Letting learning lead the lessons – Creating useful formative assessments

In this jigsaw assignment, students have to present their learning after assessing what they need to share.

In this jigsaw assignment, students have to present their learning after assessing what they need to share.

The mention of the word test can often send some folks into a frenzy of anxiety at its mere mention. As a society, we have placed so much meaning on the outcome of summative assessments that we’ve actually developed neuroses.

A classroom is a place of learning all the time and regular formative assessments can drive instruction in a meaningful way and should.

As teachers, we can’t wait for an end result before we decide how much our kids know. We need to working regularly to observe, question, gather data and then adjust our pedagogical choices accordingly.

Recently, my students completed a diagnostic writing sample that is serving as my baseline knowledge of where they are now. I’ve created a spreadsheet of strengths and challenges that each student has and now I plan to drive my writing instruction for each child and class by this initial writing.

In addition to the writing, kids selected groups to work on their first major group assignment which was a poetry tutorial. As they worked in class to successfully complete their tutorials, I watched each group and conferenced with the students to ensure that they got what they were trying to teach and offer a sounding board for their ideas.

Now here I am on the heels of October and after spending September gathering information about all my students across classes by:

  • doing classwork assignments big and small that end in written, drawn or spoken presentations
  • offering pair work and group work that asked for different kinds of learning and outcomes
  • exploring student choices when given the chance to do a variety of things
  • leading class in different ways both visually and audibly
  • reading writing assignments or looking over notebooks
  • conferencing with individual students to hear what they feel they need
  • reading student reflections about learning and standards

From all of this data, I know how to move forward responsibly making my educational plan for each child. Although I know what needs to be taught, the pace and the method must be determined by the children in each of my classes and now I can do that.

Whether it is a teacher made assignment offering a variety of choices, or a student generated assignment – kids will always be able to talk about their learning and I will always be able to recognize when to step in.

What do you do to know your students’ academic needs?


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