As we ponder assessment tools, their value, their type, and their worth, researchers in the field of education have traditionally narrowed them down to two: formative and summative, a significant document from the National Middle School Association on these assessment types. Summative evaluations are indicators of the knowledge that students have gained as a result of a unit of study or are state-wide assessments to measure the knowledge of all students at particular grade levels. These types of assessment serve their purpose for whatever their intended outcome is (e.g. state funding, report cards, etc.). However, in my opinion, the better type of assessment is formative in nature.
Formative assessments provide teachers will realtime feedback on the learning of their students. Do the students understand a concept? Can students grasp what you are trying to teach? These are the types of assessments that must be administered to guide and form the teaching process. This is the feedback that teachers and looking for when they are planning their lessons because the student must understand and be a part of the learning environment. We cannot simply ask the students if they understand, I know that I am commonly at fault, because our students will nod their head appropriately so that we move on to the next topic, yet they do not fully grasp the proverbial “big ticket item” that is understanding the concept. We don’t want to leave any of our students behind, and we want to make each class period meaningful for each student in a differentiated sort of way. Rick Wormeli makes a compelling case for formative assessments in this video:
A peer of mine, whom I have utmost respect because I have attended many a graduate school class with, Brian Johnson, comments of formative assessments by stating: “Teachers simply do not have enough time in the day to evaluate every single one of their students in this manner. Ideally, I believe, most teachers would love to sit down with each individual student and have a chit-chat with that student about what they did/did not understand about the given lecture/assignment/project. That much time just does not exist.” Yes, formative assessments take a large amount of time to plan appropriately and then react accordingly to the results of the assessment. I understand that teachers are already crunched for time within their class periods, but I would argue that there are some simple ways to integrate formative assessments that might not take as much time as you think.
Checks for understanding throughout a skill or a process are simple ways to integrate formative assessments. I say this is simple because there are mechanisms in many classrooms that make this a reality. If your classroom has a SMART Board and perhaps you are fortunate enough to have the SMART Learning Response System, those “clickers” can each be programmed to a specific students where you can ask students to input their own response. Maybe you don’t have SMART Boards, but you allow the use of cell phones in your school or class. Try using PollEverywhere to elicit student response to ensure that your students are comprehending the parts of the lesson. Or, maybe you don’t have either, but you do have computers. Use an Edmodo discussion question or poll to see whether or not the students can show their descriptive understanding to you. All of these examples are quick, easy, yet informational and can alter your teaching when done effectively. As Wormeli stated in his video, feedback is key. Our students need to have this feedback from the formative assessments in order to continue to engage them in the learning process.