Assessment for learning, not just of learning. It’s a catch phrase educators are well aware of–but it’s much more than just a bunch of buzz words. Assessment for learning is something we should be using on a regular basis for real growth in our classrooms.
Unfortunately, for too much of my career, too much time was spent on assessment of learning only: essays, projects, tests and exams. Don’t get me wrong, this type of assessment is an essential component of our teaching, but it should not be the be all and end all. If it is, marking becomes an activity of “reward and catch”: students who do well get rewarded with a high mark; those who don’t work hard or get their work done on time get “caught” and get a bad one. Likewise, those who did work hard but didn’t get it, or get it on time, would get a bad mark. And then we would move on.
Those who got “caught” moved on too, without learning a whole lot.
I wrote in a previous post about how a new district policy forced me to change some of my practices when it comes to late and missing assignments. As I adjusted to that change, I found myself changing other things as well, things that lead to more learning and engagement in my classroom.
The biggest shift has been the reduction of summative assignments and the addition of more formative ones. This hasn’t removed the pile of papers on my desk and in my school bag, it’s just made different piles. Better ones. I’m using the “evidence” I collect to inform my teaching, not to reward and catch.
But you’ve heard all the reasons why formative assessment works. What you really want are tips to manage it all. I am by no means an expert. I’m just learning about it all myself. However, here are some ideas that I have found to be successful:
Start with backward design and plan formative assessments that allow students to work on the skills they need. For example, if you know that a research essay is one of the summative assessments you want students to complete, give them some smaller assignments that they will use to build the skills they need to write one. Ask them to write a paragraph that illustrates their ability to paraphrase, OR to embed a quotation and to cite it properly. Don’t expect it to be a “good” copy so they can focus on the skill you want them to develop, without worrying about word choice and mechanics. Then, you can give them some feedback on how to improve this skill.
I love my checklists. They have transformed my marking and restored my sanity. Whenever I give an assignment, I spend some time making up a checklist of all of the things I want the students to be able to do. If I want them to master the structure of a paragraph, the checklist will look something like this:
We don’t have to do all of the formative assessment. Peers can use both of the above methods too. Before students pass in a summative assessment, do some peer revision or editing. Give students the checklists and have them go at it. Students can use checklists themselves before they pass in an assignment. Or, you can skip your part in it all together by providing them with an exemplar to compare their work to.
I know what you’re thinking: All of these ideas are great, but I don’t have the time. I get it. That’s what I used to say. And you’re right, you won’t have the time if all of your assessments are summative. In order to switch my practice, I had to cut some things. In my grade book, there are fewer marks for essays, tests etc. and more for smaller, formative assessments that I use to teach students how to do well on the summative ones. It wasn’t an easy switch, but it’s been a transformative one for me.
You might be interested in checking out my Formative Assessment Checklists and my Formative Assessment Power Pack.
Questions or comments? Leave them in the comments!