Formative Classroom Assessment Models

There are a variety of formative assessment tools available for teacher integration in the classroom.  The assessment is on-going and directed.  It can be daily or periodical depending on the criteria and the purpose.  It is essential that as educators we recognize the value of assessment criteria; even though the assessment is informal in nature.  Assessment with clear Learning Intentions, Criteria, and Language makes it easier for all students to learn, makes curriculum more accessible and results in teachers working more explicitly.  (Brownlie, 2015)
When choosing assessment tools, I often look at those which are best suited to the specific needs of the student, to make decisions regarding instruction and learning.
Formative assessment is on-going through school programming allowing for a progressive picture of student development which will provide the student with a clear directive of criteria, expectations and a record of material and/or skills which are learned/mastered.  The teacher is able to identify areas which require either direct instruction or group instruction to address deficits or areas requiring re-teaching.
I am an enthusiastic whole language proponent.  As such, I see that the assessment tools I would choose reflect this.  There are of course some skill based assessments which I would utilize and which would provide useful information.  Those would be my choice should it provide the best information for planning student learning!
Today I would like to discuss Anecdotal Records, Conferences, and Think Aloud.  I also believe, although I haven’t actively used Dialogue Journals in my class, that they would be extremely useful and interactive (Gunderson, 2013).

Anecdotal Records:
I find Anecdotal records useful as a record of behavior, skill development history, and knowledge evidence.  Due to the unbiased language and neutral preservation of an event, I am able to reflect on the student and their needs, and to debrief and plan for intervention, instructional planning, behavioral guidelines, and classroom procedures.  When writing an Anecdotal record, one never uses the word ‘can’t’ as it is an unproven indictment of the student – instead make an observation.  For example:  Joey can’t find the table of contents in the math text.  Vs. Joey did not locate the table of contents in the math text.  The second record indicates a skill area to be taught – Voila – instructional plan for the next day!  (Boyd-Batstone, P.)  The Anecdotal record can be utilized in an on-going fashion for instruction, behavior/class management and also as a reference during student, parent and school based meetings.  The records can demonstrate progress made by the student or stagnancy and the need for instructional change.

The process of maintaining Anecdotal records can be time consuming and sometimes educators will find the management of time, notes and observations difficult to accommodate.  It is important to focus the intent of the record on specific content skills, social skills, knowledge or behavior(s) so that time is used efficiently without detraction from whole class management and instruction.

Anecdotal records are neutral and progressive, providing an accurate picture of the student over time!  This is one of my favorite on-going assessment records.  What a great way to build inclusive assessment for feedback, planning, and conferencing.

Behavioral Record General Anecdotal form

A well run student conference, whether it be for writing, reading or math, empowers a student!  Students are able to direct the discussion to areas they are thinking about, get answers to questions they have or ask about skills of which they are not sure.  The teacher and student work collaboratively in a positive manner, encouraging a healthy discussion and building a trusting relationship.

The time required for effective conferencing and the ability of the teacher to meet with each student frequently enough does represent a challenge for some teachers due to class composition and school programming.  A weekly conference is best to plan for skill building, development and feedback.
Student conferences meet the student on their terms, to build their skills and work towards their goals… no matter where they are developmentally.  I incorporate daily conferences during both Math journals and Writer’s Workshop.  Ideally I am able to complete three full conferences for each and sometimes four.  A Conference discussion guide is helpful for teachers starting conferences for the first time.  Additionally, a consistent conference location and a predictable format will build both student confidence and teacher comfort with the process.  This is indeed an inclusive assessment!

I have included a link to a youtube video of an excellent example of a student conference.

Think Aloud:
This assessment is an involved interactive process requiring teacher focus, identified criteria, and specific material.  The verbalization process is an alternative to paper/pen and allows students to both work out their own thoughts and also hear what other students are thinking!  Sometimes this means students are able to look at something in a new way.  Think Aloud also promotes group participation, building on information and extending ideas.  Additionally, the Think Aloud process allows all members a voice and builds group dynamics for success.  The ESL student with little fluency will struggle with this activity as will other students challenged with verbal fluency, however, being included in the group may provide positive group dynamics.  Also, with the encouragement of peers and teacher, the ESL student can be encouraged to share when they are able either verbally or visually and to participate as possible. It is a key element that the guide (typically the teacher) provide on-going written record or a visual referent during the Think Aloud process.  I especially appreciate student led Think Aloud sessions.  Where possible the students produce and discuss the associated visual referent, however, the guide must be ready to do so in order to provide a multi-sensory experience for all learners.

I am apprehensive that this assessment will not be inclusive and will by it’s very nature exclude some students.  It is with careful thought and planning for student needs that this assessment should be utilized in small group instruction, but I do believe that it has merit and value to build thinking strategies, develop divergent thinkers and build meta cognitive skills.

I especially enjoy utilizing Think Aloud during math instruction.  Here’s an example of a math Think Aloud.

In summary, I feel strongly that assessment completed individually, in a variety of modes which allows the student to most genuinely present their thoughts, skills and learning is a more authentic representation of student growth than occasional summative assessments administered on rigid state or district deadlines.


Boyd-Batstone, P. (2004).  Focused anecdotal records assessment: A tool for standards-based, authentic assessment.  The Reading Teacher Vol. 58, No. 3, 230-239.  Retrieved from
Brownlie, Faye (2015, January 12).  The principles of assessment for learning

[video file]

.  Retrieved from:
Gunderson, Lee; Murphy Odo, Dennis; D’Silva, Reginald (2013). ESL (ELL) Literacy Instruction: A Guidebook to Theory and Practice, Third Edition. Retrieved from

© Michelle Redman and mredmanwrites, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michelle Redman and mredmanwrites


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