Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Formative Assessment Can Be the Game Changer For You

While moving through the Twitter feeds on Sunday, I found a compelling #nctechat conversation on formative assessment facilitated by Franki Sibberson and Antero Garcia. Although I entered the chat late, what I participated in was enough to hook me into a blogpost invitation on formative assessment from Franki Sibberson

While assessment seems to be a contentious word these days, I am a proponent of formative assessment, a reflective process through which an effective teacher can gauge what students know and are able to do with what they learned on a daily basis. Formative assessment has the capability of transforming teaching and accelerating student learning through careful analysis of student work and thoughtful, scaffolded planning of next steps toward achievement. 

After reading the NCTE Position Statement, two thoughts resonated with me and validate my own thinking on formative assessment-the first being that it "truly informs instruction" and the second that it is “the lived, daily embodiment of a teacher’s desire to refine practice based on a keener understanding of current levels of student performance." The SmarterBalanced Assessment Consortium discusses formative assessment as a “deliberate process used by teachers and students during instruction…” While both thoughts focus on the process, the product, feedback from oral or written student work, is a critical component. Teachers who immediately review data they gather gain instant feedback necessary to plan next moves revolving around the lesson's learning targets. 

Throughout my career as a reading specialist, administrator, and now as a consultant, I have realized the potential of formative assessments in the classrooms of effective teachers. Quick reflective practices and protocols, such as Learning Targets, Exit Tickets, Quick Writes, Fist-to-Five, Thumb Up/Down/Sideways, or Think, Ink, Pair, Share, used at the right moment provide feedback to assist students who need support and those who need to be challenged. At the same time, the formative assessment tool allows students to self-assess, reflect, and use feedback to adjust their learning. But follow-up is essential in order for teachers to adjust their teaching and plan future lessons to help students succeed. This is the PAUSE point for teachers. How often have we put aside student work with the intentions of carefully analyzing it laterWe need to make the time to review results and 
purposefully use the data to move forward. Further, we need to provide opportunities for students to grapple with gaps in learning. From this pause point, we can take actionable steps to provide the scaffolds to help all learners make progress.

For years, reflective practitioners have employed tools and strategies to study student behavior and learning patterns as a means to move students forward as learners. "Kidwatching" activities have been utilized by teachers of balanced literacy classrooms since Yetta Goodman coined the word, but the potency of this practice was not fully embraced by all teachers. The NCTE Position Statement reminds us of the need to look closely at the data, student work being one data point, that will provide a window into student learning. As Fisher and Frey note in the cartoon from their book, Checking for Understanding, "It is assessment which helps us distinguish between teaching and learning."


It is not enough to understand that learning is a process. We, as the facilitators/guides, not the sages, must lead learners to the realization that they are the main actors in the student-centered classroom, the owners of their learning. We must take a proactive formative assessment stance to design a variety of tools or choose the right tools, such as the tools and strategies in the NCTE Position Statement or the teaching practices and protocols for ELA on EngageNY that will assist students to vocalize or record their thinking and new learning.

Ultimately, we must change the culture of the classroom to include effective teaching practices that place formative assessment, "successment" (coined by Kristi Mraz), as a go-to practice in order to energize and improve teaching and learning. During this time of challenge and change in education, formative assessment can be the game changer that empowers teachers to know their learners, inform their instruction, and assist students to own their learning. Empowerment comes from within and through the collective voice. 

Are you ready to help students grow through the power of formative assessment?

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10 Important Elements of Formative Assessment
from the 2013 NCTE Position Statement
"Formative Assessment That Truly Informs Instruction"
  1. Requires students to take responsibility for their own learning. 
  2. Communicates clear, specific learning goals
  3. Focuses on goals that represent valuable educational outcomes with applicability beyond the learning context.
  4. Identifies the student's current knowledge/skills and the necessary steps for reaching the desired goals.
  5. Requires development of plans for attaining the desired goals.
  6. Encourages students to self-monitor progress toward the learning goals.
  7. Provides examples of learning goals including, when, relevant, the specific grading criteria or rubrics that will be used to evaluate the student's work.
  8. Provides frequent assessment, including peer and student self-assessment and assessment embedded within learning activities.
  9. Includes feedback that is non-evaluative, specific, timely, and related to the learning goals, and that provides opportunities for the student to revise and improve work products and deepen understandings.
  10. Promotes metacognition and reflection by students on their work.