Over twelve months of distance learning was nothing we were prepared for, but the experience has led to heightened expertise with technology, a glimpse into the lives students lead at home, and a newfound exploration of effective instructional practices. As our district team supported teachers and administrators over the past year, new conversations about grading and testing arose, especially around formative assessments and their role in our instructional program. What should be graded? How do we measure and tackle the so-called “COVID learning loss” (a popular phrase that appeared in many resources but one we substituted with “maximizing learning”)? And what will assessments look like once campuses reopen?
As we all prepare for the imminent return to on-campus instruction, consider implementing these three practices to maximize the impact of assessments and to foster a growth mindset in your students.
Focus on formative over summative assessments.
The limited summative data available from the prior year facilitated a shift to current year formative data to inform instruction and planning. Lean into this approach and build on it once we return to on-campus instruction. Formative assessments can provide invaluable information about student understanding and can inform next steps, ultimately maximizing instructional time. Being transparent about formative data with students can also foster self-monitoring and lead to increased ownership of learning, laying the groundwork for developing students into independent learners. We hope the experiences of the past year magnify the importance of formative assessments throughout the year and lead to proactive updates to instruction instead of reactive steps based on summative data.
Develop prompts that foster rigorous thought and exploration.
How to authentically assess student understanding during distance learning became a heat topic as concerns about students accessing online information grew. We advocated for using prompts that required rigorous thinking and exploration instead of ones that could simply be searched. Though this concern about academic honesty is lessened with in-person instruction, its existence heightened the use of thought-provoking prompts that require analysis and exploration. Keep this best practice after returning to campus; asking higher order questions that foster inquiry and examination never goes out of style.
Prioritize differentiated instruction based on formative data.
One of main benefits of instructional technology is ability to facilitate enhanced, individualized differentiation. With considerable increases in instructional technology expertise over the last year, teachers are better equipped to continue building on their expertise with differentiation instruction. Use formative data to inform strategic groupings and individualized supports to ensure all students can be successful. Incorporate both regularly into lessons, making sure all students join varying small groups for supports or enrichment. This will require a carefully crafted lesson approach that sets clear expectations and guidance for all students in the classroom.
There is no doubt that classrooms after campuses reopen will not look exactly like the classroom before we moved to distance learning. Skills, resources, and strategies developed and used during distance learning will not simply be tossed aside. Reflect on best practices you utilized during distance learning and discuss how they can be incorporated into in-person instruction. Educators who take time to look at these practices are more likely to be successful in the post-pandemic classroom. Start with these best practices on formative assessment – they offer a great starting point for increased rigor and personalization in the classroom.