Formative Assessment

Using Assessment to Create Student-Centered Learning

There's more to assessment than test scores. By assessing students' passions, learning styles, success skills, and levels of rigor, teachers can create a student-centered classroom.
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Assessment is key to creating a more student-centered classroom. Before proceeding, though, I want to clarify what I mean by assessment. I don't mean testing, nor do I mean grading. Unfortunately this term (as well as other terms like data-driven instruction) has been hijacked to mean more testing and knowing students only in terms of their test scores. We know this is unacceptable and does not meet the needs of all students.

Yes, data such as test scores can give us a window into better serving our students, but it's not the whole window. If we truly want to know our students, we must view them as a stained-glass window with test data as only one of many pieces. Assessment can allow us to know the whole child as we create a more student-centered classroom.

Assessing Student Passions and Learning Styles

One key way to create a more student-centered classroom is by assessing students for their passions and interests. All of our students come with powerful experiences that have driven their lives, such as family stories, favorite books, hobbies, and trips. We can use a variety of assessment tools like one-on-one conversations, journals, and graphic organizers to learn more about our students and what drives them to learn. Tools like learning profile cards can allow us to differentiate appropriately, leverage our students' strengths, and push them to learn in different ways. Assessing for passions and interests can also push us to know our students more deeply and create a classroom designed for them.

Assessing 21st-Century/Success Skills

We know that some of our students collaborate better than others, just as some students have more global empathy than others. If we assess for these success or 21st-century skills, we can provide experiences and instructions that foster those skills and allow our students to grow in areas that are more than simply content knowledge or skills. Teachers can use rubrics and other assessment tools to let students know what these success skills look, sound, and feel like. In addition, they can use these assessment tools for self, teacher, and expert assessment. While some students may really know math content, for example, they may need support in building their grit, and we can make the classroom meet their needs in a targeted way.

Formative Assessment of Content and Skills

Test data lets us know how students are progressing toward learning content and skills from the standards. However, these standardized tests may only assess the bare minimum (if that) of the level of rigor that we want and expect from our students. Also, these assessments do not provide us with just-in-time data that we can truly use. What we get from them often comes too late for our purposes. While we can look at the data for trends, we may not be able to use this information in the immediate moment to meet the needs of individual students. Teachers instead should use low-stakes formative assessments to assess students' content knowledge and skills. This way, we can learn which concepts and skills need to be retaught, and which ones students have mastered. These assessments are not graded. Instead, we can use them to create a learning environment that is more student-centered.

Assessing for Instruction

All of these data points and assessments should primarily drive instruction in the classroom, and they are all examples of powerful formative assessments. The intent of formative assessments is to feed forward in the instruction, and create learning activities that individual students need. Yes, this may mean whole-group instruction, but it often means small-group or individual instruction. When we use formative assessments carefully, we can discover whether students need a think-aloud or model, or if they are ready for independent practice and application. In addition, formative assessment can tell us if students need more collaborative learning. Whenever we plan instruction, we know it is never set in stone, and we use on-the-spot assessment to make immediate decisions for instruction, as well as using these assessments to feed forward for future instruction. If we use assessment to provide the right just-in-time instruction, we can increase student engagement in a more student-centered classroom.

Truly, assessment can be a powerful force for knowing our students and creating a classroom that can meet their needs. We simply have to move past the baggage that comes with the term assessment, and understand that it can mean a lot of things. We can assess for content and skills, yes, but we can also assess for passions, interests, success skills, and the like for the purposes of the right instruction at the right time.

Do you use feedback as formative assessment? Please tell us about it in the comments section below.