Altering Instruction On The Fly

By synthesizing over 50,000 studies related to achievement in school-aged students, Hattie conducted the biggest ever evidence based research project in education, and has provided us with a much more solid foundation of scientific research than we have ever had in the field of education. Based on his research, Hattie developed 8 mind frames for teachers, which have a key role in successful teaching and learning, and the teacher’s view of his or her role. Hattie’s first mind frame for teachers is: My fundamental task is to evaluate the effect of my teaching on my students’ learning and achievement. Hattie says it is critical that teachers see themselves as evaluators of their effects on students, and that seeking interventions and actions that have positive effects on student learning should be a constant goal for teachers.

Whoa, whoa, whoa…..I thought my fundamental tasks included things like designing the learning, delivering the material, and assessing the students?!?! I do believe that how well my students do (or not) is a reflection upon my teaching. If I want my students to do well, Hattie says that teachers need to be actively engaged throughout the learning process, continually collecting feedback from students and altering instruction on the fly.” Altering instruction on the fly? This sounds like a superhero power to me. How do you alter instruction on the fly? Why bother having a lesson plan if you are going to alter it on the fly? My teacher training stressed the importance of preparing ahead of time and having a well thought out lesson plan, with carefully chosen learning activities. Nobody said anything about doing anything on the fly……sheesh.

Drama aside, I do know what Hattie is getting at. Evaluation is an inherent part of good teaching. Doing good evaluation is like doing good research. In both cases, you are trying to answer some important questions about an important topic. The key to doing both activities well is (a) identifying the right questions to ask and (b) figuring out how to answer them. Richard J. Shavelson of the Stanford Education Assessment Laboratory, has distinguished three kinds of formative assessment, which include (a) “on-the-fly,” formative assessment (b) planned-for-interaction formative assessment, and (c) formal and embedded in the curriculum formative assessment. On-the-fly formative assessment occurs when “teachable moments” unexpectedly arise in the classroom.   Identification of these moments is initially intuitive and then later based on experience and practice. Personally, I feel as though, even if a teacher is able to identify the moment, she may not have the necessary pedagogical techniques or content knowledge to sufficiently challenge and respond to the students. In contrast to on-the-fly opportunities, planned-for-interaction formative assessment is deliberate. Recognizing the value of information that can close students’ learning gaps, teachers plan in advance the kinds of questions that will maximize their acquisition of information needed to close the gap. That is, teachers come to realize in applying newly acquired formative-assessment techniques the value of good questions (and other pedagogical actions for eliciting information) and spend time planning these pedagogical moves prior to class (Black, Harrison, et al., 2002). In Formal Embedded-in-the-Curriculum Formative Assessment, teachers may embed assessments in the ongoing curriculum to intentionally create “teachable moments.” In its simplest form, assessments might be embedded after every 3 or so lessons to make clear the progression of sub goals of the topic, and thereby provide opportunities to teach to the students’ problem areas. In its more sophisticated design, these assessments are based on a “theory of knowledge in a domain,” embedded at critical junctures, and crafted so feedback on performance to students is immediate and pedagogical actions are immediately taken to close the learning gap. Formative assessment is so important for teacher effectiveness and student achievement. By incorporating formative assessment into our teaching, we are “checking in” to ensure our students acquire the knowledge, skills and attitudes to prepare them for their future endeavors.

For the future, I plan to make a conscious effort to evaluate the effect of my teaching. How will I do this? I like the idea of using planned-for-interaction formative assessment. Recently I started tutoring an ESL student, and I can see applying this type of assessment in the work we are doing together. Lately we’ve been working on the past tenses. When we are working together I can incorporate questions such as, “How would you explain a trip to the grocery store you took yesterday?” By asking this question, I am intentionally finding out if my student knows how to use the past tense. This is an opportunity to take a moment to use corrective instruction, give the student a chance to try again, experience success, and “fill-in the gaps.” Developing useful formative assessment, using corrective instruction, and giving students a second chance to practice skills can increase student achievement. Eventually, with experience I think I will be able to get to a place in my teaching where I can alter instruction on the fly, like a super hero!



David-Lang, J. (n.d.). Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning. Retrieved from The Main Idea: Current Education Book Summaries:

Reynolds, C. (2013, September 25). Hattie’s 8 Mind Frames. Retrieved from

Shavelson, R. J. (n.d.). On The Integration Of Formative Assessment In Teaching And Learning with Implications for Teacher Education.

Waack, S. (n.d.). Hattie Ranking: Influences And Effect Sizes Related To Student Achievement. Retrieved from Visible Learning:



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s