In all classrooms – whether they are labeled general education, special education, honors, Advanced Placement, or gifted and talented – teachers can count on finding a wide range of learners. This is, of course, an essential aspect of the human condition. Teachers who are committed to developing curriculum and instruction that reaches all students (and doesn’t stigmatize anyone) must devote time and attention to the practice of formative assessment.
Although teachers in many schools are required to engage in periodic assessments – which most often come from a publishing company – much more assessment data is actually required to make daily instructional decisions about what to teach, how to teach, and what to re-teach.
Formative assessments for inclusive pedagogy are not designed to level students and put them into tracked so-called “ability groups” but, rather, are used to help teachers answer these questions:
- What background knowledge and prior experiences do the learners each bring with them to this area of study?
- What skills have they each developed that pertain to this area of study?
- What motivations and interests do students have that can be woven into this area of study
- What are learners conceptual schema related to this area of study?
- And as classroom learning proceeds through the area of study, what specifically are students learning and what are they not learning that needs to be retaught?
Ongoing classroom assessments need not be complicated or time-consuming, and indeed, can be considered instructional activities in and of themselves. There are almost limitless genres and formats for informal classroom assessments, from quizzes and tests to semantic maps and learning logs. Some teachers find a few routine assessments that they use frequently, which provides continuity and predictable routines for students, such as the use of an exit slip with a simple written prompt to assess if students “got” the key teaching point for the lesson.
Also, these ongoing classroom assessments also help students become metacognitive about their own learning and more able to trace and understand their own learning over time. Such assessments can also help learners develop metacognitive awareness of how they each learn, thus developing greater self-regulation and power as learners. By involving students in keeping track of their own assessments teachers can greatly increase the students’ activation of knowledge.