Saturday, March 29, 2014

How Formative Assessment Can Enhance Student Learning


Have you noticed how customized your internet search engine has become? Web providers and social media are striving to personalize our search results to our individual taste based on our past selections and pathways. Some would argue this is incredibly helpful and saves us valuable time. Although if you think critically, it is incredibly limiting. This “filter bubble” is just giving us information we are familiar with rather than broadening our perspectives.

Formative Assessments are falling into the same trap. There is an amazing amount of definitions provided by a variety of researchers. Depending on who you talk to or what books you have read, some academics regard formative assessment as a process, others see it as a tool. Others declare the use of this term should not be used at all, unless instruction is improved. Another line of thinking popularized by Rick Stiggins in 2005 is to use the phrase assessment for learning as defined by the table below.

Formative Assessment
Assessment for Learning
More Frequent Assessments
Assessment for Learning is Continuous
Providing Teachers with Evidence
Informing the Students Themselves
Who Is, Who Is Not, Meeting Standards
Progress Each Student is Making Towards Standards While the Learning is Happening

William helps us to remember the extensive work of researcher Randy Bennett. Just replacing the term formative assessment with the term assessment for learning merely clouds the definitional issue. Bennett said, “It is an oversimplification to say formative assessment is only a matter of process, or only a matter of instrumentation. Good process require good instruments, and instruments are useless unless they are used intelligently.” William reminds us the original and literal meaning of the word formative suggest these assessments should provide us with information to shape our instruction.

William’s official definition of formative instruction is as follows:

An assessment functions formatively to the extent that evidence about student achievement is elicited, interpreted and used by teacher, learners, or their peers to make decisions about the next steps in instruction that are likely to be better or better founded, than the decision they would have made in the absence of that evidence.

Unpacking an assessment requires the teacher, the learner, and the peer to all be involved with where the learning is going, where the learner is, and how to get there to adapt teaching to meet the learner’s needs. It essentially a combination of Stiggins definition of formative assessment and assessment for learning.

My personal ah-ha moment when reading William’s book was remembering “The teacher’s job is not to transmit knowledge, nor to facilitate learning. It is to engineer effective learning environments for the students. These learning environments need to be engaging and allow teachers, learners, and peers to progress toward outcome goals.

Moving forward requires teachers and students to have a continuous informative understanding of the progress they are making towards standards while the learning is happening. These frequent assessments provide the evidence on who is, and who is not meeting standards and ultimately bridging the gap between teaching and learning.

What really matters is what kind of process we value, not what we call them. What filters are you using to determine your processes of value? I am sure you are utilizing collaborative filters to continue your growth mindset on what research teaches us is effective rather than what we think works.  

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