Formative Assessment -- What is it teaching our students? | Mindsteps Inc.

Formative Assessment — What is it teaching our students?

I’ve been reading and thinking a lot lately about formative assessment and have heard from teachers who embrace it and from those who are still struggling to find a place for it within their curriculum and teaching style.  As an adult, I’m noticing that “real-life” formative assessment is all around us. Whether you’re checking the treadmill display to see your calorie count half way through your work out, taking a friend shopping with you for a special occasion outfit, or tasting something on the stove before it’s done, you’re participating in formative assessment – essentially checking along the way to make sure you’re on the right track and allowing time to correct your course if you’re headed in the wrong direction.

We hear a great deal about what formative assessment does for teachers in terms of providing data to track student progress and inform instruction. But could there be more to it? Does formative assessment also teach a “soft skill” to our students about the importance of checking their own understanding before the due date rolls around?

Think back to your own days as a student. Did you ever walk out of a test thinking “I just bombed that!” or “I didn’t realize that would be on the test!” Remember that sinking feeling that your grade was going down the tubes or that you would have to do some creative explaining to your parents? How might life have been different if a week before the test your teacher had given a short practice quiz, an example written response, or a blank map for you to complete?

I often hear teachers who are grappling with formative assessment express concern that it breeds laziness in students or spoon-feeds them what will be on the test. But consider how those same short, low-stakes formative assessments – especially those that students can be involved in scoring and revising – could focus a student’s studying or give her a heads-up that she doesn’t know something as well as she thinks she does. Wouldn’t it be great for students to leave a test without that sinking feeling – and for you to grade the test without the sinking feeling of your own?

Please join in the blog discussion with examples of how you involve students in formative assessment, how you’re trying to make formative assessment work for your class, or the roadblocks standing in your way.

–Claire Lambert