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The Teacher-friendly Formative Assessment

Updated: Feb 23

If we want data-driven instruction in our classrooms, then we need to embrace teacher-friendly assessments.

But what precisely characterizes a "teacher-friendly" assessment? A teacher-friendly assessment embodies the concept of a Check for Understanding—a concise, uncomplicated question or task that students can address within 60-90 seconds. These assessments can be tackled using scrap paper, sticky notes, or even through oral exchanges with peers. A teacher-friendly assessment, or a Check for Understanding as I call it, minimizes the need for extensive preparation.

A Check for Understanding evaluates the progression toward meeting an objective or standard. It is the gateway to targeted instructional decisions, ultimately providing students with the necessary tools to fully grasp the objective or standard by the conclusion of the lesson.

When to Implement a Check for Understanding

So with that, a Check for Understanding can be administered:

  • following a mini lesson to assess understanding of the content or skill just taught,

  • as the Brainstarter, Do Now, Bell-Ringer, etc. to assess background knowledge or pre-requisite skills necessary for upcoming content,

  • before inquiry or collaborative work to ensure all students can contribute equally to the task, or

  • during guided practice to assure students' accurate completion of the current task.

None of these scenarios include performing the assessment after the lesson is completed or while students are working independently, as this would go against the fundamental goal of evaluating progress and interrupting misunderstanding before students are expected to work by themselves.

Assessments such as quizzes, exit tickets, writing responses, and unit exams are valuable tools for informing instructional choices. Nonetheless, they typically occur once the teacher thinks that they have taught the concept, skill, or content enough times where students "should be ready" to take the assessment.

In addition, let's take moment to consider the time and energy they take to create. Whether it involves creating the quiz, feed-backing written paragraphs, or reviewing post-lesson exit tickets (which subsequently prompt educators to adjust the following day's teachings), the continuous groundwork associated with these conventional formative assessment techniques poses challenges to educators in terms of long-term sustainability.

The beauty of a Check for Understanding lies in its direct alignment with the lesson's objective. A Check for Understanding that measures progress toward meeting a single lesson goal is straightforward, small, and succinct because within a 45-50 minute lesson there is no time to waste. The efficiency of a Check for Understanding enables it to be gathered, examined, categorized, and put to use, all within a concise 3-5 minute timeframe.

Administrators and principals, by articulating integration of a Check for Understanding, can enhance the likelihood of true data-driven instruction. As trailblazers in the education realm, educators seek assurance that you endorse assessment approaches diverging from conventional methods of measuring student progress.

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