Seizing the Formative Assessment Moment

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  1. Students post a Flipgrid explaining the process they used to solve an extended math task.
  2. Students work in breakout rooms to provide feedback on drafts of their writing using the warm-and-cool feedback protocol.
  3. Students create a group Jamboard to collect research for their social studies presentation.

Each of these learning activities includes a formative assessment. The Flipgrid video, feedback, and Jamboard can all be used by the teacher to check for understanding and by students to monitor their own learning.

Yet often, these and other similar opportunities, make no impact at all. Educators, like myself, who believed in the potential of formative assessment have been disappointed.

What happened?

I believe that, in the transfer of the research into practice, the nuances of the formative assessment process got lost. In my work with teachers this is what I have learned about harnessing the power of formative assessment to impact student learning:

  1. Formative assessment is an opportunity for learning and not a guarantee of learning. I’ve seen teachers do a great job identifying and creating formative assessments However, the learning does not take place in that moment nor does it end with the collection of student work. Formative assessment is a process that begins with the collection of student work but is dependent on how teachers analyze it to plan next steps and include students in revising, rethinking, clarifying and questions their work and learning as a result.
  2. The types of formative assessments that have the greatest impact on student learning are not mandated or standardized. They are the ones that teachers use in the classroom because they are immediate sources of information that can be used to plan a response. Formative assessment should include a combination of teacher identified moments, as well as systems for students to self-monitor and communicate to their teacher their level of understanding (stop-light system, thumbs up/down, question wall).
  3. Formative assessments should not be graded, nor should the information from formative assessment be recorded in anything that resembles a grade or official score. Doing so emphasizes the “score” and not the student learning. I share a simple system with teachers for documenting formative assessment. It captures how the student is progressing to the identified learning target without needing grades. A “2” does not provide information about a student’s strengths and needs. Understanding that the student identifies the main idea, but not how the details support the main idea, provides a pathway for learning.

I’ve seen teachers do a great job identifying and creating formative assessments However, the learning does not take place in that moment nor does it end with the collection of student work. Formative assessment is a process that begins with the collection of student work but is dependent on how teachers analyze it to plan next steps and include students in revising, rethinking, clarifying and questions their work and learning as a result.

I believe that when educators deepen their understanding of formative assessment, they recognize the opportunities in their practice and can more effectively use them to support learning. Returning to the examples above, we can see how the formative assessment moment is really the beginning of a process for learning and dependent on what the teacher and students do with the information produced:

  1. Students post a Flipgrid explaining the process they used to solve an extended math task. The teacher reviews the Flipgrid videos to create small groups for the following lesson where students with similar levels of understanding can work together to either identify and determine how to address their common mistake, continue to practice or apply their learning to new and unfamiliar problems.
  2. Students work in breakout rooms to provide feedback on drafts of their writing using the warm-and-cool feedback protocol. The teacher reviews their feedback notes to identify trends and patterns that can be addressed in whole group instruction. Students use their feedback notes to revise their writing.
  3. Students create a Jamboard to collect research for their social studies presentation. The teacher reviews the Jamboards to provide feedback based on the class criteria. The students use the feedback to update and continue their research. 

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