NCTE introduces its position statement on formative assessment this way:
Formative assessment is the lived, daily embodiment of a teacher’s desire to refine practice based on a keener understanding of current levels of student performance, undergirded by the teacher’s knowledge of possible paths of student development within the discipline and of pedagogies that support such development.
Formative feedback helps students. But here, the NCTE makes clear it is essential for teachers too. Formative assessment establishes a cycle of learning about students and what learning paths they are on.
We share this view of the value of formative feedback. There’s no doubt that more and better feedback used for better revision improves student learning. That’s the headline of all writing process oriented pedagogy. The buried lede is this: Watching students give and use feedback to revise makes you a different kind of teacher.
Eli lets instructors see students’ engagement in peer learning (how much they say, what they say, how they use what’s been said); it gives teachers’ a window into the thinking students are doing. By providing a data stream of learning that teachers can interpret, the app invites teachers to see—as the NCTE position statement says—more of the “possible paths of student development.”
The full position statement on Formative Assessment That Truly Informs Instruction makes this distinction:
- “mini-summative assessments” are early, smaller versions of summative assessments;
- whereas truly formative assessments are “rooted in instructional activity and [are] connected directly to the teaching and learning occurring at that moment” (NCTE, 2013, 3).
It’s the difference between a scrimmage and practice. Both matter. A practice allows for refinement of key skills. A scrimmage allows the player and the coach to see how the learning they have done in practice improves performance. But it’s what coaches keenly understand about students’ learning paths in practice that changes performance in the scrimmage (and the game). Formative feedback on what students are saying to each other about their work is formative for teachers who can then intervene just-in-time to make sure individuals are ready for that scrimmage or the big game.
How do teachers in your program use formative assessment? What kinds of learning do you aim to do about your students in the first few weeks of a semester? Why not share this post and the NCTE statement at a brownbag or mentor session and find out!