Hi, my name is Sean Carmody and I am a mathematics teacher and curriculum specialist at Holt Public Schools. I got involved with Formative assessment initially because it is one of those ideas, like most good ideas, that seemed to keep coming up in workshops and readings. I had read Inside The Black Box by Black and William, we had had some discussions as a department, and I even had an administrator discuss assessment for learning with me repeatedly as an idea he was passionate about. I was interested but it didn’t change my practice. Then I was lucky enough to attend an assessment conference and watch some teachers talk about what formative assessment allowed them to do with their students, how empowered the students were in their own learning, and how the focus became about improving. The presenters talked about the process they went through to bring about this change in their department and I decided to try it in my own classroom.

My first serious attempt at using formative assessment was to clarify expectations for a seventh grade student who needed a modified curriculum. The special education teacher and I were in agreement that we wanted some mathematical goals for the student (he was still interested in the diploma track). In order to clarify the standards we used “I can” statements to create student friendly language and to clarify what we were looking for, both for us and for the student. We started small with just one unit, to see how it went. We included all of the standards in the clarification document thinking that we could edit it and have a record of what we would omit for this student. I was amazed at what the student was able to achieve. In previous units he did very little to no work, but with this small clarification of what we wanted him to learn he was doing the work and doing well! I think we ended up modifying one standard and eliminating none. This was eye opening to me and showed what power is in the formative assessment process. We had made a small change, facilitating a difference in how we worked with the student and the dynamic became more of us helping him than us versus him.

My second serious attempt at using formative assessment was in an after school program for credit recovery. I incorporated more parts of formative assessment this time around. Since the students had already taken the course once, some knew different material than others. So once again we started by clarifying the learning targets – as a way to save time and differentiate instruction. The students were given a pre-test linked to targets and a list of what they needed to know for the course in order to earn credit. All assessment was formative because only the course end exam determined credit. The students seemed to really buy in. We had very few students opt out of assignments and the feedback we gave became the purpose of doing the assignment. Again we had a different teacher-student dynamic that was really positive and was the biggest advantage.

Since those first two attempts I have had great success using the formative assessment process in other settings. I have formed a study group with people interested in learning more about formative assessment. The group members support each other in making changes and asking big questions. The entire implementation hasn’t gone completely smoothly and I have a lot of questions. But I feel like I am moving down a path to becoming a better teacher. Working on this with my fellow colleagues has been a great opportunity to have dialogue, learn from other people, and continue along the process. It seems like our work together continues to generate more questions. My current questions revolve around formative assessment and using grading to help with learning rather than as the goal of learning.

Task: Create your own personal narrative of your processes with formative assessment. Write it in the discussion tab for this page. Include:

  • What drew you to formative assessment or how did you become involved?
  • Your personal successes with students using specific parts of formative assessment (grading, feedback, etc.).
  • Any things that you have struggled with or changed in the process as you moved forward.
  • What your next steps or current questions are.
  • And anything else that you need to include to explain your story with formative assessment.