Book Preview: Formative Assessment in a Brain-Compatible Classroom


By Scott Sterling

Assessment, generally speaking, is critical to educational success. Although the debate can still rage on about high-stakes testing, formative assessment is a crucial part of any successful classroom. Dr. Marcia Tate’s new book, Formative Assessment in a Brain-Compatible Classroom: How Do We Really Know They’re Learning?attempts to bridge the gap between complicated brain theory and actionable strategies for teachers.

Dr. Tate is the former executive director of professional development for DeKalb County (Georgia) Schools and has eight other books to her credit, including the Worksheets Don’t Grow Dendrites series.

The book is organized into 14 guiding questions for one simple purpose beyond just introducing the material: Dr. Tate wants teachers and administrators to discuss their answers to the questions in their PLCs or other meetings. Yes, even the reader is cooperatively assessed in this book.

Overall, the book is an argument for variation in assessment techniques, taking into account some various theories of learning, including left versus right hemisphericity, multiple intelligences, and the SCANS report, which sought to identify the traits students needed to have for success after high school.

Dr. Tate then moves on to an overview of the current thinking behind the science of learning and how teachers can best structure their classrooms. As she states:

You can do everything within your power to teach the required standards or objectives on which your students will be tested. But unless your classroom is a brain-compatible one that fosters success, your students may not do as well on tests as you might expect.

All of this is an argument for teachers having as many assessment strategies as possible at their disposal to accurately assess every student in the class, whether they are left or right-brain dominant, kinesthetic learners, or so on. The rest of the book (two-third’s worth) provides those strategies.

Those strategies start generally, discussing effective lesson planning, selected-response assessment item construction, and questioning strategies. Then come techniques to use before, during, and after each lesson, with each segment being given more than ten individual activities. Teachers can simply go through each section and highlight the strategies they like (although they would be well-served to employ them all).

Next come some discussions on strategies that can cross over into almost any classroom activity, including the right ways to employ checklists, rubrics, cooperative and self-assessment. Dr. Tate ends with a chapter that you rarely see: what to do for your students when a specific test is bearing down on you? Basically, responsible and modern test prep guidelines.

There is a lot going on in this book. It covers everything from brain theory to individual lesson planning to assessment strategies. Sometimes you see whole books devoted to each of those topics. That being said, it could become the best textbook on assessment out there. If a teacher, especially a new one, wants to go from 0 to 100 on the topic of formative assessment, this is the book they should read and keep at their desk. Order your copy here.