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Feeding the Baby


Turns out there’s a name for all that weird stuff I make my students do like creating games about the Odyssey or reviewing their writers’ notebooks to make observations about their own learning. It’s called formative assessment.

This is not to be confused with summative assessment, which, like a summary, occurs at the end. The very end, as in, after all the learning has taken place. It tends to look like a standardized test. There are right and wrong answers, and it is meticulously scored. Bubble tests may, in some cases, measure learning. But they certainly don’t promote it.

Formative assessment, on the other hand, means kids grow even while the teacher gains valuable information about their skills or understanding. This kind of assessment fosters a student-centered classroom, as opposed to a standards-driven classroom.

Here are some characteristics of a student-centered classroom.
1. It’s fun. Playing games, performing skits, and low-stakes competition get kids engaged. They laugh. They take ownership. They’re ambitious and creative. Time flies.
2. It’s interactive. Kids feed off one another’s energy. They collaborate. They share, revise and compromise. The give and take of the group produces something greater than what one kid alone could do.
3. It’s multimodal. Information is being delivered on all channels: verbally, visually, musically, whatever. There’s often a kinesthetic element: kids and desks move. It can get noisy.
4. It de-emphasizes grades. There are lots of chances to get it right. Big tasks are broken into smaller ones. Process is valued as well as product; every student who is productively engaged gets rewarded.

Here are some characteristics of formative assessment in a student-centered classroom.
1. It’s ongoing. Kids don’t always know it’s happening; and teachers aren’t always trying to distill it to a number.
2. It’s dialogic. Evaluation is characterized by dialogue; standards are often negotiated, rather than handed down. The discussion about value is as important as the assigning of value; and even that is a task frequently done by self- and peer-assessment.
3. There is a feedback loop. The teacher often assumes a coaching role. Low-risk practice leads to perfect.
4. It’s metacognitive. Self-reflection is cultivated so that a learner can understand how he learned, not just what was learned. Every student becomes their own teacher.

An old saw in education goes, “We should spend more time feeding the baby than weighing the baby.” This wisdom has been lost in today’s test-mad climate. To survive and thrive, babies need food, sleep, and a loving touch. Weighing is just one way for parents and doctors to monitor growth. Certainly, the weighing itself is not the goal of raising the child. Want a classroom full of happy, healthy kids? Let’s put away the scales and concentrate on their needs, not our own.


I totally agree however, as a special education teacher to-be, I feel it is very important to identify the students falling below grade level as early as possible. With Responce to Intervention we can identify them, see how they progress after interventions, and "weigh" them in 1-3 minutes per week. That way the focus can be on "feeding" them!

I think you're missing the point, Karen. It's not about you identifying them. It's about students figuring out where they stand, how they got there, and how will they take the next steps. There is no reason formative assessment should be any different for special-ed students than it is for so-called regular kids. Sure, you should keep monitoring their progress, but don't forget to have the students do the same.

In Response to Intervention ALL students are given curriculum based measurements 3x per year. I'd encourage you to read up on RTI if you teach at an elementary level.

I agree whole heartedly with "Feeding the Baby". I was hired to be a teacher, not a proctor for tests!

I love your post, and I agree wholeheartedly. Once that classroom door is closed we need to focus on feeding the babies and nothing else. If that happen the desired numbers will happen.

This is certainly an encouraging thread. It is true that RTI relies far less on making a distinction between the "special" and "regular" kids and more on just understanding and meeting their needs along a human continuum. I have really been puzzled about why there is a need to "close the classroom door" in order to do the tings that EHT rightly points out WILL raise the numbers on tests if we only do them.

"Bubble tests may, in some cases, measure learning. But they certainly don’t promote it."

That quote takes on a wonderful irony after five hours of studying for a biology test. I'm fairly sure all knowledge gained from said study session will be lost within 24 hours of taking the 'bubble test.' Bulimic learning patterns! Binge for test, purge right after.

As a national board teacher and having taught for 20 years, I agree with your philosophy. Learning is discovery and should be meaningful, engaging, and reflective for students. Had I been educated like we are being micro-managed to the death to teach under the dictates of NCLB--training kids instead of educating them--I would have never pursued teaching as a career. I am hopeful that "this, too, shall pass!"

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