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Making Good Use of Formative Assessments

 

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From Dr. Sharon Wells, Key Data Systems – Webinar

One of my goals this year is to be more active and consistent with analyzing data. Recently I participated in a webinar centered on using formative assessment to guide instruction and I came away with some really great insights! For some background, this learning experience was led by Dr. Sharon Wells of Key Data Systems. Their work focuses on formative assessments and enhancing student learning through data driven instruction. The webinar is part of the December learning series hosted by Naiku.

As I reflected on my notes from this learning, I could sum up my main takeaway in one question:

How might learning and teaching look differently if formative assessment were made an integral part of instruction, rather than a separate experience?

Breaking that idea down further: If formative assessments were built into the lessons in such a way that immediate data and feedback were able to guide that instruction as it is occurring or as close to “in the moment” as we can get….how powerful would that be?

What if that data and feedback weren’t just teacher centered? What if that data were gathered by the student? What if that feedback was not only from teacher to student but from student to teacher? Or student to student?

Researcher John Hattie has done a lot of work in the area of effect size and looking at variables to determine the impact of many different things on student achievement. Many of the most powerful things we can do, including feedback and self-assessment, are tied into formative assessment. Here is a link an article by the late Grant Wiggins (Professor and Educational Researcher) which outlines the main things that impact student achievement. I know when I read through them there were some surprises on that list for me!

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From Dr. Sharon Wells, Key Data Systems: Webinar Image

At my campus we have been implementing Learning Targets and are in year three of this process. Chapter 4 of the book Learning Targets discusses how to use feedback to feed learning forward. The information correlated nicely with the ideas presented in the webinar and affirmed what we are already targeting. The book presents 5 characteristics of feedback that feeds learning forward:

  • It focuses on success criteria from the learning target for today’s lesson.
  • It describes exactly where the student is in relationship to the criteria.
  • It provides next-step strategies that students should use to improve.
  • It arrives when the student has the opportunity to use it.
  • It is delivered in just the right amount.

Formative assessments are given in a variety of ways and the data that we get from them is useful in informing instruction and next steps for teachers. But to what extent do student’s interact with formative assessment data? Is feedback being given during instruction – when the student can use it – or after? If after, then I tend to think that the focus is more on the teacher’s use of the information rather than using it as a guiding tool that feeds the learning forward.  For sure, this is not an either – or situation.

I love this tool for giving written feedback, shared by @goformative on Twitter last week:

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I would love to hear some of your thoughts and ideas on how you are using formative assessment! Please give me some feedback on how you are using it and what’s working in your classroom.

Here is a link to the Naiku professional learning series if you ‘d like to take a peek at this or some of their other recorded webinars. They are all really informative!

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