By Tom Schimmer
For an assessment to serve a truly formative purpose, it needs to cause some action by the teacher and students. In other words, the information gleaned must have the potential to illicit an instructional change or adjustment going forward. The word potential is important here because the resulting assessment information will not always lead to instructional changes since the assessments may confirm that what the teacher has planned for the next fifteen minutes is the most favorable direction to take. The point is that the teacher be in a position to consider those changes in real-time; that a teacher have the instructional agility to make the necessary maneuvers in as short a time as possible.
Formative assessment is a verb. When we view formative assessment as a noun we create two challenges. First, the assessment-as-noun mindset is one that views assessments as a series of events. This event focus creates the illusion that every time teachers assess their students they must create something tangible to hand out. Second, an event-based view of assessment infers that a teacher must “stop teaching” in order to “conduct” their formative assessments. While there is nothing inherently wrong with this approach in small, periodic doses, those who view assessments as nouns will find the prospect of day-by-day, minute-by-minute formative assessment daunting as they ponder the number artifacts they must create and collect. It’s no wonder some teachers proclaim that they “don’t have time for formative assessment.”
When formative assessment is viewed more as a verb, teachers begin to create a different assessment paradigm within their classrooms. As a verb, assessment is instruction and teachers need not “stop” in order to “conduct.” The lines between assessment, instruction, and feedback, while still distinguishable, are blurred as a teacher sees assessment as an action or process, not a tangible. If we use the coaching analogy as a comparison, there is not a single moment when a coach is not assessing her players. Every move an athlete makes is assessed against the standards of excellence within that particular sport. The coach can (and does) give feedback in real-time and need not “stop” practice in order to uncover performance deficiencies or provide the necessary direction for improvement. To be instructionally agile is to understand the strategies, processes, and practices that allow teachers to have a fluid exchange of assessment information with their students in order to keep learning on track.
Tom Schimmer (@Tom Schimmer) will share much more on this topic in his breakout session “Instructional Agility”at the 2014 Pearson ATI Summer Conference. Tom will also be presenting the keynote session “Reaffirming, Reworking, & Rethinking our Assessment Fundamentals for the 21st Century” and other breakouts sessions at the conference.