By Abby Spoerl / September 26, 2017

Beginning of the Year: A Formative Assessment

The school year is fully underway and although at times it can seem a bit chaotic, stopping to acknowledge all you’ve accomplished and how well you truly know your students can be a gratifying experience (there is also the feeling of how much you still want to accomplish, which can feel overwhelming, but we will get to that later 😃!)

When looking at the beginning of the school year through a “data lens”, it can be helpful to use these early days to really place emphasis on formative assessment and establishing a routine of doing it frequently. Key findings in Formative Assessment in the Classroom, a research study on how well teachers use data to inform instruction, show the importance of using formative assessment on a daily basis with an “even practice”. As a teacher, I found the things that I made a daily priority became a seamless part of my routine (not to say that some days don’t still get away from me). Even my students would remind me if I forgot to do something I usually did! Based on the key findings in the report, this daily use of formative assessment is what can ultimately translate into success. Because this is easier said than done, I have provided some tips and helpful guidelines to support your practice.

So how do you effectively support formative assessment implementation into your daily routine?

  1. Carve out a spot for it in lesson plans: Be explicit. This really helped me remember to do it if I had it outlined and time set aside for it during the day
  2. Have supporting documents prepared ahead of time: Whether these are pre-populated spreadsheets with spaces for taking anecdotal notes, note cards with student names on them to be used as “exit cards” for a lesson, or self-assessment worksheets students can use to assess their own learning, having what you need ready ahead of time is a great way to set yourself up for success.
  3. Be consistent
    1. Again, if a time of day helps you remember, plan for that.
    2. Get it in everyday so you have an abundance of data to look at when you begin to “use” your formative assessments.
  4. Allow your students to “own their learning”
    1. This can come in the form of student-designed projects.
    2. Anecdotal check-ins (with rubrics?) with them during these projects can serve as great data points.

Ok, great! I have a bunch of formative assessment data. Now, what do I do with it?

The hard part about data is we often spend a lot of time collecting it but do we ever get to actually use it and put it into practice? This article does a really good job of walking you through some of the ways you can take what you’ve planned and executed and put it to work in your classroom. One of the most valuable learnings from formative assessment is that you can use what you’ve learned about your students and their learning habits to make timely changes to instruction. Often with formal assessments, it can take much longer to receive results by which time it is too late.

Although the use of formative assessments in your classroom may take some time early in the year to practice and implement, the time you can save yourself in the long run is tremendous (think about all the information you’ll have about student learning to guide your planning, teaching, report cards, and conferences). The insight into student learning for better outcomes is invaluable. Do you practice formative assessment as part of your routine in the classroom? Tell me below in the comments!

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