Upstream Thinking . . . How to know you’re succeeding?

“Choosing the wrong short-term measures can doom upstream work.  The truth is, though, that short-term measures are indispensable.  They are critical navigational aids.”

~ Dan Heath

The phrase, “short-term measures are indispensable,” brings to mind the vital role that the formative assessment process plays in the learning environment.  According to the Michigan Assessment Consortium, “formative assessment is a planned, ongoing process used by all students and teachers during learning and teaching to elicit and use evidence of student learning to improve student understanding of intended disciplinary learning outcomes and support students to become more self-directed learners” (CCSSO SCASS, 2017).

The goal of formative assessment is to monitor student learning.  Formative assessment is a type of diagnostic check-in that allows a teacher to adjust instruction to support students’ growth.   By understanding exactly what students know before, during, and after instruction, educators have much more power to improve student learning.  Formative assessment gives teachers critical information so that they, in turn, can provide students with timely and action-oriented feedback.  

John Hattie’s analysis of influences that are related to learning outcomes lists feedback as having a .70 effect size on student achievement.  Knowing that the average effect size of all the interventions he studied is 0.40, an effect size of .70 is significant.  Hattie stated the following in his Visible Learning book: 

“Feedback is a compelling influence on learner achievement. When teachers seek, or at least are open to what learners know, what they understand, where they make errors, when they have misconceptions, when they are not engaged – then teaching and learning can be synchronised [sic] and powerful. Feedback to teachers makes learning visible”

[p. 173].

Formative assessment practices provide many opportunities for feedback.  When teachers come together to create common assessments, they increase the likelihood that students will have access to the same curriculum, take assessments of the same rigor, and have their work judged according to the same criteria.  Think about how teacher collaborative routines efficiently allow your team to work together to determine the best methods to assess student learning.  Collaboratively deepening your knowledge of what and how students are learning allows you to capitalize on the expertise of your peers. For improvement in student learning to occur, data needs to be analyzed from assessments. The data analysis helps drive the instructional practices that best meet the needs of the students.

Dylan Wiliam describes assessment as, “the bridge between teaching and learning.” Formative assessment is necessary for the learning process of students, its application is continuous.

These assessments give both teachers and students feedback, so that teaching and learning can be improved.  As stated in the opening quote, “. . . short-term measures are indispensable. They are critical navigational aids.”  The formative assessment process serves as a navigational aid for both teachers and students.