I just started Dylan Wiliam’s Embedded Formative Assessment (2011), and it is already making me think about Assessment FOR Learning and what it means in the classroom of today.
I think teachers know of the words “formative” and “summative” in terms of assessment, but I think anxiety starts when teachers are asked to delineate their practice of formative and summative assessments in their classrooms. To ease some tension, I thought I’d do a little teacher pep-talk in this post and revisit these ideas after finishing Wiliam’s book.
Formative assessment is what any effective teacher does on a consistent basis during the day. It is that moment when she asks a thought-provoking question (“how does the theme in ‘The Raven’ relate to the themes in other Poe pieces we have read?”), gets an answer that is slightly off target (“um, the bird is black?”), and reassesses the students’ learning of the lesson. Formative assessment is the stack of “exit tickets” on which students have analyzed their own learning for the period: “Yes, I’ve got it”, “I need more help”, “No clue what we just discussed.” Formative assessment is the way an effective teacher figures out who needs more assistance and works with those students more directly to help them reach the learning goal.
What I see happening with formative assessment (through my own RtI and CCSS lenses) is more reliance on the process of formative assessment. Because we are a data-driven, “prove it to me” society, we want documentation for a process that has heretofore been innate to introspective, reflective, and effective teachers. It is in this vein that it becomes a daunting and seemingly time consuming task.
It can also, however, be seen as a rewarding task. Something that many teachers do inherently can become quantitative and tangible. It could empower teachers by giving them the data to have real conversations with parents, to make teaching less about guesswork and more about facts. It can make IEP goals more meaningful rather than arbitrary statements.
When the process and data collection are used well, the rewards of the potentially (and agreeably, initially) time-consuming processes become tools for driving instruction because we have a better idea of what kind and how much learning is happening for each student.
“How Do We Train Teachers in Formative Assessment” in Education Week