It goes without saying that teachers are very busy, so it’s not unusual to hear their concerns about the lack of adequate time to do everything teachers need to do: plan, individualize instruction, test, assign grades, collaborate, innovate, reflect and of course, teach. Not even teachers can add more hours to the day, however. The key to finding more time each day may be to use strategies that make the most of your available time, like these time-saving strategies that put students first.
1. Gather evidence of ongoing learning. Implementing the formative assessment process means shifting our thinking about how assessment is used in the classroom, from gathering evidence of student learning after instruction to gathering that evidence while learning is occurring. Build in opportunities for students to provide evidence of understanding through short assessments that are focused on clear learning targets. These evidence-gathering opportunities help students understand what they currently know and can do.
2. Share the responsibility for learning. This deceptively simple statement has far-reaching impact, and harkens back to the previous point. Project-based learning, place-based education, ‘living’ student portfolios of work, and student-led conferences are just a few examples of how teachers can strive for this.
3. Clarify learning goals and criteria for success. In the era of the new College and Career-Ready Standards, teachers need to take time to clearly articulate learning expectations that support the content, skills, and processes inherent in the standards. The instructional process becomes more transparent when success criteria clearly articulate expected performances of understanding and skills, allowing both teachers and students to use time more efficiently when interpreting evidence of learning as it unfolds.
4. Rethink the roles of teachers and students. In addition to picking up foundational knowledge in large teacher-led lectures, students can also use online tools or other resources within or outside the classroom to learn things on their own. Some activities that have typically been considered homework, such as practicing skills introduced in class, can move into the classroom. This doesn’t mean that teachers should dispense with large-group instruction entirely, but this approach allows teachers to spend more of their classroom time checking on student understanding in a variety of ways.
5. Involve students in small group work. Another way to share the responsibility of learning is to activate students’ peers as resources in small group work. The delivery of instructional content or facilitating learning through small groups can also be a way of having the students and peers check their understanding themselves against the success criteria. Teachers need opportunities to spend their time assisting students who most require support, and this strategy provides those opportunities.
6. Don’t grade everything. It could be considered more fair to students if work done early in the unit was thought of as preparation for subsequent—and fewer—summative assessments. When everything is graded, students are motivated by the grades, and research has shown that over-grading inhibits learning. Of course, the first time students are asked to produce work that is not graded, they may not take the assignment seriously, but when they are reprogrammed to realize that what they’re practicing will show up later on the test that does count, they soon will develop motivation to learn. The ungraded work yields the rich feedback that students use to reflect on their work and that students and teachers use to identify learning gaps and decide on next instructional steps.
7. Plan time for students to reflect on learning with feedback and build time into lesson plans for students to review progress. When students have the opportunity to reflect on their learning and apply feedback to improve their work, they can see their progress and advance their learning.
By giving students major responsibility for their learning, using class time differently, and changing grading practices, teachers can gain time that might be put to better use, but teachers may not be able to change some practices on their own. Education leaders need to understand formative assessment and support teachers in implementing it effectively in order to allow teachers to focus their time on their ultimate goal: helping students learn.
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