Keeping Formative Assessment Formative

One of the biggest problems that I have when it comes to formative assessment is ensuring that my students receive meaningful feedback AND that they act on it.  I think that I do a pretty good job of assessing my students regularly, and I capture these data in my gradebook (without affecting their average).  But, I’ve been forced to admit lately that I’m not very effective at giving students information that can help them learn more/better.





As Bill Ferriter recently wrote (and quoted from Dylan Wiliam), feedback needs to be work for the student.  If the information that I provide to students doesn’t ask/require/beg them to change, it isn’t really formative assessment.  I’ve owned a copy of Wiliam’s book “Embedded Formative Assessment” for some time, but I don’t think that I’ve ever really recognized the thread about student effort.  I’ve decided to read through this practical (and short) guide again with an eye for ways to make my formative feedback more impactful.  Stay tuned for updates on how this process is going…


Book Review: Embedded Formative Assessment

The upcoming Voicethread conversation that I’ll be moderating will explore the issues related to assessment and grading, with some special emphasis on formative assessment.  In preparation for this event–which you are all strongly encouraged to join–I have been reading some of the new books by several of the authors who will be part of the discussion.  A few days ago, I reviewed Doug Reeves’ Elements of Grading, and now I want to introduce you to a very different short book about assessment.

Dylan Wiliam’s new book “Embedded Formative Assessment” focuses on two fundamental ideas: why is student achievement important and how can we use formative assessment in everything we do.

If I can make one criticism of the book, it’s that it focuses a bit too much on what school leaders need to do and less on what teachers can accomplish.  Then again, this might be one of my weaknesses as a teacher leader: I get frustrated with looking at the big picture yet not being able to make real change in my classroom.

I like that Wiliam describes more than fifty different techniques, yet pulls them all together in Chapter 2.  This well-reasoned section deals with the argument supporting the importance of formative assessment, as well as the fundamental issue of how we define the term.  I especially like the emphasis that he puts on the role that formative assessment plays in informing students about their own academic progress.  I think that this is a goal of formative assessment that is lacking in many instances, including my own instructional practices.

At its core, Embedded Formative Assessment really focuses on the five key strategies that Wiliam presents as the function of formative assessment:

  1. Communicating learning outcomes (the author prefers “intentions”) and expectations
  2. Choosing the best instructional strategies
  3. Providing opportunities for feedback
  4. Engaging students in the role of peer instructor
  5. Providing opportunities for student ownership of their learning

For me, the most striking aspect of this new book is the strong case that Dylan Wiliam makes for teachers integrating formative assessment into our daily lessons, and the importance of teaching students to take responsibility for their own learning.  These are the two lessons that I think we all need to learn, and this book does a great job of convincing teachers.

How do you use formative assessment on a regular basis?


Don’t forget to join us here at Scripted Spontaneity on October 6 for a chance to interact with Dylan Wiliam and several other assessment gurus on our latest Voicethread conversation.