Formative Assessment: A New Lesson Plan

About Lori H Rice

Lori Rice is a fourth-grade teacher at West Elementary in Wamego, Kansas, who has taught K-2 reading as well as kindergarten, first grade and fourth grade for the past 19 years. Her students read books that are held together by tape, and because of budget cuts her school does not have a full-time librarian, art teacher, technology teacher or music teacher. As a result, she says, “our schedules are limited and cannot be arranged for what is best for students.”

Formative assessment is using purposeful observations and information about students to move their learning forward. It enables teachers and students to understand their learning and have meaningful dialogue.  This has been applied in classrooms through Kahoot! quizzes, exit tickets and quick thumbs up thumbs down activities.  Formative assessment, however, has more power when it is based on evidence and justification from meaningful, intentional tasks provided in the classroom.  This can be done through lesson planning.

I recently attended an in-service by Margaret Heritage and learned how to incorporate formative assessment into lesson planning to reach all learners in the classroom.  Thinking through learning objectives, success criteria and higher level questions that will provide evidence of learning are powerful tools we can use to engage students and allow them to take a more active role in their learning.  Deeper learning with transfer among knowledge and skills occurs over time as students build upon preexisting knowledge and develop more complex skills.  They will have misconceptions along the way.  Formative assessment allows teachers and student to see what is being understood and what misconceptions are occurring. It focuses on the learning as it is taking place, but is best done with planning.

Formative assessment focuses on the learning as it is taking place Click To Tweet

The Change

The old paradigm in learning involves creating a lesson plan, introducing information, practicing the knowledge, giving a unit test to see the learning and then, moving on.  We had the students that got it, we knew the students that didn’t get it, and due to time limitations we would try to reteach but would more often than not move on.  As teachers we know there is a disconnect in this system.  Providing formative assessment along the way helps guide what is being presented, but incorporating formative assessment into your lesson planning will focus on learning and what that learning looks like to help students shape their own learning along the way.  Formative assessment should be an intentional process to move each student forward from their current knowledge.

As teachers we know there is a disconnect in this system Click To Tweet

Delivering instruction should become a process that supports learning.  When direct instruction occurs it needs to be at the level the student currently holds.  The teacher’s role is now to teach students to learn.  This is a different process than simply facilitating, there must be an understanding of development and content working together.  Teachers are now setting up time for students to use, asking questions to prompt discussion and to help students make connections with their learning.   They are also asking questions to help students describe and justify their thought. Formative assessment will keep students in their learning zone; this is away from their comfort zone and out of the panic zone allowing continual learning throughout their k-12 experience.

The Resistance

Policy and habit can be huge threats to this type of formative assessment.  Setting a pacing guide and checking off the skills or objectives you have taught is not part of the process.  Using this method and then moving on is setting students up for failure.  Some school systems are organized to have the year mapped out.  While this is good practice, the flexibility to meet the needs of children must be taken into account.  Our goal is to look at the evidence from students to see their learning of the skill or objective and then knowing what students need to move on.  Using this model will help with that idea of moving on when students still don’t “get it” and therefore will close the gap.

The Implementation

Teachers write and use lesson plans that are tied to objectives.  These are often restated in student friendly language and posted in classrooms for reference.  It is also important to think about the success criteria that shows a teacher how well the student has mastered the objective.  This success criteria is something the student can show, tell, do to demonstrate their learning.  The next step is to think about how you will know the students has mastered this objective.  What evidence do you have of the learning?  This can be higher level questions or a task done in small group, individually or together as a class.  You have to select a rich task that allows for the student to justify and provide the evidence to develop and demonstrate their thinking; but this allows for the true learning.  The teacher asks for justification and uses higher level questions or quick write responses as the students learn. What children say, make, do or write are all opportunities for formative assessment when paired with quality learning tasks.

Formative assessment is occurring minute-by-minute and day by day for teachers to guide learning.  Weekly or quarterly benchmark assessments guide teachers and administration.  These are a necessary part of the whole picture of learning.  While it is a far step from the daily learning happening in the classroom, it can be used to communicate learning to parents.  This should not be surprising data as you have evidence of learning through the questions, tasks and formative assessment that has been happening during the unit.   Annual assessments show the sampling of learning that has occurred over the year.  All of these lead to the standards provided by the state.  The assessment system must be balanced in order for learning to continue to occur throughout the entire educational system.  With intentional assessments, they each connect and you get a true picture of learning.  It is very hard to do formative assessment without a road map of the learning that will take place.

So this year as you begin to look at your lesson plans and think about activities, add some intentional formative assessment.  Write down the learning goals (What do you want the student to know by the end of the lesson?).  Then make a list of the success criteria (What will students do to show they are moving towards the learning goals?). Finally write some higher level questions you can ask to gather evidence of their learning (How will you show they know the learning goals?).  Adding this method to your lesson planning will open up conversations about what learning looks like and how learning occurs.  It can be applied to any type of teaching strategy or method and can be used during individual, small group and whole group work.  Intentional formative assessment will deepen your students’ knowledge. In this process of formative assessment, we are moving children out of compliance learning into… Click To Tweet

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About the Author:

Lori Rice is a fourth-grade teacher at West Elementary in Wamego, Kansas, who has taught K-2 reading as well as kindergarten, first grade and fourth grade for the past 19 years. Her students read books that are held together by tape, and because of budget cuts her school does not have a full-time librarian, art teacher, technology teacher or music teacher. As a result, she says, “our schedules are limited and cannot be arranged for what is best for students.”

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