This is the second year that my school district has been involved in The Formative Assessment Process, an initiative by the Michigan Department of Education and Measured Progress. My team last year consisted of three high school and three middle school teachers. As the Literacy Coach in the middle school, I functioned in the role of their coach. At the end of last year, one of my high school teachers became the coach for a full high school team and I opened the middle school team up for new members.
My original three members remained and five new teachers joined the project this year. My team consists of one 5th grade teacher, two 6th grade teachers, three 8th grade teachers, the middle school art teacher, and the middle school Spanish teacher. Math, English Language Arts, Science, and Social Studies are all represented in the team. In a rural school with about 24 teachers, my formative assessment team represents about one-third of my staff. I think that is pretty impressive when one considers that the team is completely voluntary.
Last Friday was a Professional Development day across our district. There were several meetings and presentations throughout the day and the formative assessment team agreed to place our meeting at the end of the day and stay beyond the posted end of the day to accomplish the goals we had set out for ourselves. In exchange for putting in the extra time, they asked to have the meeting held off-site, so at 2:30, we headed for the meeting room of a local restaurant.
We began our meeting with the protocol called Hopes and Fears. We discussed what we hoped to gain from our work together as well as our fears about what was ahead of us. Through this protocol, we came up with our norms. We are a fun-loving group and in addition to the norms that will keep us on track, we entertained some less academic norms as well. We agreed that our one male team member should be reminded at least three times per meeting that he was the only guy. And I was quick to veto the norm that the coach would pick up the tab for off-site meetings!
But we soon got down to business and discussed an article from Educational Leadership by Dylan Williams called Changing Classroom Practice. The team all agreed that the article helped assuage their fears that this process was going to be more than they could handle. We all agreed that each member should consider where they are now in their understanding of formative assessment and set a goal to move forward. We don't all have to be at the same place but we all have to respect where each person is.
The next part of our meeting was the sharing portion. Each team member was asked to bring in evidence of a formative assessment tool they used in their classroom since school began. Each person was given five minutes to share following a protocol I created that asked them to consider and talk about their goal or objective, how the tool was used, with which formative assessment strategy it aligned (activating prior knowledge, goal setting, feedback use, self-assessment, and peer assessment), and how the data from using the tool was used to adjust their instruction. I created this protocol hoping to create some reflective thinking about the tools teachers were selecting and if and how it really was formative assessment. Last year I sometimes felt I was not fulfilling my role of coach as well as I wanted to. Often, the tools teachers presented were very creative, fun activities. But they were not always formative assessment.
It was apparent an hour into the sharing time that we were not going to get through our agenda and through everyone presenting. We decided that four people per meeting would share. That would allow us to explore each tool in depth and not feel rushed.
The first person to share was the 8th grade Social Studies teacher. He shared a rubric he created for a Town Project in the Living Through History program. His goal with this tool was to allow students to have choice in the point values assigned to each criteria on his rubric. As the group discussed the strategy that this tool aligned to, I could really see the thinking being much more reflective and deeper than it got last year. While the rubric was a good one, and giving students some choice in how they would be graded is also a positive thing, the group decided that the actual rubric was not formative assessment. The group then helped this teacher brainstorm some ways that could push his rubric into the formative assessment realm. For example, if the groups had the rubrics from the start of the project, they could use it to self-assess half-way through. The teacher could conference with the groups on their progress and the groups could reflect on areas that they felt needed more work, or in which they lacked knowledge or understanding. That group brainstorming was powerful, as was the safe and respectful way that we recognized the good teaching in what was presented yet were still able to help push the teacher to see through the formative assessment lens.
Come back tomorrow to read about three other teachers using formative assessment tools and to find out what the team learned together!