I appreciate Black's definition of assessment for learning: "any assessment for which the first priority in its design and practice is to serve the purpose of promoting students' learning". (p. 15) With this view, it would seem that nearly any assignment, discussion or performance can be a formative assessment, used to inform teaching and further learning. Or, can it? Black asserts that "the assessment methods teachers used are not effective at promoting good learning." Could it be true in my classroom? As I reflect on Black's recommendations, I vow to be more thoughtful in my questioning, to take time to probe deeply, rather than at a surface level. Today I led two small group novel discussions. We focused on clarifying vocabulary, summarizing, and evaluating the story. But did I take time to assess the depth of their understanding of the story plot? Tomorrow I can do better, improving my questioning with a no-hands policy where every student is expected to answer, and more time listening to the students' questions rather than asking my own.
A second ah-ha in this reading: Feedback is helpful only when it is used by the learners to improve! (14) So, my comments need to identify strengths and specific areas that need improvement, then provide students with an opportunity to improve. This all requires time. A grade doesn't help them improve. (Maybe I've always known that. I've always thought of grades as a necessary evil.) In fact, when a score is given, students ignore the comment! This is eye-opening, life-changing.
Finally, "students can achieve a learning goal only if they understand that goal and can assess what they need to do to reach it." (14) This is a reminder to me: be explicit: tell students where they are going and how they are going to get there.
Slow down, you're moving too fast...
Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam, “Inside the Black Box: Raising Standards Through Classroom A s s e s s m e n t ,” Phi Delta Kappan, October 1998, pp. 139-48.