IntelAssessing Projects : Formative Assessment
Meeting Learners' Needs


Addressing Individual Differences
Today’s teachers are very aware of the many ways in which learners differ from each other. Considerable evidence suggests that learners learn more when the teaching they receive is appropriate for their readiness and learning style (Tomlinson, 2000). When formative assessment is linked to teaching and learning, learners receive what they need to be successful when they need it.

Tomlinson (2000) lists four ways in which teachers can differentiate instruction:

  1. Content: adjust what learners need to learn or how they get the information they need.
  2. Process: recommend different ways of approaching the content.
  3. Products: allow learners to rehearse, apply, and extend what they have learned in a variety of ways.
  4. Learning Environment: create a flexible classroom with quiet places, areas for interaction, and teach routines that create independence.

Many teachers begin a unit of study such as a project by discussing the new topic. The intent of the discussion is to help learners access background knowledge and prepare their minds to integrate new information into what they already know. However, if this preliminary discussion is also used to assess prior knowledge in order to differentiate instruction, the information gathered can help teachers think about how to best approach the topic. Will they spend more time than they expected reviewing prerequisite knowledge? Can they skip or just briefly review concepts that learners appear to have already acquired? Will some learners need extra teaching in small groups? Will others need to have the topic explained with culturally appropriate metaphors and examples? All these decisions require information about the kind of knowledge learners bring to the study of the topic.

Differentiating instruction in higher-order thinking requires considerable skill and effort. First, learners must be taught about thinking skills and sub-skills and they must learn to recognize and articulate their own thinking processes through reflection activities. Through learning logs and discussions aimed at uncovering how learners think, teachers can provide feedback that encourages learners to try new thinking strategies and refine familiar ones. This kind of differentiation requires teachers to have an extensive knowledge of different thinking skills and strategies that learners can use in a variety of projects. The thinking skills checklists in the Assessing Projects library offer a starting point for assessing and analyzing learners’ thinking skills, and rubrics provide descriptions which can be used to encourage learners to work toward more proficient and effective thinking.

To Page 2 of 5 | Next >

< Return to Formative Assessment