Teachers shouldn't ask themselves whether enough of their students understood the lesson of the day, according to education expert Jan Chappuis. They should ask themselves which students didn't get it, and why. Answering these critical questions becomes possible when a teacher uses formative assessment effectively.
Effective formative assessment involves teachers gathering, examining, and interpreting information on a student's learning progress, then sharing targeted feedback with that student. "Then, the student has to be able to take action on it—to have time and knowledge to take action on it," Ms. Chappuis said. That's when more learning can occur.
Ms. Chappuis visited Rowland Hall August 25-26 and led three separate professional development workshops on formative assessment, a research-based education strategy that in the past few years has solidified its place in the Rowland Hall vernacular. Fifth-grade teacher and Strategic Plan Implementation Committee Co-Chair Sarah Button has a simple definition for the term: "It means checking in with my students—where are they on this particular concept—and then that decides what I do next," she said, as opposed to advancing in a lesson plan before all students have grasped a concept.
"We're meeting the needs of our students right then and there," Ms. Button said. "We're not waiting for a summative test, we're in the moment, figuring out what every child needs."
Ms. Chappuis' visit, Ms. Button said, sparked faculty members to think critically about their teaching and discuss it in a way she hadn't seen in a long time.
"Knowing that this is the direction that we really would like the school to take... Getting us all on the same page about what formative assessment is—and having some hands-on conversations about what it looks like and what it means for our students—was essential," Ms. Button said.
Lower School science teacher Kirsten Walker agreed on the benefit of talking about formative assessment during two days of workshops: "It was given the time it deserved."
Director of Curriculum and Instruction Wendell Thomas echoed this sentiment. "There may be no more important idea relating to formative assessment than teachers communicating learning targets clearly to students, and Jan spent a lot of her time here working on this with our teachers."
Ms. Chappuis' workshops detailed seven high-impact formative assessment practices:
Where am I going?
Strategy 1: Provide a clear and understandable vision of the learning target.
Strategy 2: Use examples and models of strong and weak work.
Where am I now?
Strategy 3: Offer regular descriptive feedback during the learning.
Strategy 4: Teach students to self-assess and set goals for next steps.
How can I close the gap?
Strategy 5: Use evidence of student learning needs to determine next steps in teaching.
Strategy 6: Design focused instruction, followed by practice with feedback.
Strategy 7: provide opportunities for students to track, reflect on, and share their learning progres
The workshops most inspired Ms. Walker to find additional ways to utilize peer- and self-assessment in her science classes. She especially liked the idea of showing strong and weak examples of work, taking kids through those examples in a methodical way, and sticking to that routine for major assignments to create consistency for her students.
Lead kindergarten teacher Melanie Robbins stressed continual evaluation of what learning is happening in teachers' classrooms: "One point that really rang true to our work in early childhood was the importance of staying present and being in the moment, seeing the learning happening."
Like their fellow Strategic Plan Implementation Committee member Ms. Button, sixth-grade math teacher Charlotte Larsen and Upper School history teacher Nate Kogan '00 valued Ms. Chappuis' visit.
Similar to Ms. Walker, Dr. Kogan found it helpful to hear about about the power of using strong and weak examples of work to help students focus on class-specific learning goals. "Jan made clear that actively spending time talking about and having students evaluate anonymous student examples fosters the important skill of self-assessment and reflection," Dr. Kogan said.
Ms. Larsen said she appreciated Ms. Chappuis' emphasis on the way formative assessment makes students partners in their learning. "I'm looking forward to implementing some of the strategies I learned."