Using Formative Instructional Practices to Develop Instructional Agility

The following article was contributed by Kathy Dyer at NWEA.

In our last guest post, we talked about the importance of assessment literacy – what we mean by it, why it’s important, and the critical impact of understanding data and applying it to effective teaching and learning. One key component of assessment literacy is the recognition that assessments have different uses and purposes. Another component, we think, is recognizing that formative assessment is part of the assessment ecosystem – and an integral part of teaching and learning.

There are different definitions of formative assessment in the education space; here’s how we define it:

The formal and informal processes and tools used by teachers and students to gather evidence for the purpose of adjusting ongoing teaching and learning to improve achievement.

It’s often said that while summative assessment certifies learning, formative assessment guides learning. It occurs day-to-day, in-the-moment, and includes clear, actionable feedback for students. It consists of many strategies, and there are many tools available to solicit feedback and check for understanding. A key word in our definition is “adjusting” – the necessity that the feedback and evidence results in a change to instruction.

I’ve written a lot about why to prioritize formative practices. Here are 3 important reasons:

  1. Enable better instructional decisions. Collecting evidence in the moment informs decisions about what to do next. This is closely related to creating a responsive classroom (more on that below!).
  1. See a measurable difference for students. Providing specific, formative feedback to students can have three times the impact on student achievement than adjusting class size might have (Hattie 2009).
  1. Boost student achievement and ownership of learning. Collaborative learning helps students engage at a higher level and achieve more. It also necessitates peer-to-peer interactions and problem-solving that ultimately create more investment in their own learning.

We often share this visual to help educators think about formative practices:

In order to adjust their instruction in the moment, educators need tools and strategies for eliciting evidence of learning and providing feedback that is clear and actionable for students. In other words, creating a responsive classroom. Making these adjustments can mean that teachers are best meeting the needs of all their learners.

In this joint webinar from NCEA and NWEA, we will walk through the components of responsive lesson planning and provide strategies to support responsive instruction. We will help answer the question – how can we as educators use evidence of learning to build responsive lessons? Meeting the needs of all students based on formal and informal feedback is an integral part of using our assessment practices and data appropriately.

During the Responsive Instruction webinar, be sure to join our Twitter chat! If you don’t already have a Twitter account, you may want to get one prior to the webinar. We’ll be using the hashtag #NCEAwebinars. Join us and continue the conversation!

And, there is much more content about formative assessment on our NWEA blog, Teach Learn Grow. Check it out to learn more!

NWEA Account Executive for Catholic Schools Diane Cronin will present at the NCEA Conference April 18—20 in St. Louis. Find out more here:


Hattie, John. 2009. Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement. New York: Routledge.