Earlier this week I realized my students needed more work with a particular math concept. In years past, I used to think that their understanding would come eventually if we just forged ahead. For many it did, and yet I would continue hammering the concept until I felt every last student clearly understood. Although my intentions were good, I was doing a disservice to the students who were more than ready to move on to the next concept.
So, this week, instead of pushing forward full speed ahead, I used formative assessment to inform my instructional decisions. After administering a pre-test on several learning targets, my colleague and I discussed the results and focused on the areas needing the most work. We shared some strategies with each other and went back to the business of teaching.
I used a variety of strategies through the week to vary my information gathering. My favorite was the silent Write Chat - a formative assessment that gives students the chance to reason and communicate their thought process on a large sheet of butcher-block paper. The students wrote about how the greatest common factor could be used to solve a particular problem from our text.
I walked around to each table and observed my students' excitement. In all likelihood, it wasn't the topic itself, but rather each student having a voice in a risk free classroom environment. After a couple of minutes, I had students move to a different table to write responses to the comments left by their classmates.
After a few minutes of writing, responding, and rotating I was ready to hear from a variety of students. I posed the question again, and was pleased at the depth of student responses. For some, the learning may have come during the writing and for others it came in the sharing of ideas afterward.
My concern that I had earlier in the week was resolved. My students showed that they moved from knowing what the GCF was, to a deeper understanding of its value in solving complex multi-step problems. I didn't need to continuously re-teach what the GCF was; but rather, my students had demonstrated to me that they had already reached a deeper level of understanding and could apply their knowledge in the context of a real world problem.
As I reflected upon the days learning, I reviewed my lesson plans and updated the next day's planned lesson. I reworked the lesson plan in real time so that the learners' needs came first. They were ready to move on faster than I had previously thought. A small group of students still needed some reinforcement, which I was able to do later in the day. I'm glad tomorrow's learning took care of itself today. This probably would not have been the case if I wasn't driving my instruction based on informed decisions about my students learning.
What are some ways that you allow students to demonstrate their mastery of the content?