There’s Power In Formative Assessment

Assessment is referred to as those activities undertaken by teachers and by their students assessing themselves that provide information to be used as feedback to modify or adjust teaching and learning activities.  Assessment should be used to help us get smarter about teaching and learning.  Think about a wellness physical.  Doctors tell patients where they are healthy and they also give feedback about areas where they are not so healthy.  My  doctor gives suggestions for how to improve the conditions that are interfering with my overall health.  Just as a physician treats her patient based on multiple pieces of information, an educator makes decisions regarding instruction based on multiple pieces of information.

When I began my career, I definitely did not have tools to adequately assess and diagnose difficulties and provide interventions.   I now know that assessment and learning must be a place to address opportunities for growth for all learners and I am thankful for the bank of tools available to professionals that helps with this. We must use data consisting of multiple pieces of evidence (student work, student talk and assessment results) to make informed decisions about next steps for learners.

Many of us have children involved in sports.  My son’s baseball coaches both past and present, plan their practices so the players do the majority of the work.  They model for their players the skills and strategies they want their athletes to master.  They plan their practices so the boys have lots of time to rehearse what they are taught.  During practice and games, they give real time feedback consisting of  suggestions and ideas for improvement.  Game day serves as the test.  What our coaches do for our athletes on the field, is the same thing we need to do for our students in the classroom.

Students in RPS in grades 1 – 10 receive a common reading assessment that is meant to give teachers a snapshot of a student’s reading behaviour.  If we think like a coach of an athletic team or a doctor, we then take the assessment results along with other evidence that we collect to address teaching and learning with regards to decoding, fluency and comprehension.  We use this information to help the student succeed with reading (a coaching role).  By coaching, I mean:

  • Showing how to read content (modelling)
  • Giving opportunities to read (practice) what has been shown
  • Circulating and giving feedback during practice
  • Modelling again if necessary
  • Supporting synthesis of the big ideas.  This includes understanding purpose (why a certain text is being read) and being metacognitive and reflective about what has been learned (What did we accomplish?  How did we get smarter? What do I need next?)

Many students can read the words on the page but are not able to understand and respond critically to what has been read.  Let’s break the fake.  Let’s allow lots of practice time for the game of life by having students do the majority of comprehension work that includes and goes beyond who, where, what, when and why.  AND let’s do this by deliberately planning instruction that will help the student apply thinking strategies to make meaning for themselves.

To access support for assessment for, as and of learning, RPS teachers can click here.

To access support for teaching of reading strategies, teachers can click here.


About lgatzke

I am an assessment supervisor passionate about getting kids smarter. As Dylan Wiliam says, "Smart is not something you are, smart is something you get".
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