PLCs are Professional Learning Communities made up of teachers who work together in a professional environment to discuss student work and help student learning. This year, I joined a book club at my school that is reading Revisiting Professional Learning Communities at Work – New Insights for Improving Schools (DuFour, DuFour, Eaker, 2008).  Throught the reading of this book it is our hope that our school starts to look at how implementing PLC time in our days will in fact impact student learning.

To start the year, our principal assigned chapters of the text to people in the book club.  My chapters are on assessment (chapters 8 and 9).  My next couple posts will be about my findings, specifically in common formative assessments – the backbone of strong and effective PLCs.

True student learning occurs when achievement is NOT limited to selected students, but is offered to ALL.  PLCs use common formative assessments to help all students achieve high levels of learning.

Common formative assessments are assessments made by a team of teachers in a PLC that guide their teaching.  This is very different from summative assessments.  Summative assessments take the attitude that at the end of a unit, the grade you get is the grade you get; we are done with this material and need to move on.  When you really think about it, that should not be the goal of teaching, yet, we are probably all guilty of this way of thinking – until, of course, it’s brought to our attention.

The idea of a formative assessment is not only to “check in” with students, but then to put them in a position to learn what they have not yet learned.  In this way, students are held to the high standards of learning.  After a formative assessment, students are given additional tutalage independently or in groups.  That is what’s expected by both the teacher and student.  It isn’t a punishment, simply extra practice so that all students are able to achieve the curricular goals.

The teachers themselves create the assessments that are given.  That, of course, is the “common” part of the assessments.  Then the teachers all teach in their own styles, give the common assessment and meet to review the outcome.  It’s at these meetings that teachers are able to analyze their students’ progress skill by skill and, in essance their own teaching.   They then share ideas and strategies that will allow all teachers to make sure all students are learning all the material they need to understand.  They also figure out how to reach the students who are lacking skills.  They may go back and reteach or break up the students so they can teach those that need it most.

In this way, teachers are sharing, collaborating and using their talents in a professional, collegial manner.  The intent is not to show up another teacher, but to all learn at once as they strive for student excellence across the board.

In my school we have some common assessments.  I would even consider many of them formative.  However, this in-depth approach to team work and meeting to truly assess each student’s progress is what’s lacking and what could be the most important piece to make the most success.

I am actually wondering if it may be best for a PLC of elementary teachers (such as I am) to start working with common formative assessments in a content area that isn’t already “assessed to death” such as math or literacy.  That way, the approach to the creation, use and review of such assessments are more pure.  That is, they are build from the ground up by a team for a team.

As always, I would love your comments.  Please let me know what your thoughts are about common formative assessments and their use in PLCs whether you have experience in them or not.  In the next post, I plan to write more about my reading about these assessments and how I feel they will play a part in my classroom, my team and my school.