As teachers, we strive to help all of our students meet learning goals and expectations. So how are we able to tell if a child is learning? As you know, we can’t wait until the end-of-unit exams or the yearly standardized tests to see what students learned. Instead, we need to be mindful of checking for learning throughout the learning experience.

This periodic checking, or assessing, for learning is called formative assessment. Formative assessments are not to be graded because their entire purpose is to help us understand how instruction might be adjusted in order to meet the students’ needs and help students understand where and how they have grown and can continue to grow.

Evaluate Your Current Assessment Practices

The key detail to remember is that an assessment can only be considered “formative” if we use the information to reflect on our own actions and adjust instruction accordingly. It also must be transparent to our students how the formative assessments are used for collecting data about their progress to help them set and monitor goals collaboratively with us.

Here are three questions to ask ourselves when examining how we are already using formative assessments:

1.

Are our current classroom strategies for conducting formative assessments effective in giving us the information we and our students need to optimize instructional activities?

2.

Do we actually use the information for a productive purpose, or do we just check the formative activity (the out-the-door ticket, for example) off of our list of tasks to accomplish and then move on?

3.

Have we explored or used all of the latest tech tools that can make formative assessment engaging for our learners and help them track their own progress?

Knowing that formative assessments can take place minute-by-minute, daily or weekly provides us flexibility to use our professional judgment in determining when to intentionally check for understanding.

How to Maximize Assessment Impact

We can increase the value and use of formative assessments by beginning with a clear learning expectation or goal. Going step by step, we can ask:

1.

What are we trying to teach and what success criteria do we expect our students to meet?

2.

Once we know the goal or expectation, where within the lesson or unit can we assess whether students are learning?

3.

Finally, based on the data from our formative assessment, what type of specific feedback will we use when adjusting our instruction and explaining to our students what they are doing right and how they can improve?

When properly designed and implemented, formative assessments provide us with the tools to turn student struggles into success in the classroom.

Most importantly, we must continually communicate to our students that learning from our mistakes and reflecting on our growth are necessary steps toward progress, both in school and in life. As students transition from school to the outside world, their ability to continue to learn and develop skills will help them find a meaningful, rewarding place in society.

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About the Author
Oran Tkatchov has worked in the field of education for over 15 years as a secondary school teacher, charter school director, and state-level director of professional development in the areas of special education and school improvement. He has authored several books and publications in the areas of supporting learning and improving outcomes for students and teachers. He earned a Master of Education from Northern Arizona University.