Developing autonomy as a learner and becoming self-regulated with an evident sense of self-efficacy are all supported by differentiating within the classroom. Formative assessment practices contribute to this differentiated environment as both students and teachers continually collect evidence of learning and reflect on it and make adjustments to both learning tactics and instruction. This minute-to-minute and day-by-day effort both engages and energizes students and teachers. It is part of the development and support of a growth mindset. If teachers truly use assessment as “the compass for daily planning” they can’t help but differentiate.
The most challenging aspects of lesson/unit planning have direct connections to formative assessment practices; at least from my perspective they do. Last year there was an ASCD SmartBrief ED Pulse poll regarding challenging aspects of unit planning. The question posed was What is the most challenging aspect of lesson or unit planning? Here are the results:
52% Differentiating instruction
13% Managing time
10% Designing appropriate assessments
7% Aligning activities with learning objectives
4% Content coverage
While it’s impossible to say which aspect of differentiating instruction participants were thinking about when they responded, there are several I might list for contention, including:
This list probably looks familiar to many of you as it comes from Carol Ann Tomlinson’s work. One of the major benefits of using formative assessment strategies and techniques is that they can help provide support with the first four on this list.
- Content – How do you use pre-assessment in your teaching? What we teach can be differentiated easily through the use of a pre-assessment. These come in many forms – synectic, quiz, KWL, word sort, etc. Using a pre-assessment lets you know who is ready to learn what, therefore allowing you to differentiate content.
- Process – From Carol Ann: Learning happens within people, not to them; because of that, learning is a messy process and cannot always happen on a prescribed timeline or in the same way for all individuals. Messy can be a really good thing when it comes to learning. What does the process look like in your classroom? What systems, processes and tools do you have in place to support students in their personal learning or in acting as instructional resources for each other?
- Product – How can I use assessment as a tool to support learning? If we start with that question as we think about product the potential “products” list is long. My friend Greg Russo used to keep a folder on his wall with a list of 50 ways students could “show what they know.” Offer them choice.
- Environment – How can I set up the physical learning environment to support all students? Do you have rows, pods or tables? How do you provide strategy and process prompts for visual reminders? Do you have centers set up?
What’s your compass? Which aspect of lesson planning is most challenging for you? What are you doing to work on it?
Photo credit to Olga Filonenko.