The Formative Assessment Action Plan

The Formative Assessment Action Plan: Practical Steps to More Successful Teaching and Learning by Nancy Frey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is one of the more useful books about how to embed formative assessment practices into classroom teaching. What makes this book a lot better than many others is the fact that it is informed by the idea that quality learning takes place when responsibility is gradually passed from the teacher to the student. The philosophy itself is nothing new and has been used successfully, for example, in a number of guided reading and writing programmes in English.  However,  the fact that this book links formative assessment strategies to a specific pedagogy provides a helpful context.

There are four stages to the system in this book: focus lessons, modelling, productive group work and independent learning. These ideas line up with Wiliam’s principles outlined in Embedded Formative Assessemnt. The ideas in the book around the importance of modelling thinking also tie in with those raised in Ritchhart’s Creating Cultures of Thinking. This is a well-researched and helpful book.

One important issue raised by the book is the importance of freeing up class time so as to allow the teacher to hold the individualised conversations with students essential in a formative assessment system. The book’s suggestion that this time is created by getting students to work ‘collaboratively and productively while the teacher meets with small groups for additional instruction’ is never padded out. The lack of elaboration at critical points such as this prevents this book earning a higher star rating, in my opinion. Time constraints in the classroom are, after all, very real and are, in my view, the main reason why formative assessment practices have still not been effectively implemented in the majority of cases.

The writers comment, ‘It’s no longer sufficient for teachers to plan and deliver lessons, hoping that students will learn. Hope is not a plan.’ The authors, however, seem to ‘hope’ that teachers will be able to solve for themselves some of the trickier issues that still prevent formative assessment from working successfully.

This book, does leave some unanswered questions, but it still does what it says on the tin and comes up with a working ‘action plan’ to begin implementing formative assessment practices in the classroom. It is definitely worth reading

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