Earlier this fall I was in a classroom where students were using whiteboards to record their answers and then they would hold them up for the teacher to examine. The teacher asked the students to answer several questions in this manner and then the students were dismissed to do an assignment. After the class, as we discussed the lesson, I asked the teacher why he had the students using whiteboards and what he saw. He replied that it was a kind of formative assessment and now he had a better understanding of who understood the assignment and who did not. As I consider that response I feel that we have been a little too informal in how we decide what is a formative assessment. According to the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC), formative assessment is not just a check for understanding by the teacher. Instead it is a four part process that is made for both the teacher and the students.
First, both students and teacher should be clear on what the intended learning is for the assessment, why they are learning it and what some options are for students to demonstrate their learning. Second, teachers elicit evidence needed to determine where students are in their progress toward the intended learning. Third, teachers and students need to interpret the evidence that has been collected. They have to identify what students understand and don’t yet understand. Finally, teachers need to act on the evidence and provide actionable feedback for students to use in moving forward towards the learning goal.
In considering this process, it makes me reflect on the reading that we are doing together at The AIMS Center on Professional Noticing. I realize just how important noticing skills are for the teacher. As the teacher elicits, interprets, and acts on the evidence observed during the formative assessment process they have to take into consideration their students’ readiness, interests, learning styles, and preferences. This all happens on an ongoing basis with multiple students at once. Again, the teacher’s ability to filter out the unimportant classroom events is paramount to their ability to respond to individual student needs as they arise through this process.
“Formative assessment is a deliberate process used by teachers and students during instruction that provides actionable feedback used to adjust ongoing teaching and learning strategies to improve students’ attainment of curricular learning targets/goals.” (SBAC) However, none of that can happen without a teacher who is continuing to reflect and grow in their own ability to notice what is happening with all of their students each day.