I generally give one holistic formative assessment at the beginning of the year and then one formative assessment for each new unit, which focuses on a number of standards clustered together. I like to return to these formative assessments throughout the unit so students can reflect on how far they have grown and also so they can begin to change their thinking as they grow as learners. In theory, you can give formative assessments at any time where they will be meaningful for you to plan instruction. That's the best use of them.
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Formative assessment is more than just a lesson. It is not an event, rather a fluid process. Smarter Balanced has a definition that I think clearly encapsulates it: "Formative Assessment is a deliberate process used by teachers and students during instruction that provides actionable feedback that is used to adjust ongoing teaching and learning strategies to improve students' attainment of curricular learning targets/goals."
I know what you are referring to are specific FAL lessons that some states (Georgia, Kentucky) and some organizations (Shell -Mathematics Assessment Project) have developed and promote. Kentucky says to administer it 2/3 of the way through the unit to inform instruction for the last third.
I agree with Katie. Do it any time and often. Research shows it increases student achievement, increased student engagement and increased professional satisfaction for teachers.
Short, insightful and often.
It can also be useful to do more formal assessments periodically to check for student understanding and assess your instruction in order to change things up as needed.
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