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Before the grade: Understanding student progress

Large group of teachers raising their hands

When a teacher returns a graded assignment, it’s common for students to check the letter grade, compare their grade with a friend, and then stuff the assignment into their backpack where they never look at it again. Grades awarded for practice don’t provide students with the precise feedback that supports or motivates them to improve, according to Dylan Wiliam, Emeritus Professor of Educational Assessment at University College London and author of Embedded Formative Assessment (2018). Grades, by themselves, do not provide teachers with information that they need to adjust instruction or identify targeted supports.

teachers talking around a tableLakewood schools are not eliminating grades. But during professional development on Thursday, Lakewood teachers learned strategies and techniques that will enable them to embed formative assessment into everyday instruction. The strategies they learned about are designed to make learning visible. They provide timely information teachers can use to plan the next day’s lesson or even to help them to prioritize the next five minutes of teaching.

Wiliam incorporated his engaging assessment techniques into the presentation. This ensured that teachers were learning along the way. He asked specially designed questions and asked teachers to respond using new instructional techniques that engaged them in his presentation. Their responses informed how he moved forward.

Embedding formative assessment powerpoint slideThis method of peer learning activates students as learning resources for one another. It helps students to become owners of their own learning. It builds classroom communities in which student voices inform instruction.

Cody Hastings, a fourth-grade teacher at Lakewood Elementary School, said the learning provided important tools he could add to his tool belt. He appreciated learning new techniques as well as recognizing that sometimes there are things to unlearn. “The assessment techniques help ensure you’re getting all the voices of your class,” he said.

In sports, a team succeeds as a group even as some individuals excel and others face challenges. When students in a classroom help each other under the teacher’s direction, all students learn. They benefit by seeing things through each other’s eyes. They think through complex concepts more deeply. Teachers correct misconceptions more efficiently.

teachers talking around a tableTeachers will be choosing new strategies and techniques to weave into their classrooms this year. In some classrooms, students may set their own learning goals with their teacher. Younger students may hold up red or green “traffic lights” to communicate their own understanding with the teacher. Older students might be tasked with leading a lesson for the class or by writing sample quiz questions. Staff learned about dozens of new instructional techniques to further the learning intentions in a lesson.

To continue this work, the district will include time for teachers to share strategies with each other during professional development days. Bryan Toutant, Executive Director of Teaching and Learning, said, “The strategies provide opportunities for teachers to pay careful attention to what students are learning, what they are having difficulty learning, and why they are having those difficulties. We know that when teachers develop their practice of formative assessment, their students learn more, and achievement goes up.”