My understanding of a formative assessment is that it is some sort of assessment that gives the teacher information. The student's writing (think: short quiz, 3-2-1 exit ticket, response to a prompt, solution to a problem, etc) or oral response (think: response to a question, information the teacher overhears as the student has a conversation with his/her partner/group, information gained from a 1-1 interview, etc) helps any teacher to gain insight so that she/he has a better understanding of what has been learned. This information gathered helps to inform our decision making. Formative assessments are a sort of progress monitoring that help us to plan instruction for specific students or the whole class based on what the child/class has demonstrated he/she/they is/are able to do.
Boy is that wordy! The key for me is that the information you get by listening closely or evaluating student work samples informs instruction. The reason we want to use formative instruction is because our goal is to take all learners to that next level. Right?
I was just reading a thread on Twitter. The question posed was: What are your favorite formative assessments? Go!
There were some exit ticket responses, student journal entries, etc. but mixed in were a couple of responses that have me wondering.
I saw "thumbs up/thumbs down" as a response and it got a little love from the folks participating in the thread. Then, someone offered, "green cup, yellow cup, red cup". Thank goodness someone else asked what that was all about so that I didn't have to. Essentially, kids or groups are given a set of cups. The cups are stacked. If all is going well the green cup is visible on the outside of the stack. If the child/group is beginning to struggle but can still forge on, for the time being, with independence, the yellow cup is shown. A red cup showing signals that learning has come to a halt and teacher intervention is required. What I'm wondering is, are these two strategies really formative assessments in the truest sense? In both instances, the students are self-evaluating. This gives me pause because, I have found that self-evaluation cannot always be trusted. First, my expectations around learning almost always go deeper than my ten year-old students' expectations. Some students will shoot me a thumbs up or would likely keep a green cup showing because he or she just wants to stay the heck off my radar. Less attention from me is better! This is especially true at the beginning of the year before relationships are well established. Some kids wouldn't show the honest thumb or cup in fear that their peers would think them smart or dumb. Teaching fourth graders is tricky business.
Let's imagine that I got nearly all thumbs up when I asked the students if they understood how to round any number (1 to 1,000,000) to the thousands place. What would be my next move with the thumbs up crowd? What would be my next more with the thumbs down kids? Would glancing around the room at a sea of green cups help to inform my instruction?
Tracy Johnston Zager says, "the only way to know is to go talk to the kid".
One of my goals this year is to be a better listener and observer of kids. There is something so respectful about stopping, taking a knee, getting on their level, making eye contact, and really listening. And, when we really want to treat our kids right, we take in what has been said and ask a thoughtful question that will push his or her thinking and propel learning. A question is far more respectful than a superlative. (I read a lot of Alfie Kohn in my 20s and his voice is still in my head! I also follow him on Twitter - @alfiekohn.) So, I'll use fewer quick surveys that are efficient but not necessarily effective. I'll avoid strategies that create embarrassment or marginalize my students. I'll listen and look closely to see what my students are able to do and we'll take the next step together.
I'm really getting excited to meet these kids!