Brent Duckor expands on some of the ideas he noted in his article, “Formative Assessment in Seven Good Moves,” in the March 2014 issue of Educational Leadership.
Formative assessment is recursive; it relies on a cycle of inquiry between teachers and students. As I show in my article, teachers who are good formative assessors make moves that invite conversation around the room. If you know what you’re looking for, these moves are masterfully interwoven into the lesson. You can see how students’ ideas, misconceptions, and unorthodox thinking about big ideas are brought together and woven into the unit. The teacher poses questions, invites multiple responses, probes surface answers, and advances the conversation without dominating or ignoring kids. What students say matters; you can see it in the turns of talk.
Setting the stage is essential. In a classroom characterized by rich formative assessment practices, teachers ask questions and listen for a wide range of student responses. The observer notices a lively give-and-take between students and the teacher. But one can also see clearly how the teacher identifies, sorts, and adapts her lesson to the particular context (based on her close interactions with kids) as it emerges during the day.
Some may think that formative assessment is only good for Socratic seminars in which students exchange and debate opinions, and that the assessment strategy doesn’t have a place in math or science classrooms because it impedes the efficient transfer of information. Who has time to ask questions or check for understanding when the clock is ticking? In the race to the bell, we pretend we can assess it later on a quiz or in a homework assignment.
But formative assessment is at home everywhere. Here’s a challenge: Go to the dry erase board tomorrow morning and write a term that’s essential to the content you’ll shortly be teaching. Ask students to tell you the first thing that comes to mind when they hear the word. Remind them there’s no right or wrong answer. To allow for processing time and more inclusion, tell students to each turn to a partner and describe what the term means to them. Resist the temptation to call on the kids with their hands up, and ask each table or pair to explain their thoughts in their own words. Write down everything you hear and resist the temptation to ignore what seems off topic.
So here’s a thought: Don’t kick the ball forward and wait for magical data to appear in other people’s charts or grade books. Make sense of common misconceptions or mental models right now by eliciting them at the opening of every lesson.