No one change has the potential to improve education for all students as increasing the use of formative assessment in our classrooms. This technique informs future instruction as opposed to summarizing it before moving on. Ongoing and diagnostic, formative assessment is a cornerstone of differentiation. Examples of formative assessment include: an in class discussion gauging student understanding before a unit of study, or providing written feedback on a writing activity before it is due. These strategies help the teacher gain insight into the varied levels of comprehension within each class, as well as providing students an opportunity for reiteration of their work. Formative assessment should never be graded- instead thought of as a work in progress toward the goal of enduring understanding. How can we embed this powerful strategy into our daily practice? The following three techniques can be used in virtually every classroom setting:
Putting a grade on an assignment ends the learning process and signals to students that it’s time to move on. Be reducing or eliminating grades given we can promote growth and learning. The trademarks of a quality formative assessment program include timely, descriptive and personalized feedback. The sooner students receive this feedback, which can be written or verbal, the better. A good guideline is 24 hours at most. Creating a grade free environment in which students can explore their weaknesses without fear or the label of failure is an essential philosophical component without which formative assessment truly doesn’t exist.
A student’s end of unit test score shouldn’t be the first time they are receiving a response to their work. Along the way, feedback is provided by means of conferencing with the student and written commentary on activities. One of the goals of formative assessment should be that pupils grasp what they need to work on more in depth and how to accomplish improved grasp of the subject on their own. Conferencing individually on a regular basis allows this consideration to be focused and become an ingrained part of the classroom culture.
Focus on Growth
The biggest, and arguably most important, innovation that formative assessment represents is the shift away from school being viewed as a deficit model where points are removed for lack of understandings; instead promoting growth and progress towards comprehension. Allowing students to retake tests and quizzes that have grades begins to blend the line between formative and summative because reiteration is emphasized. If pupils are not meeting with success they should be allowed to relearn material and showcase their improved understandings.
Challenging how we view our measurement of student understandings creates opportunities to innovate the classroom experience. Being cognizant of where students are today, and helping them move forward tomorrow based on that information we can individualize learning for each and every child. From reducing the achievement gap to boosting high school graduation rates these strategies will foster lifelong learning in our students. Minimizing the emphasis of grades and instead providing quality feedback shows our students we are interested in their growth and place importance on the journey of learning rather than just the result.
Jasper Fox Sr. is a member of the ASCD Emerging Leaders Class of 2015. Fox teaches science at Lakeland Copper Beech Middle School in Shrub Oak, N.Y., where he is in his thirteenth year of teaching. An avid writer and connected educator, he maintains an active Twitter presence as @jasperfoxsr and writes regularly for Inservice on improving educational practice to help all students succeed.