Using In-Class Formative Assessment Effectively #hlta7

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Last week, I walked away from Leading and Sustaining a Coherent Vision for Teaching and Learning Mathematics with Dr. Timothy Kanoldthinking, mind overflowing, wondering…how I can I share what I’ve learned with my colleagues to impact student learning?

I had several a-ha’s over the 2 days.  Some were things I *knew* but refined how I saw the big idea.  Every thing we discussed during our sessions, we attempted to tie back to our vision.  The difficulty I had, I wondered if my vision is shared with my colleagues.  If so, I look forward to building on our vision.  If not, what are the ideas we share, that we can agree upon when making future decisions.

The session referencing HLTA7 on Effective Use of In-Class Formative Assessments helped meld several ideas I muddled through in the past 6 years.  Dr. Kanold posed the question:

What is Formative Assessment?  Is it checking for understanding?

Hmmm.  I was a bit baffled.  That’s what I *thought* it was, then I could use it to change my instruction, right?

We were asked to divide our posters into two columns and list all the things we do, tools we use to check for understanding.  Some grand lists were shared!  I even learned of a couple of new tools.

When we are planning and we ask ourselves – how will we know when they know it?  We often list a tool to use to check for understanding…this is what I considered *formative assessment* But it was the next task that pulled it together for me.  We were asked to choose a couple of the CFU tools and describe what action we could use to offer feedback and allow for student action.

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Formative Assessment is not the *tool* we use.  Its the follow-up action.  The decisions we make based on the information we now have.

Checking for understanding is at best a diagnostic event, an observation of evidence of student learning that helps you make decisions… In order to be formative, teachers and peers must provide meaningful, formative feedback to each other – then students take action.  The feedback needs 4 markers (Reeves 2011 & Hattie 2012):  Fair, Accurate, Specific, Timely.  FAST.

For years I have focused on finding new ways for FA – I just left the follow-up action up for chance, without actually writing the plan for feedback…my response if they know, my response if they don’t know – would happen when I see the evidence.

Wilham (2007) in order to improve the quality of learning within the system to be formative, feedback needs to contain an implicit or explicit recipe for future action.

I have been studying formative assessment since 2011.  I am STILL LEARNING!

According to Wilham (2011) when formative assessment practices are integrated into classroom activities, substantial increases in student achievement – 70-80% increase in the speed of learning are possible…  the changes are not expensive to produce… there is nothing else remotely affordable that is likely to have such a large effect.

However, if a teacher fails to support the student action on evidence of areas of difficulty, the cycle of learning stops for the student.  I’ve seen it all too often.  Even in my own classroom – learn, assess, but no continued learning follow-up of the assessment.

I will share more in another post about an idea shared by a middle school teacher, a “Pause Day” as part of their follow-up to unit assessments.  No new content is given, but an opportunity for enrichment, adjustment and/or reteaching as needed.  I love the idea of pausing to ensure time for student action.

Popham (2011) even states when teachers use formative assessment well, it can essentially double the speed of student learning producing large gains in student achievement, yet robust so different teachers can use it in diverse ways and get great results.

What ways have you seen formative assessment impact student learning?  What have you learned / adjusted through the years to make it more effective? How do you and your team have the needed conversations about your responses to the evidence provided with the cfu tool?

BTW – I got a button on the last day… for being an example of how we often “steal” students’ opportunities for learning.  I remember reading in Wilham’s Embedded Formative Assessment how we often pick up a student’s pencil and do the problem for them…and when we do, we’ve done the work and the thinking for them.

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Showing them / telling them is not a follow up action for them.  If I find myself doing this (& I have many times in the past, thinking I was being helpful) – I can’t just ask – Do you understand?  I must have them show me what they understand with a follow-up action.

If I have learned nothing else in the past 22 years… I’ve realized this – there is no easy button in teaching.

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