Formative Instruction FAQs

Formative Instruction FAQs

What are formative instructional practices?

Formative instructional practices are a process, both formal and informal, that teachers and students use to know where they need to go in the intended learning, where they are and how to close the gap. The purpose is to collect evidence to inform learning—for both the teacher and student. Formative instructional practices are most powerful when students know what they know and can do, and teachers adjust instruction to keep all students on winning streaks. Formative instructional practices are often defined as assessment for learning or formative assessment.

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What do formative instructional practices for teachers look and sound like in action?

Where am I going? Teachers:

  • Are clear about the appropriate learning progressions for various learners. Understand and clarify the intended learning to students.
  • Create student-friendly learning targets and quality rubrics and communicate them clearly to students.
  • Engage students in rubric development, helping them identify their own needs and strategies.
  • Show students examples of strong and weak work.
  • Are able to create and critique quality assessments and assessment items.
  • Share assessment blueprints with students.

Where am I now? Teachers:

  • Clearly distinguish activities (performance goals) from achievement (learning goals).
  • Articulate why students are being assessed and what they are going to do with the results.
  • Provide descriptive feedback in relation to the learning targets or learning process.
  • Employ effective questioning strategies.
  • Use the student-developed rubric to engage students in self-assessment, peer-assessment and teacher-generated feedback.
  • Teach students to self-assess and set learning goals.

How can I close the gap? Teachers:

  • Design lessons to focus on one aspect of quality at a time.
  • Use tiered lessons when appropriate (responsive teaching).
  • Use flexible grouping as needed (responsive teaching).
  • Teach students focused revision, including using rubrics.
  • Engage students in self-reflection, modeling how to keep track of and share their learning.

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What do formative instructional practices for students look and sound like in action?

Where am I going? Students:

  • Understand the intended learning or targets/rubrics and can articulate the learning to themselves and others.
  • Participate in the creation of rubrics with teachers and classmates.
  • Have a clear picture from the start of what quality work looks like and sounds like.
  • Examine examples of strong and weak work.
  • Are able to create and critque assessment items.
  • Are able to ask questions about the assessment blueprint.

Where am I now? Students:

  • Understand why they are being assessed and what is happening with the results.
  • Provide descriptive feedback to themselves and peers, using rubrics when appropriate.
  • Learn to answer and ask effective questions.
  • Learn to self-assess and set learning goals for themselves.
  • Understand where they are on the learning progression.

How can I close the gap? Students:

  • Understand the focus of any lesson and what is important.
  • Understand why they are in particular learning groups or "doing" particular lessons.
  • Understand the strategies to move their own learning forward.
  • Are able to make focused revisions. Rubrics and work samples help.
  • Engage in self-reflection and keep track of and share their learning.

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Why should educators use formative instructional practices?

Formative instructional practices are not new—this work dates back to Benjamin Bloom and mastery learning. Teachers "do" formative instruction every day in their classrooms, but for many teachers it is not ongoing and intentional. The latest research reveals that formative instructional practices are effective in closing the achievement gap. These practices are proven to raise the achievement of all students—with the greatest gains for low-achieving students.

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What is the link between formative instructional practices and student motivation?

According to brain research, we know that growth is not fixed; it is a mindset. We have an innate desire to learn. This intrinsic motivation to learn is supported when the student has a sense of control and choice, gets frequent and specific feedback about where he/she is, encounters learning that is challenging but not threatening, is able to self-assess accurately and encounters real-life learning tasks. These “supports” are formative instructional practices. Formative instructional practices provide students with opportunities for penalty-free learning, so when it is time to measure (summative assessment), students feel in control of their success.

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What is summative assessment?

Summative assessment serves a different purpose than formative assessment. At the classroom level, its purpose is to measure or determine how much learning has occurred at a point it time. This is then communicated to students and parents, often in the form of a grade, percentage or a mastery rating based on a rubric (i.e., standards-based grading). At the program level, its purpose is to measure or judge how many students are meeting or not meeting standards; it is about accountability for all stakeholders, and the overall results may be made public.

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What is meant by the formative use of summative data?

For the most part, high stakes assessments such as state achievement tests are summative because their purpose is to measure student, school and district achievement at a point in time. However, the results from a summative assessment, such as a state test, can have formative value. The results—especially those that show a trend in the data—can be used to inform decisions about curriculum, instruction, assessment and even teacher and student placements. An example of the formative use of summative data is using a value-added progress metric to determine teacher and school areas of success, opportunity and challenge.

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What are district, interim or benchmark assessments?

These assessments take on many names—interim, benchmark, common, short-cycle—but it is their use that makes them formative or summative. Formative or diagnostic uses of these types of assessments include the identification of program needs or planning placements or interventions for groups or individual students. Summative uses include measuring students’ current achievement levels or teacher success with individual students or subgroups of students. These examples of formative uses of summative data should not be confused with the formative instructional practices of teachers and students.

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