The Importance of Formative Assessments

Rebecca Alber wrote an article for Edutopia (here) on this where she made the statement,  “Formative assessments are about checking for understanding in an effective way in order to guide our instruction…  And if we use them correctly, and often, yes, there is a chance instruction will slow when we discover we need to re-teach or review material the students wholly “did not get” — and that’s okay. Because sometimes we have to slow down in order to go quickly.”

I think that there needs to be a re-emphasis by teachers on the importance of truly “getting” material, and the idea that one of our primary responsibilities as teachers is to assist our students in their journey to be “life-long” learners and not just automatons who get by through rote memorization. This can begin with the realization that there are more important things than grades and that the ability to communicate effectively — especially when understanding is not grasped — is one of the greatest skills that can be learned.

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7 Responses to The Importance of Formative Assessments

  1. Pingback: By Heart | Spread Information

  2. Linda Johnson says:

    A variety of formative assessments made on a regular basis are excellent tools to be sure that students have the basics needed to then work collaboratively with their peers to produce a quality product.

  3. Linda Johnson says:

    “Coverage” in a foreign langauge does not lead to “acquisition.” I totally agree with the concept of depth vs. breadth, but will admit that it is hard ot step out of the mold. It may mean admitting to a colleague that my students haven’t “covered” a grammatical concept or every vocabulary word in a particular set, and that is tough. However, in reality, I have discovered that those areas in which I choose depth, my students can actually use the language, and much of what I “cover” is soon forgoten. Courage to step out, and ENcouragement by others is one thing that is needed to help me get there.

  4. A. Cohen says:

    Your right in that “teachers need not see themselves as the ultimate keepers of knowledge,” and that students can “google the answers” at the moment they need….. BUT I would argue that it is that exact ability that makes it all the more necessary to find that balance between teaching the ‘static’ content from textbooks (and the like) and the integration of real-world sources (collaborative with real world workers).

    If our students cannot filter the content that they ‘google,’ then are we really any better than if they couldn’t google in the first place?

  5. DaveOstroff says:

    YOUBETCHA!! I agree: using formative assessments can be powerful – even though reacting to the results from formative assessments often means realizing that we need to slow the pace in rder to maximize student learning.

    I would add, however, that I understand the pressure so many teachers feel to “cover” a particular set of content – especially in courses that are developmental stepping stones for future study (math and foreign language, especially). I added “” around “cover” because a mentor reminded me once that “to ‘cover’ means to ‘hide from view’ as in ‘cover’ that pot before it boils over or ‘cover’ your mouth when you cough.”

    The issue for me, then, is about depth of student learning versus breadth of content coverage. I’ll take depth over breadth every time!

    • A. Cohen says:

      Dave – I also agree about the need in my mind for depth rather than breadth in our classes, but now the question shifts to “How do we engage teachers (and Education in general) to make the necessary changes to the basic system?

      • DaveOstroff says:

        Your question is a GREAT one: how we encourage teachers to shift their mindsets to emphasize depth of understanding (using creative, passion-based, and collaborative methodologies) and away from focusing on content coverage?

        First off, I’ll stipulate that, in sequential courses (math and foreign language) the answers are more difficult. However, in the humanities (and, I’d argue, in the core sciences) amazing advances in technology that allows free, often real-time sharing information form the foundation of my answer. Put simply, students have the capacity to ‘google the answers’ at the precise moment when the information is most relevent to them. As a result, teachers need not see themselves as the ultimate ‘keepers of content knowledge.’ (I’d even argue that it’s extremely difficult for teachers to stay current!) In other words, so many more resources are available to students, and the Internet has ‘democratized (?)’ the storage and flow of content knowledge. These types of advances have amazing potential to alter the essential role of teachers to ‘expert learners’ working alongside students. The teacher’s expertise retains tremendous value: teachers can be more engaged in discerning quality sources, making connections, and asking essential questions that shape new ways of thinking. Furthermore, it’s exciting to imagine that teachers can be liberated from the notion that “if I don’t teach (topic X), then students will never be exposed to it.” HA! – all the content is out there at our finger-tips – for students to find ‘just-in-time’ for knowledge to be of use to them.

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