Academic Lens: Why Formative Assessment Matters

Posted by Scott Allenby


Monday, faculty gathered for a day of professional development centered around the concept of formative assessment. The day was structured to discuss how formative assessment links to faculty professional development over the summer and to Proctor’s Profile of a Graduate. In essence: how do we take the science around learning and put it into practice in our classrooms?

Proctor Academy science

Formative Assessment, as defined by Dylan Wiliam, employs five strategies:

  1. Clarifying and sharing learning intentions

  2. Engineering effective classroom discussion, questions and learning tasks that elicit evidence of learning

  3. Providing feedback that moves learners forward

  4. Activating students as owners of their own learning

  5. Activating students as instructional resources for one another

As Wiliam notes in the video above, schools often tend to go for the easy ways to demonstrate progress. However, changing the actual ways teachers teach in the classroom is a real challenge. While we know the science of learning has evolved, how much has our teaching really changed over the past 30 years? Today, we sought, as educators, to move from science (what we know works) to design (what we actually do in the classroom).

Proctor Academy formative assessment

Proctor Academy formative assessment

Assessment becomes formative when educators adapt teaching to meet student needs. Wiliam states, “If you let students leave the classroom before you’ve used evidence about their achievement to make a difference to your teaching, you’re already playing catch’s about the minute-by-minute and day-by-day adjustment of your teaching.” 

Aristotle espoused three educational virtues:

  1. Epistome is science or known truths. For example the base angles of a triangle are what they are and there is no debating what they are! 

  2. Techne is the ability to make something for a purpose. For example students may make a table in the woodshop for their dorm common room. 

  3. Phronesis is practical wisdom; not knowing facts, but knowing how to do things in a principled way.

Today’s work was all about phronesis. It was (and will continue to be) about sharing our collective wisdom about what may work in specific learning situations. It's about looking at our classrooms and shaping learning experiences in a way that helps students understand how knowledge is applied. Today was not about telling teachers how to do something, but about helping educators understand which processes could work in their classrooms for their students.

Proctor Academy formative assessment

Proctor Academy formative assessment

Proctor’s educational model is one that naturally embraces formative assessment. However, we know we can always get better. As Samuel Beckett wrote, “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” As educators, we must always be willing to evolve our teaching, to be willing to fail, and to be willing to put ourselves out there in the same way we ask our students to risk failure.

Check out Proctor's EdTech Formative Assessment Tools!


Subscribe to Email Updates

The Buzz at Proctor

Posts by Topic

see all

Blog Archives

see all

Recent Stories

Speak with someone in Admissions