How to ramp up formative assessment and improve achievement

The time has come for educators to change the way they think about assessment. The old-fashioned "sage on a stage" approach is no longer viable in today's interconnected world. To create deep, meaningful learning outcomes, teachers need to rethink how they use assessments and what types of tasks are most appropriate for students to work through.

In Hacking Modern Teaching, Mike Roberts helps you start this process by better understanding formative assessment strategies in the classroom, while de-emphasizing traditional grades. 

Distinguishing formative and summative assessment

According to Roberts, an award-winning language arts teacher, "If assessment was a sports team, formative assessment would be the practices where players work on getting better. In contrast, summative assessment would be the game where those same players put what they learned on the line! Formative assessments should be used as a means to improve the learning, and teachers should gather this data as a way to help guide where the learning goes next.

"Also, whenever possible, feedback should be provided as a way to help clear up any misconceptions they may have about the learning. Based on these findings, teachers can then adapt their modern teaching in a way that best supports their students’ needs."

Pre-assess first

A pre-assessment provides teachers with important information about students before they enter the classroom. These assessments are used to identify students' strengths and weaknesses in various areas for teaching purposes, but most importantly, they give teachers an idea of what level their student should be at when entering the classroom.

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This way, if a teacher has been using an outdated curriculum or doesn't have the skillsets necessary to teach certain topics, he/she can make adjustments accordingly. In addition to this usefulness as a tool for educators, pre-assessments also help parents know what they should expect from their child going forward which instills confidence in them as well as instills motivation in children who may not be be reaching their full potential.  

The key to an effective pre-assessment, according to Roberts, is to keep this simple! "I’d recommend that you ask five questions or less on something like this. This can include circling familiar vocabulary terms, ranking themselves from 1–5 on their understanding of key ideas within the unit, or even an open-ended question asking them to explain what they know about the upcoming topic. Pre-assessments are a great tool for helping you understand where your students are in terms of their understanding before the learning begins."

Talk to your class about what they know. 

Sounds obvious, right? It wasn't for author/presenter Mike Roberts. "I am being honest," he writes in Hacking Modern Teaching.  "It took me years before I understood how a simple discussion could be used as a source of data. Asking basic questions like, 'What do you know about ______?' and 'Have you ever learned about ______?' open the door to conversations that are full of meaningful information and insights.

"On top of this, it engages and empowers students in the learning process in a way that personalizes the content for them. Once you’ve gathered this data, the second, and more meaningful, step happens once you apply this information in a way to help guide forthcoming learning opportunities. 

Formative assessment is a powerful tool for teachers and learners. It improves student performance, but it takes pre-testing, feedback, and ongoing Q & A between teacher and learner to make sure formative assessments supply accurate information, to inform future instruction.

How do you go about improving your own formative assessments? Let us know in comments or drop us a tweet.

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