. The exit ticket is simply a question (or a handful) posed to all students prior to class ending. Students write their answer on a card or piece of paper and hand it in as they exit. This strategy engages every student and provides the all-important evidence of student learning for the teacher. The key, though, is using that evidence to make changes if that is what the evidence says is needed.
Still not convinced that formative assessment is valuable? Consider this.
There is ample research to support the use of formal and informal formative instructional practice. In Mike Schmoker’s new book Focus: Evaluating the essentials to radically improve student learning, he reminds us that Paul Black and Dylan William (1998) looked at over 250 studies, where they found some interesting effects of the use of formative instructional practices (or checks for understanding). These practices could…
- Add 6-9 months of learning growth over a year for a student
- Prove to be more cost effective, by 10 times, than class size reduction
- “They could possibly have more upward effects on school outcomes than would any other instruction change.” (Schmoker 2018)
What are you thinking now?
Ready to try formative assessment for yourself?
Find a strategy or tool that suits your style of teaching, and the age of your students – and try it out. Collecting evidence of student understanding is an easy way to assess students and make positive instructional changes…as long as you remember part two – using the evidence that you collect. Understanding how it can fit into your classroom may have a big impact on mastery, growth, and learning.