Formative Assessment that Truly Informs Instruction


 Guest Blogger: Taylor Meredith

A few months ago my students and I were reading The One and Only Ivan. On page 216, we reached the line, “It was the difference between looking and truly looking.” We spent a lot of time discussing the implication of Katherine Applegate’s words.  Since that moment, those words have become more powerful than ever, and Jen’s post, The Proof is in the Pudding, Right?, pushed me to consider their importance in the context of the National Council of Teachers of English position statement.

 Item nine on the list of ten essential elements found in the NCTE position statement is:

 Includes feedback that is non-evaluative, specific, timely, and related to the learning goals, and that provides opportunities for the student to revise and improve work products and deepen understandings.

What is so important about feedback?

Not only does feedback provide us with formative data to guide our instruction, feedback is one of the key elements in allowing students to take ownership of their own work.  Feedback is the difference between fix and revise. Feedback is the difference between looking and truly looking.


Effective feedback is non-evaluative. Formative feedback is not the corrected exit ticket returned a few days later or the final comments on a writing rubric. Effective feedback allows for growth and improvement. It is recognition of where you’ve been and where you can go next (for both student AND teacher). After receiving feedback, students should revise or improve.  There is no finality in feedback, only opportunity. When non-evaluative feedback is a cultural norm in a classroom students can give themselves and one another feedback. Through watching playback of a book clubs discussion, partner work in Writing Workshop or meeting with a Professional Learning Network, students can own it!


                                                        This or That?

                                            Good job.

You located a lot of evidence supporting your idea that Ivan is lonely.

                                       Add more details.

Add more sensory details to your description of the first time you saw a gorilla at the zoo.

                                        Nice discussion.

Your group referenced the text to dig deeper into the text and grow new thinking when you discussed how Stella felt during Ruby’s arrival.

                                           Try again.

Consider the cause-and-effect structure of this paragraph and why the author might use this when explaining why Ivan dislikes humans.


I think Susan Brookhart and Connie Moss explain timely feedback best, “Students should get feedback while they are still mindful of the learning target and while there is still time for them to act on it.” (Brookhart & Moss, 2009) They call this student time the Golden Second Opportunity and without this, there is really no reason to give feedback. Without the opportunity to change or revise right away, why give any feedback at all? (Brookhart & Moss, 2012) Students need time to revise their work and we need time to evaluate our instruction.

This also supports the notion that effective feedback is almost always face-to-face. When is the best time for a student to look again at the words chosen by the author? Now. When is the best time for a student to revise an original answer after reading an “Aha” moment? Now.

Related to the learning goals

The best analogy I can think of is a recent trip to the dermatologist. I went to the dermatologist last week with the specific purpose of treating a scar on my arm. I showed her the scar, and then she offered me a sample of facial moisturizer, gave some advice on how to treat dry winter skin and then offered to write a prescription for a fine line and wrinkle cream (!?!). As I moved to leave I realized she never told me what to do about my scar. I got no feedback about my scar. I was given several other treatments and fixes but nothing related to the purpose of the visit. Without that feedback, my scar would not change or improve. When we give feedback for everything, nothing really improves. If we want information about our instruction, we need to look at the process or product based on the goal of the day. It is our responsibility to model this by narrowing our focus.  Even if you are looking at a page with multiple errors, resist the urge to comment on more than one thing.

 In The One and Only Ivan, when Julia truly looks at Ivan’s work, her thinking changes. She revises her original idea, thinks critically and creates something incredible. We look at student work everyday, but when we truly look the result is different.  Students are not only empowered to revise, improve work and deepen understandings but it models and fosters metacognition. When teacher and student think critically within this feedback loop the opportunities for learning are truly incredible.


Taylor Meredith teaches fifth grade in the Chicago area. She is a former New York City school teacher who believes in the power of exploration.

Follow Taylor on Twitter @ForFeedback



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6 responses to “Formative Assessment that Truly Informs Instruction

  1. Betsy

    Excellent observations, I agree with them all.

  2. Amy

    Very interesting and informative! I always struggle with finding the time to give feedback immediately and to write such long detailed responses. Any tips?

    • Taylor

      I struggle with this too! I am guilty of over-feedback-ing (?) so I really try and stick to just one thing that will feed forward. For me, this works best when I give verbal feedback, during the lesson, practice or group work times. Following, I try to jot down notes for myself so that I can revisit later and identify who I should pop over to next!

  3. Kim T.

    Feedback is the difference between looking and really looking. Wow. I love that analogy. I also love that this writer gives examples of specific feedback and emphasizes that the feedback should relate to the learning goal. I have been coaching teachers on this point all year. We are trying to move away from “good job”. Research shows that feedback has more power to improve student achievement that grades, so this is a powerful tool that teachers need to access and leverage!

  4. Taylor

    Thank you, Kim! I am so glad you mentioned research. Learning about the effect rate that feedback has on student achievement was definitely a turning point for me.

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