Formative Assessment Strategies: Assessing while you teach – It’s what you do?

formative assessment
Posted in: Math, Teacher Tips

What is it about assessment? Far too often, when student assessment is the topic of consideration or conversation, assessment is thought of as an “event.”  It’s not! My colleagues Beth Kobett, Jon Wray, and I have spent several years advocating for and validating the use of particular classroom-based formative assessment techniques, which, in our view, not only recognize but value the ongoing, continually updating nature of the assessment process. Think about it – you know more about what your students know, what they can do, and their understandings when you deliberately, that means every day, include assessment as an integral component of your planning and teaching. Such anticipation includes how you will monitor a lesson’s implementation and simultaneously connect and address student progress and feedback.  


The Formative 5 was developed after considerable investigation and classroom testing. Our goal was to address the important role of assessment within the teaching triad of planning, instruction, and assessment. More recently, we have paid particular attention to the adaptation of classroom-based formative assessments and feedback within hybrid and online (synchronous and asynchronous) learning opportunities. A brief description The Formative 5 is provided below:  


  • Observations: Directly observing and recording student progress on a mathematical activity;  
  • Interviews: Brief and informal in-the-moment conversations with a student or small group, often based on an observation. The interview deepens teacher understanding of student progress; 
  • Show Me: Performance-based responses by a student or group of students that extend the observation and interview and often engages students in the use of representations (e.g. manipulative materials, drawings, number lines, graphs); 
  • Hinge Questions: A question that is essentially a whole-class check for understanding, proficiency or just determining the status of student or class progress at hinge points in a lesson. Student responses guide instructional next steps (see the work of Dylan Wiliam for more on this valuable classroom-based formative assessment technique). 
  • Exit Tasks: Capstone tasks/problems that capture the major focus of the lesson and provide feedback on student performance.  Exit tasks engage students in doing mathematics and include expectations beyond the oft referenced “exit tickets or slips.” 


Think about the title of this blog. If you are teaching children, assessing while teaching, truly is what you do. As noted, you consider assessment as you plan a lesson and anticipate the responses of your students, you monitor and continuously update the progress of your students by observing, dipping in to do a quick student interview, and asking students to show how they represent a problem or their pathways to solving the problem.  And, yes, assessing while you teach includes providing time to craft and plan for implementing that hinge question as well as adapting it as you teach, based on the progress of your lesson. Talking about adapting, since COVID-19 abruptly changed schooling, we have learned the value of online tools that support the Formative 5 and their use. Selected favorites, include Go Formative; Flipgrid; and Jamboard.  


Feedback is directly connected to your use of classroom-based formative assessment, and, of course, to your planning and teaching. Kobett and Karp (2020), discuss the importance of providing, receiving and facilitating feedback. This includes the feedback you provide to your students as you observe, conduct an interview, or perhaps while your students work on, or upon completion of an exit task. But feedback is multi-directional and includes providing opportunities to encourage and receive student-to-teacher feedback relative to an assigned task or perhaps to a show me prompt, as well as planning for opportunities for students, as they truly engage in the mathematics they are learning, to provide student-to-student feedback. We also recognize that the feedback provided or received actually launches the next lesson you will prepare, teach, and assess, confirming, once again that assessing while you teach is what you do! 

Kobett and Karp
Fennell, Kobett, & Wray
27 days ago
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