With all the debate going on right now about the Smarter Balanced Assessment and “opting in” or “opting out”, it’s important to think about the role assessment plays in our classrooms. There is a difference between “assessment of learning” versus “assessment for learning.” The Smarter Balanced Assessment, which is a summative assessment, is an example of the first. Its primary purpose is for accountability and measuring competence. The second is exemplified by formative assessment, the purpose of which is to improve learning and achievement. Both are important, however research shows that formative assessment produces greater increases in students’ achievement (Wiliam & Thompson 2007) and for that reason formative assessment is definitely worth “opting in” for.
Formative assessment can be defined as, “a deliberate process used by teachers and students during instruction that provides actionable feedback that is used to adjust ongoing teaching and learning strategies to improve students’ attainment of curricular learning targets/goals.” The most effective formative assessment according to Wiliam and Thompson (2007) takes place day-by-day and minute-by-minute both within and between lessons and helps to answer three questions:
- Where are the learners in their learning?
- Where is the learner going?
- How is the learner going to get there?
Connie Moss and Susan Brookhart in their book, Advancing Formative Assessment in Every Classroom, share, “The questions are deceptively simple, yet to address them students and teachers must become skilled assessors who can gauge the gap between the students’ current level of understanding and the shared learning target. Only then can they choose appropriate strategies to close the gap.”
There’s a Task for That!
By now we’ve all grown used to the expression “There’s an app for that!” If you’re looking for strategies to integrate formative assessment into your lessons, “There’s a task for that!” A mini-task to be exact.
A great resource in helping teachers create learning opportunities to help both themselves and their students answer these three questions is the Literacy Design Collaborative Core Tools Curriculum Library. While mini-tasks are often embedded into larger LDC modules, they can also be used as stand alone lessons or integrated into other units of study. Anyone can have access to the library by creating a free account.
If you want to have students break down a learning target to clarify success criteria – there’s a task for that.
If you notice there’s a gap in your student skills of citing evidence or writing strong introductory paragraphs – there’s a task for that.
If you want to find a new way to have your students engage with a text – there’s a task for that.
Take a look at this mini task on Split Page Notemaking. Which of the three questions might this task help teachers and students to answer? How do the parts of the lesson fit in with the “Five Key Strategies” identified by Dylan Wiliam and Marnie Thompson in figure 1 below?
Wayne Steven’s in response to the question, “How do teachers use mini-tasks as formative assessments or for sparking reflection?” shared, “Mini-tasks are great for obtaining evidence of student understanding. A Socratic Circle or Inner/Outer Circle Conversation allows a teacher to check for understanding and for the student to refine understanding. The Question Formulation Technique (LDC CoreTools) mini-tasks is awesome!” If you want to learn more about mini-tasks check out Shiela Banks blog, The Powerful Mini-Task. You may even become inspired to participate in the Mini-Task Challenge.
If you’d like to learn more about formative assessment, consider attending Puget Sound ESD’s 2-day summer course offering, Using Formative Assessment for Instructional Design & Smarter Balance Success, July 28 & 30. Register Here
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