Formative assessment is a process that takes place during the learning experience. When it is done right, the findings immediately inform feedback and instruction. Grades are never taken, and the stakes remain very low.
I see formative assessment as the ultimate best practice, but I may be part of a small group of educators who feel this way. It’s not uncommon, after all, for some teachers to sandwich formative assessment into their already packed lesson plans simply because someone else has expected them to do so. Some just “get it done” because they’re afraid of “getting dinged” on their teacher evaluations.
Require reflection before, during, and after learning.
Others choose to assess consistently, often by using similar approaches over and over again. They aren’t particularly satisfied by the findings they gather, and their interventions aren’t particularly powerful, but they know that what they’re doing now is better than what they were doing before, so they stick with it.
Neither of these approaches serve students very well, and they eventually sap even the best teachers of their confidence and their passion.
Once we know what the process looks like and we’ve tested a few simple approaches in our classrooms, it’s time to work it to its full potential. Try some of these formative assessment strategies. They’ll help you deepen your practice.
Involve learners in the formative assessment process
1. Ask them to name the learning target and tell you how they know they’ve met it.
2. Help kids establish habits of documentation, and then teach them how to self-assess.
3. Invite your students to plot their own data, analyze the findings, and theorize in ways that will promote further learning.
4. Require reflection before, during, and after learning.
Become a visible learning champion
5. Define the learning targets.
6. Determine where learners will attend to the target most explicitly during the learning experience.
7. Consider how students might make the learning relevant to this target visible, and invite them to do so.
8. Document this learning using print, audio, and visual recordings.
9. Study the data you gather, looking for trends.
10. Use the theories that emerge to inform your feedback, your own learning, and theirs’ as well.
Find some critical friends
11. Seek out colleagues with diverse perspectives, and invite them to analyze your assessment findings.
12. Ask them into your classroom to provide feedback on your formative assessment practices.
13. Establish or widen your professional learning network, and ask those well outside your system to add perspective to your practice, your findings, and your intended interventions.
14. Study how others approach formative assessment.
15. Hook yourself up with those who have true expertise in data and assessment, and learn everything you can about quality analysis.
Applying these strategies will help you make better meaning from the evidence you gather. They will help you seek diverse perspectives and expertise that you may not have as well.
When we’re able to assess without disrupting learning–when the learners themselves are part of every phase of the assessment process (including analysis and theorizing), and when we invite others to share their insights and their feedback with us, the results are truly amazing.
Let’s talk about it
Tell me: How have your formative assessment practices evolved over time? How have you gained greater satisfaction from this work?
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A former English teacher, Angela Stockman is the founder of the WNY Young Writer's Studio, a community of writers and teachers of writing in Buffalo, New York. She is also an education consultant with expertise in curriculum design, instructional coaching, and assessment. Read more from Angela at Angelastockman.com.