Last night, I attended Doug Fisher’s presentation Feed Forward: Taking Action on Formative Assessments at Buffalo State College. Resources and materials from that presentation and many others are here. Some quick take-aways that have yet to settle but will no doubt inform future discussions with teachers and administrators:

  • It’s very popular to apply solutions to perceived reading problems before we’ve accurately defined what the problem may really be. For example, it’s easy to assume that all reading issues at the primary level are about fluency (this is the trend now, but it used to be phonics in the past). At the middle and high school level, we assume it’s all about comprehension. Assessment can empower us to make better decisions.
  • “If we can’t read a text, we can’t learn from it (but we can learn).” Fisher shared his own personal connections to this reality by demonstrating how, when confronted with the textbook for a college level course on learning and the brain, he quickly assessed his inability to read it and chose instead to build his background knowledge using non-traditional texts that he found on his own. I think it could be powerful to teach children how to do the same, and I’ve already begun thinking about what this kind of instruction would look like.
  • Fisher claimed that we are overdosing learners on feedback (and what he calls feedbad) without using what we’ve learned about student performance and their specific needs to inform our next instructional steps. “We need to make feedback actionable.”
  • In order to accomplish this,  formative assessments must be purposeful, and the data we capture from them must be as reliable as possible. We ensure this by: establishing learning targets, checking for understanding frequently, providing immediate feedback to learners and strategies that will help them move forward and capturing our data before we give it all away. Quality feedback is: timely, specific, understandable for students, and actionable.
  • Over the last several years, I’ve been learning more about how to capture formative assessment data and code and catalog errors in ways that can inform instruction. Frey shared some simple but very powerful processes and recommendations that I’m looking forward to exploring with teachers this spring and summer.
  • Fisher also spoke to quality assessment design, demonstrating how teachers can create diagnostic distractors on assessments and catalog the findings appropriately in order inform our own learning about kids in far more valid ways. Unless we do this, we tend to over-generalize the findings and re-teach in global ways rather than supporting the distinct needs of students and sub-groups. When learners make errors, we must consider what it shows us about their thinking. If we aren’t documenting this, it’s impossible to remember it well, respond accurately, or study progress over time. Data does drive instruction, but data are not merely numbers.



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