Introduction: Why Formative Assessment? Issues and Opportunities - Math Coach's Corner

“Included among the understandings that encompass assessment literacy are teacher expectations related to the identification, selection, or creation of assessments designed for monitoring student growth and the diagnosis of specific student needs, which is essentially what this book is all about–formative assessment.” The Formative 5, page 3

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Today we are kicking off this summer’s Book Study Monday. I hope you’ve been enjoying The Formative 5: Everyday Assessment Techniques for Every Math Classroom by Skip Fennell, Beth Kobett, and Jonathan Wray as much as I have been. It’s an easy, practical read, and I’m looking forward to a lively discussion!

Reading schedule


  1. Follow the reading guide posted above. Each Monday listed on the schedule, I will publish a post with my thoughts. I’m planning to use the format suggested in the book study guide included at the back of the book (Sharing, Aha!, and Let’s Try!).
  2. Participate by adding a comment to this post or by replying to the comments of others. Your comment will be displayed once approved.
  3. Use the hashtag #Formative5BookStudy to participate in a slow Twitter chat. Search on the hashtag anytime during the week to follow the conversation. I will be posting questions throughout the week, and you can add your thoughts using the same hashtag, as well as the hashtag #Formative5, or just read what others are saying. If you haven’t used Twitter for professional development, this is a great way to start.


The idea that there is such a thing as assessment literacy was new to me. The authors describe it as “…being able to create, select, and effectively use classroom assessments and being able to select and effectively interpret and use results from external summative assessments.” To understand assessment literacy, it’s important to differentiate between summative and formative assessments. I have been involved in way too many interviews where prospective teachers could not articulate the difference. As noted toward the bottom of page 5, “…many characterize summative assessments as assessments of learning and formative assessments as assessments for learning.” This book focuses on the latter, formative assessments. Numerous times throughout the chapter the authors emphasize that formative assessment is day-to-day, ongoing, based on what you are teaching, and occurs within and between lessons. In other words, formative assessment drives instruction. So, if we are to have assessment literacy, we need to be able to “create, select, and effectively use” formative assessments to guide student learning. One of the issues the authors mention is that “there were so many suggestions and ideas related to formative assessment that understanding and using them was never well understood.” (page 10 & 11). That’s exactly what drew me to this book! It presents five powerful assessment routines that can immediately impact student growth. I can handle five!


There’s no doubt that my aha! moment was the idea that formative assessment “…is integral to both planning and teaching.” (page 5) If we are only planning for content, our planning is incomplete. Reading about the connection between planning and assessment, which was mentioned numerous times throughout the chapter, made me painfully aware that my approach to formative assessment in the past has been completely random–a question off the top of my head here, an exit ticket there. The idea of planning for formative assessment makes perfect sense! The paragraph on page 11 really lays it all out. To be effective in our instruction, we must have an “…understanding of the mathematical content and pedagogical knowledge related to your grade level and beyond.” What we’re talking about here is a powerful planning conversation that includes discussions about  content, best practices for instruction, and assessment.

Let’s Try!

I guess it makes sense that my Let’s Try! is directly related to my Aha!. In my current position, I plan with the grade level teachers at my school. Leading into next year, I want to think about how to best support the teachers to increase the effectiveness of the planning process. What can I do to provide them the resources that will allow us all to develop deep content knowledge, and how can I help them plan for formative assessment? A great resource for content is the Teaching Student-Centered Math series, what I have always though of as simply the Van de Walle books. I purchased them for each of my teachers at the end of the year, and I’m sure they will provide the basis for many great planning conversations! Also, as I read through the chapters on the specific formative assessment techniques in this book, I hope to develop some assessment ideas for our first unit or two in the fall.

Your Turn

I’m excited to hear what others thought about this introductory chapter! Remember, add comments here or on Twitter using the hashtags #Formative5BookStudy and #Formative5.


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