(Hint: It’s the Same as Introspection)

We’ve dug into the topic of formative assessment in depth over the past few months – what it is, what it isn’t, why educators avoid it and how to implement the process. Now knowing all those pieces, it’s time to synthesize it in a very simple way.

At its core, formative assessment is about BEING REAL. It’s knowing the young people in front of you – their lived experiences, their languages, identities, and their culture. How do you know? Before we jump into any ‘assessment’ we have to ask (and know) our learners, ‘Who are you?’ ‘How do you see yourself as a learner?’ ‘How would other people describe you (i.e., teachers, family, friends)?* Have you asked your learners where they are, where they need to be?  Only then can we repair the damage that we have wrought by defining learners with terms like “disadvantaged,” “struggling reader,” and “at-risk.” 

It starts with you. When we authentically include all these pieces collectively for each student, we are cultivating a love of learning that provides students with an understanding of how to navigate their worlds, both today and in their future.

The realness also comes down to educators being OKAY WITH NOT KNOWING EVERYTHING. Once this concept is actualized, we pivot away from the supremacist mindset, which has been embedded, validated, and celebrated in the educational system. When the teacher is no longer the only keeper of all knowledge, success criteria, and control – a weight is truly lifted for both teachers and students.

Getting to that realization can be tricky, after all, it has been imprinted into our brains that if we ever admit that we don’t know, we are insufficient, unqualified or powerless. The fear of not knowing is so vast that people will go through great lengths to not be outed. Being okay with not knowing is a huge disruptor, and a necessary one. This is especially true for white educators learning to embrace a culturally and linguistically responsive work.

Educators must look inward to obtain the self-awareness that bigoted acceptance within education has been the norm because the system was designed that way. Clarity about the depth of educational systemic oppression may increase feelings of inadequacy and doubt that cloud perseverance – it doesn’t mean you’re a bad person- it means you’re doing the work. Don’t stop there! As with all internal shifts, awareness is the first step. Blinding yourself to biases is fear. Tackling them is love.

Resistance to this shift is resistance to love. And love must be at the core of what we do as educators. We are not driven into this profession, we chose this. As educators, we have no other path than to measure each of our decisions, assessments, and instruction by proximity to love.

In looking broadly at education, addressing biases, and teaching with love can feel minuscule and distant from the institutional shifts needed. But this all starts with the individual. With you. You can never change anything unless you change yourself. Doing so creates a ripple effect. Small drops of water can fill a bucket. When awareness of what needs to be shifted happens, everything you learn from that moment, that process, and mindset comes flooding in. This results in an environment rooted in realness, equity, and love. And that’s where true learning takes place. The secret about Formative assessment…it’s simply the conduit to get there.

[Who are you? Exercise] Muhammad, G. (2020). Cultivating Genius: An Equity Framework for Culturally and Historically Responsive Literacy. United States: Scholastic Incorporated [p. 71-77]

Photo Credit: https://www.pellcenter.org/