Just about everyone has used a GPS system to guide them in their travels. Have you noticed when you deviate from the prescribed path the GPS begins to recalculate a new route based on the choices you have made? The other day on the way home from a workshop on formative assessment I hear on the radio about an accident that would impact my commute. I made an adjustment and my GPS began to recalculate. The recalculating process reminded me of formative assessment.
Getting from point A to point B represents the learning path. In most instances the teacher acts as the GPS by providing the best route the learner needs to take to reach their learning destination. The student is the traveler following the directions of the teacher (GPS). Sometimes the learning goes smoothly and no adjustments are necessary but sometimes there are road blocks, traffic jams, or other things that might cause you to readjust your route. The learner can run into obstacles along the way, either unforeseen or self inflicted. Either way the path to their learning has been impacted. Just like a good GPS the teacher will help the learner recalculate and adjust their path to get to the desired destination. Sometimes the student will take another path that is better for their needs.
The GPS is constantly monitoring the path the traveler is taking and adjusting as necessary based on the path taken. Teachers should constantly monitor their students learning with formative assessment and adjusting the path when necessary. Formative assessment allows the student to make adjustments to their learning and the teacher to make adjustments to their teaching.