The Formative Manifesto

By Craig Jones (Formative co-founder & former Science teacher)

For the last two years, I've asked just about every teacher I've come across to tell me what the word formative means to them.

Craig taking the formative out of formative assessment and making learning awesome!

Craig taking the formative out of formative assessment and making learning awesome!

Without fail, most teachers will say something about assessment... something like "a short-quiz", "an ungraded check for understanding" or a "quick exit ticket".

Mind you, I don't ask teachers to tell me about formative assessment.  I directly ask them to tell me what the word formative means to them.  The word association between formative and assessment is incredibly strong in educators' minds.

If I were to ask anyone other than a teacher what the word formative means to them, the answers almost always become very literal or even emotional.  Non-teachers talk about "forming something" or an experience that they had when they were younger.  This formative experience often is so powerful that it is a defining moment in their life.  For instance, 10th grade was a formative year for me because I had a great chemistry teacher who taught me to fall in love with chemistry.  (This is why I became a science teacher)

Why did such a beloved word, get stuck with a controversial word like assessment?

Don't get me wrong.  I do not hate assessments.  Also, it is some consolation that formative assessment is known as the good assessment.  However, its simply a shame that the word formative is linked to formative assessment to then only be compared as the opposite to end of year tests (i.e. summative assessments).

The point is that the formative part of the classroom is so much more than a system of quizzes, exit tickets, assessments, or any other activities.  The formative part of the classroom is the teaching that leads a student to love learning.  Teachers create formative experiences.  Assessments do not directly help students grow, teaching most certainly does.  As a result, I propose a manifesto to replace the phrase formative assessment with formative teaching.