Archive for the ‘Embedded Formative Assessment’ Category

I’m working my way up to strategies for embedding formative assessment in high school math, honest. Just before I do that, let me remind you that formative assessment isn’t always a “thing”. Formative assessment is about feedback. Ruth Sutton tells me she wishes she had called it “feedback for learning” instead. The word “assessment” has too many connotations that cloud our understanding of formative assessment.


The strategies I will share are based on the work of Dylan William, and his book Embedded Formative Assessment, in particular. His book, which contains many examples from math classes, outlines 5 key strategies for embedding formative assessment. Those strategies, in no particular order, are:

  • Clarifying, sharing, and understanding learning intentions
  • Providing feedback that moves learners forward
  • Activating students as instructional resources for one another
  • Engineering effective discussions, questions, and activities that elicit evidence of learning
  • Activating students as owners of their own learning

In subsequent posts, I will outline specific classroom strategies for high school math (and very likely applicable to other subject and grade levels) that align with Dylan’s key strategies. All I have to figure out before I start doing that is whether I should share my best one first so that you keep checking back, but gradually see less and less exciting ideas. Or, should I start with a less interesting one and build to the best one I have?

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Before I get into what I think formative assessment looks like in secondary math, let me define my terms. Since I work for these guys, I will base my discussion around their definitions.

AAC Definitions

Summative Assessment

Assessment of Learning – assessment experiences designed to collect information about learning to make judgments about student performance and achievement at the end of a period of instruction to be shared with those outside classrooms (also called summative assessment; refers to performance data compiled as a grade)

Formative Assessment

Assessment for Learning – assessment experiences that result in an ongoing exchange of information between students and teachers about student progress toward clearly specified learner outcomes (also called diagnostic and formative assessment; refers to information not used for grading purposes)

For me, what makes something summative is that it is a judgment that gets shared outside the classroom. Schools that have bins weighted zero in an electronic grade book labelled “formative”, have crossed into a grey area here, in my opinion, partly because those zero weighted grades get reported out to parents, and partly because a grade is not an effective form of feedback (Butler, 1988)

Formative assessment is all about the feedback. It is feedback for the student. What does he/she still need to learn? It is feedback for the teacher. What can I do to help my class and my individual students master the curriculum?

Remember, formative assessment isn’t always a thing. I am going to spend the next few posts elaborating on classroom practices, rather than photocopyable things. Certainly that quiz you use mid-unit to see how your kids are doing but don’t count for marks is formative assessment. We all know that. What I will look at is other ways of getting feedback to and from students.

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I haven’t posted anything here in a long time. It’s not because I’ve been working too hard (even though I have been working hard). It’s not because I haven’t had thoughts to share (because I have lots). It’s mostly because my work has shifted from math pedagogy to math assessment. For a long time, I wondered if anybody wanted to read more from me about assessment.

Here’s the thing, though. My understanding of formative assessment has grown dramatically since I started my new job just over a year ago. I now know that math pedagogy and formative assessment in math class go hand in hand.

When I left the classroom four years ago, my rudimentary understanding of formative assessment was that it was quizzes that used to count for marks that no longer counted for marks. Here’s a slide I’ve been using in presentations recently.

Formative Assessment.001

This slide pretty much describes where I’ve been for the past year or so. I have shifted from thinking formative assessment is a thing that I photocopy and hand out, but don’t count for marks. I now think of formative assessment as an embedded classroom process.

I’m going to use this space to describe some examples of what I think embedded formative assessment looks like in high school math classes. I’ll try to post a lesson or two very soon.

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