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Formative assessment strategies for success

Bethany: We have a regular system of curriculum monitoring using a walkthrough process for each of our schools, where we look at the implementation of our curriculum. And I’m part of the team that has designed our teacher evaluation system—so we have two tools in place in our district that we use to look at what’s happening in our classrooms.

One of the first things we do in our walkthrough process is to determine whether the intended learning has been clarified. We’re looking for obvious things like a learning objective posted on the board, or some evidence that the students can refer to where they understand the intent of the instruction.

As we’re in the classroom, we’re looking for the teacher to use a variety of questioning strategies and focused observations, really intensely engaging with students, monitoring their comprehension. Is the teacher eliciting evidence? And it’s not only the teacher—it could also be peer groups or work groups. [We want to see] that students are entirely present with the content, with one another, and are engaged in the learning process.

Formative assessment is kind of the air we breathe in a classroom that’s active, that’s engaged, and where students are learning effectively.

Joel: You describe a great environment where it’s embedded at the school or district level. What are your thoughts on a teacher who is in a school where there isn’t that kind of larger structure in place? Can they still be successful?

Bethany: That’s a great question. There are lots of resources out there that can support you, and we can always find people to talk to who have common interests with us in our schools. Even having one person come into your classroom and coach you—it’s certainly a next step if you don’t have a rich environment where the structures are already in place.

John: A good process needs good tools. We need some type of simple, easy-to-use tool to help us with this inventory of learning. If I see evidence of effectiveness, I don’t have time to type all that in.

I worry a lot about whether teachers have those tools. I sometimes see them in the hands of those who are evaluating our teachers; I’d like to see those same tools in the hands of the teachers.

Joel: How can formative assessment be used to support the curriculum? We know that curriculum is shifting with the Common Core; how can formative assessment be used to help support that [change]?

John: [With] learning management systems, we’re able to view and align [our curriculum]. We can see on a screen what [a] student needs. I can see the formative assessment result, the instructional strategies and resources.

When we’re able to use the data to tweak that curriculum, then we’re making the curriculum useful and visible, and not just [a static document].

Joel: How can formative assessment be used as a teaching strategy?

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