Formative Assessment: a Pain in the #$%@!

Landmark research published in the 90s (see Wiliam and Black, 1998) points to the necessity of educators to understand what it takes to improve classroom instruction. They urge practitioners to embrace the use of formative assessment everyday, primarily because it is incredibly effective in boosting learning.

Formative assessment is a process that the best teachers use everyday. It is the idea of asking students a relevant question, waiting for their response––then providing feedback (direct or indirect) and encouraging students to process new information…simultaneously adjusting instruction, improving interaction and encouraging participation by all students. Since this research was published, numerous others have continued down this path and providing more validity to its use. Achievement in classrooms using formative assessment show dramatic improvements (see Hertiage, et al 2010).

In a classroom of 30 kids, how difficult is this to do? Using formative assessment requires teachers to plan better questions, encourage participation, accept real-time feedback, make adjustments in teaching and––above all––acknowledge that how they teach is not necessarily being processed by every student.

Formative assessment is oft-cited as creating a richer learning opportunity for both students and teachers. Teachers are reluctant to adopt this strategy for any number of reasons: proper training, leadership and fear-of-failure are a few that come to mind. But inviting students in on this process everyday seems a compelling argument to actively pursue this concept––and just might overcome a teacher’s inhibitions.