Why does it matter?
The YouthTruth Survey question “Does your teacher give you extra help if you need it?” targets students’ perceptions of formative assessments. Formative assessments are opportunities for teachers to check in with students to see if they need extra help, and with which learning objectives. Good formative assessment practice is essential to both individual student achievement and to keeping the whole class on track.
Using formative assessments to check for understanding
Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey have summarized the most important takeaways and strategies from their book, Checking for Understanding: Formative Assessment Techniques for Your Classroom, on ASCD’s website. Use this guide to go beyond using questions like “Everybody understand?” and “Does that make sense?” in the classroom to check for understanding.
Step 1: Set a clear learning target. When students understand the goal of the lesson, they are more likely to focus on the most important takeaways.
Step 2: Give constructive feedback. Ideally, you can give feedback as students complete tasks, so that they can improve in real-time. Learning and growing is the goal of formative assessment. So don’t limit feedback to a summative review, but rather provide detailed feedback that students can use to improve their performance. Consider using a rubric to note areas where students have hit the target, and areas where they missed the mark. That way, students can revise their first (or second, or third…) draft and use that information on their next attempt. A rubric will allow you to go beyond noting the mechanical errors in order to acknowledge areas of success and provide recommendations for growth.
Step 3: Modify instruction based on what you are hearing from students. Formative assessments not only provide information for students on how to improve, they also provide you information on how to guide instruction. Whether you’re using a daily check for understanding task or a common formative assessment tool, you can use the resulting information to plan instruction and intervention. If you’re noticing similar errors from the majority of the class, you may decide to recap or spend more time on a particular lesson. If a few students are struggling with a concept, a better avenue may be small-group or one-on-one intervention.
Read the full article for more detailed examples from Fisher and Frey!