Students (practicing classroom teachers) in the Advanced Assessment Literacy Specialization – Masters of Science in Advanced Teaching Practices – share their thoughts on the issue of time. Their professor posed these questions: How do you make time for the effective use of formative assessment for learning? Why do you? How can you convince other teachers that it is so worth gaining the knowledge and skills to effectively implement formative assessment? How does formative assessment for learning change your teaching and your students learning?
My name is Michael Pon. I teach fourth grade at Highland Ranch Elementary in the Poway Unified School District, San Diego County, California.
First off, implementing formative assessment practice in the classroom does take time, but it lays the foundation for success and is time well spent. Helping students understand the learning targets, and where they are headed next, provides a clear vision for them to follow and a focused pathway toward improved understanding and learning. Through the use of Rubrics/Exemplars and other formative assessment techniques (i.e. Green Cup, Yellow Cup, Red Cup), students have the ability to self-assess their own understanding and then act upon that information. For example, I use rubrics for classroom behavior, presentation/public speaking, and writing. These rubrics are distributed, discussed with and by the students in great detail, including use of examples demonstrating varying levels of proficiency. In this way, the students know at the start what the expectations are and what “quality” looks like.
This background preparation sets the stage for them to take charge of their own learning, giving them the knowledge, understanding, and confidence necessary to make adjustments via self-assessment. Providing opportunities for both peer and teacher feedback further enhances student understanding. This process does take time, but it creates students who are more confident, independent, and knowledgeable of where they are in their learning, and what they need to do to get where they are going. Any teacher can appreciate the possibilities with a class full of such students!
My use of colored cups as a formative assessment technique has really helped in promoting student self-assessment, furthering student understanding, and improved the effectiveness of my teaching. For example, each student has a green, yellow, and red cup stacked on their desk. In the beginning, they all show green (meaning “I understand”). As the lesson progresses, if they become uncertain or have questions, they show the yellow cup (meaning “I’m not sure”). If they should become totally lost, they show the red cup. Teaching with these tools in place allows me to formatively assess all my students, in the present while the learning is happening, and make adjustments to my teaching (as necessary) based on the needs of all my students. It is amazing watching red cups turn to yellow, and yellow cups to green, and seeing the excited looks on the faces of those students – isn’t that why we teach in the first place?
Since adopting and embracing formative assessment, I feel my instruction has improved and my students’ ability to self-assess has increased their understanding. Teaching for me has become more focused on the importance of student understanding and learning in the “here and now” and on students believing that they have the power and ability to improve their own learning. I know as well as any teacher how precious time is in the classroom. For those who say they don’t have the time, I would say enhancing their understanding of assessment literacy and formative assessment practices would be time well spent, as it will enlighten them as to the enormous benefit this approach to teaching can have on classroom instruction and student understanding, learning, and future success.
Catherine Plecenik, Fairfield-Suisun Unified School District, Fairfield, California
Armijo High School, English, IB TOK, Grades 9 and 10
Our students deserve the time spent to implement quality assessment in the classroom. True: a balanced assessment system requires formative assessment, and if we are to truly “do it right,” then it takes meticulous time and care. In fact, our formative practices should adapt and shift as we see our learners’ progress. This requires consistent revision and fluctuation on the educator’s part, which in turn requires time and effort. I understand why some educators might feel bogged down with time. The most frequent concern I hear is, “But I need to meet all of the standards,” or, “They need to be ready for the _______ test.” I think of Grant Wiggins’ (2011) perceptions of standards when he says, ” …standards are like the building code in construction: they have to be met, but they do not reflect the ultimate aim of any design, nor do they encompass everything that matters to the design’s users.” Formative assessment, as well as summative assessment and the entire assessment system, allows us the privilege to design understanding for our learners. Truly, what is more rewarding and vindicating than being given the power to create this design?
As the blog by Pon and Fabry states, we can and should include students in their own formative assessment. Perhaps the article’s explanation of formative assessment sounds intimidating for a teacher who is accustomed to prepping and analyzing assessment data outside of the classroom. However, students can make their own goals and assess their own growth appropriately at any developmental level. Classroom conferencing time can be made within any classroom, and much of the individualized learning plan can be created and fine-tuned in class. We are merely coaches on the sidelines guiding our students towards victory. If formative assessment sounds too time-consuming, then perhaps the issue is that we are trying to play the entire game ourselves instead of staying on the sidelines.
If we “do not have the time for formative assessment,” then we are not preparing our learners for the potential success and growth they can experience. Yes, it is a heavy burden to plan, implement, and revise; at times it is far from perfect, but our students are worth the effort.
Wiggins, G. (2011). The Understanding by Design Guide to Creating High-Quality Units. [Bookshelf Online]. Retrieved from https://online.vitalsource.com/#/books/112026E4/