Student Learning Checks

Student Learning Checks

Many times I have been asked, “What was the most beneficial instructional practice that produced the best results when I was in the classroom”.  Every time I answer with the same response, continuous formative assessment.  Formative assessment is best described as spot checks for understanding that teachers use to help guide their instruction and identify mistakes and misconceptions of their students.  There are numerous ways that teachers can accomplish formatively assessing students, but the real value is the information that is provided to teacher. 


One way to think of this process is thinking back to when you either learned how or taught one of your children how to ride a bike.  Just like in the classroom with new concepts, learning this skill takes each individual different amounts of practice to master.  It also required additional instruction on specific aspects of the skill to perfect.  For some it was simply getting on the bike properly.  For others, it was trying to maintain balance when you finally made it upright.  For me, every time I get on a bike I can still hear my mom's booming voice yelling from up the street to "Keep your head up!"  


Regardless of which part of the process you struggled with the most, that moment when you finally "got it" was everything.  All of the wrecks, scraped knees, and bruised ego were an afterthought of what was accomplished.  With even more practice and experience this skill became second nature and it became hard to believe that learning this skill was so hard to master. 


As I mentioned above, the real value of formatively assessing is to help teachers identify the needs of individual students.  If you have ever taught multiple children to ride a bike you know that each of them had their own individual struggles that needed to be addressed.  In the classroom, teachers use the information gained by these spot checks for understanding to provide individual feedback to students so that they each have a roadmap to success.  It's a rare occasion in a classroom of 25 students for all of them to struggle with the same component of a new skill. 


A common misconception when undertaking a new skill whether it is riding a bike or balancing a chemical equation is that everyone must arrive at the same time or in the same way.  More important is to identify what direction is needed to get there.  In the end, if you don't know where you are it really doesn't matter where you are going, regardless if you have a bike.

Ben Rubey

Assistant Principal, ESMS