The Missouri Reader Vol. 41, Issue 2 - Page 34




This article describes instruction that is differentiated (Tomlinson, 2017) and informed by the careful analysis of assessment data (Watts-Taffe et al., 2012). Differentiating instruction promotes opportunities for students to engage in challenging literacy activities and to explore new ideas and concepts. An example of how a teacher could use formative assessment during a reading workshop will be presented.

The four dimensions of differentiated instruction (Tomlinson, 2017) include: the learning process, the demonstration of learning, the learning environment, and the content that students learn. This article approaches the four dimensions as interdependent. The use of assessment in relation to the dimension of demonstrating learning informs educational choices along the other three dimensions.

Using Formative Assessment

Formative assessment takes place during the student’s learning process and it is intertwined with instruction. Teachers use data gained from formative assessments to inform changes to instruction. It also provides feedback to help students improve their achievement of intended outcomes, and student ownership of the learning process is an important aspect of the effective use of formative assessment (Black & William, 1998). Formative assessment facilitates the tracking of learning as it evolves within the ever-changing, often lively differentiated classroom (Stiggins & Chappuis, 2005).

By contrast, summative assessment occurs at the end of the learning process or the end of an instructional unit or a chapter. It is used after instruction to measure student achievement and provides evidence of student competence and readiness for the next level of learning challenges.

Formative and summative assessment should be interconnected in a balanced approach to track student learning. A robust assessment system tracks learning and skill development over time using multiple sources of data (Walvoord, 2010).

Training and teamwork is critical, since many teachers improperly use formative assessments (Black & William, 1998). The use of formative assessment is most effective when teachers dialogue about assessment data in teams and use portfolios (Carless, 2006).

Dialogue about assessment data is a key aspect of differentiated instruction. Feedback based on assessment should be regularly communicated with students and their families. Planning should be guided by reflection on changes that need to be made. Analysis is conducted on the effectiveness of the implemented plans. This assessment leads to further feedback and reflection on possible needed changes.

Linking Formative Assessment and Differentiated Instruction

A reading workshop is a block of instructional time focused on providing students with the opportunity to learn and practice the reading process. The workshop fosters choice of wide reading materials and the opportunity for engaged and enjoyable reading (Atwell, 2014). Reading workshops typically consist of mini-lessons, time for reading, and time for the sharing of the reading. Teachers model their enjoyment of reading with students and also use techniques such as think aloud while reading to model the strategies that skilled readers use.