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Using Formative Assessment for Whole Class ParticipationWhen most people think about assessments, they think of summative or perhaps interim, but assessment plays out in classrooms every day, and often it’s not unfolding the way it should. Many classroom discussions consist of lower-order questions that are answered by only a few motivated students. These questions aren’t rich enough to provide detailed information about student learning, and responses aren’t systematically collected from all students in the class.

A recent article by Dylan Wiliam at ASCD – Using Assessments Thoughtfully: The Right Questions, The Right Way – explored how questions and student participation lead to teacher discovery.

The fundamental flaw in the traditional questioning model is that it makes participation voluntary. The confident students engage by raising their hands—and by engaging in classroom discussion, they become smarter. But others decline the invitation to participate and thus miss out on the chance to get smarter.

While asking the right questions is important, how educators receive answers is equally important. In order for teachers to truly assess student learning, all students need to participate. When all students are engaged – in answering questions or participating in classroom discussion – teachers can better determine who understands the material and who needs a little extra help. This evidence gathering is where formative assessment can play a big role.

Formative assessment is a set of strategies, techniques and tools that encourages both students and teachers to continually gather evidence of learning in the classroom and use that evidence to adapt instruction moment-to-moment and day-to-day.

Used during instruction, formative assessment practice creates an environment where educators and students:

  • collect critical information about learning progress
  • uncover opportunities for review
  • provide feedback
  • suggest adjustments to both the teacher’s approach to instruction and the student’s approach to learning

Many different tools support the practice of formative assessment in collecting information about learning and providing feedback. Here are just a few you may already be familiar with:

  • hand-held clickers
  • individual whiteboards
  • status indicators (red, yellow, green)
  • teacher created tests, quizzes and item banks

For a detailed list, you can check out my blog at Teach. Learn. Grow. – Growing the List: 50 Digital Education Tools and Apps for Formative Assessment Success. As Dylan Wiliam concludes in his article:

Trying to manage the learning that is happening in 30 different minds at the same time will always be extraordinarily challenging. But by increasing the engagement of students, and thus improving the feedback from the teacher, we can make a real difference.

Have you used formative assessment in your classroom? What technique do you prefer and how is it working? Share your thoughts with us on Facebook or send us a Tweet (@Assess2Learn). We’d love to hear from you!