Monday, February 17, 2014

Formative Assessment in Order to Maximize Student and Teacher Learning

I happened upon a "twitter chat" last night as I was scrolling through twitter to avoid the 100 other things that I NEEDED to do on Sunday evening in order to get ready for the week ahead! I noticed that there was an #nctechat going on...so I decided to take a look. Well, I took a look and the topic was...formative assessment! It was fast and furious and I was trying to catch up and keep up! The chat was focused around the NCTE Position Statement on Formative Assessment. So I checked out the position paper quickly and I was in! 
I came from a district that was 100% formative assessment driven so I have some background knowledge in this area. We had a six-year professional development plan, where as teachers we learned the UbD process, how to create quality learning targets, how to give effective feedback, how to design quality assessments aligned to the learning targets, how to use assessments to drive your instructional practice, and then how to take all of that knowledge and differentiate in the classroom.  My old school district even brought in Dylan Wiliam to speak to us about formative assessment in 2009. We literally lived and breathed formative assessment.  Meanwhile, we were STILL confused about "formative assessment." "Am I doing it right, is this formative assessment, what do I do with this information now that I have it?" were questions that we found ourselves asking each other frequently.   As a building Language Arts chair,  I was involved in a book study of 
Seven Strategies of Assessment for Learning
by Jan Chappuis. 


This book finally broke it all down for me! After reading it...I got it! I got what they were trying to teach me! It all started to come together and make sense! It was my A-Ha Moment!  This book is an amazing resource to help guide teachers in creating quality learning targets, giving effective feedback, implementing self-assessment and goal setting, using quality formative assessments, and using reflection throughout the entire process. 

When I read the position paper last night and again this morning, I realized that this paper does the same thing! It breaks formative assessment down into something that isn't "scary."  This paper would be perfect to share and dissect with staff as "text as expert."  It helps everyone approach the text on an equal playing field.   When people hear the word "formative assessment," they often get that certain look in their eye, that "what kind of formative assessment are you talking about" look! We think we know what it is, we think we know how to use it to drive instruction, we think we know how to use it effectively, but do we? As stated in the position paper, "teacher-created classroom assessments designed to inform instruction are much more likely to function as real requests for information that can change instruction and improve learning." 

There were many parts of the paper that resonated with me.  I especially connected with "formative assessment is the lived, daily embodiment of a teacher's desire to refine practice based on a keener understanding of current levels of student performance." I also whole-heartedly agreed with the statement that teachers must develop an "assessment literacy." They must have a deep understanding of why they assess, when they assess, and how they assess in order to positively impact student learning. So true!!! 

The ten elements of Formative Assessment could be analyzed by teachers, shared with parents, or used to scaffold professional development for teachers.   I also love the Do's and Don'ts! A great list to reflect on and to keep in mind! 
I mean really...let's encourage students to assume greater responsibility for their learning by monitoring and supporting their own learning. Using data binders in the classroom is a way to start this process and to have students focus on goal setting, reflection, and growth. 

To close, the NCTE's Formative Assessment Stance that states, "Teachers deserve protected time and quality support as they learn to observe closely and analyze deeply; students deserve a classroom context that allows teachers to do this.  Over time, this professional development raises the quality of teaching and, in turn, the level of student learning." has the most potential to impact student learning. As I read this, I agreed with the importance of this statement and how it can change the whole dynamic of learning in the classroom. I also had a thought...as teachers, we should be doing the same for our students. We should be giving our students time to "observe closely" and "analyze deeply" in the classroom and this will in turn maximize student AND teacher learning! 

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