Testing is not a new idea in education. I remember taking the Iowa Test of Basic Skills when I was young. We had yellow number two pencils, small black circles, and a booklet that said “DO NOT OPEN.” As I progressed through school we took the “FINAL EXAM.” I would cram the night before, go empty my brain, and testing was complete for the semester. Today, thankfully, testing is different.
Formative assessment is the process of using knowledge about students learning during instruction to adjust and guide your own instruction. This will improve student learning as well as engage students in their own learning process. It can be done in many ways including simple quick whole class survey, observation, exit tickets, quizzes, white boards and markers, quick write, thumbs-up/down, agree/disagree statements, clickers, Socrates, etc. For more examples and information on formative assessment check out this link.
The important thing about formative assessments is it is specific, scored quickly, and the information is then used to make decisions about what is being taught to this group of students. Formative assessments show you what students know, where their level of understanding is, and what else they need to understand to master the standards and skills being presented.
So, where do you start? The real question is what do you want to know? Decide if you are using this to create groups or to find out how effect a lesson has gone. Running records and unit pre-tests can be given to group students so they are in learning environments that meet their needs for specific skills and content. During class lessons, give a little check-in to see where your students are in that lesson. Look at the results to see where the next lesson can go. Do you need to review anything for clarity? Is there anything that can be skipped because the students have mastery? Guide your lessons and activities from the information to meet the needs of your class.
How often do you assess? You do this all the time when you are teaching. Informal observation gives you feedback for reviewing concepts and moving your lessons forward. Exit tickets are a new tool in education being used for this purpose. Ask students to summarize the lesson, draw a picture to represent the main idea or concept, answer a question to show understanding. These little things help you collect data to guide your teaching beyond informal observations. Do this as often as you are comfortable. This helps you provide meaningful instruction by allowing you to move ahead at the students’ pace, not the pace of the textbook or curriculum company.
If you have been using formative assessment, let us know what you do that is quick and easy. We know there is never enough time in the classroom so simple is usually the best. If you are new to formative assessment, check out these articles by those who have researched this topic including Jim Popham and Margaret Heritage . Using formative assessment to create reading groups, group students for math instruction, or focus your lesson will allow you to focus on what is needed. That in turn frees up time that would have been spent covering unnecessary material. Forming your lessons with formative assessment allow you to create time in the classroom which is always a blessing.