FIP and the Year of the Horse

As the Chinese say, "A good horse never turns its head to eat the grass behind." 

So, look ahead, not back.

Although the Chinese New Year officially begins on January 31, for me, the celebrating began two weeks early as I revisited schools in Hong Kong that are intentionally embracing formative instructional practices (FIP). Imagine my satisfaction as I visited classrooms at Law Ting Pong Secondary School in New Territories, Hong Kong, and saw solid evidence of FIP in the classroom!

This school’s journey began a brief 9 months ago, when their principal, Ms. Lancy Tam, visited Ohio with other educators from Hong Kong, to learn about the benefits of FIP. Ms. Tam visited classrooms in Central Ohio where teachers are intentionally embracing FIP, studied the research, and internalized the benefits of FIP for teachers, parents and especially students. She excitedly decided she needed to share this information with her staff upon her return to Hong Kong. Ms. Tam gathered her lead teachers together to discuss what she had learned. Although she was met with some resistance from teachers, she knew in her heart that the use of formative instructional practices would become a reality at Law Ting Pong Secondary School—and she, as their leader, would assume the role of “horse whisperer.”

Ms. Tam remarked, “Our school’s mission (“All for our Children”) and vision (“Every student a star; every teacher a mentor; every staff member a model”) allows us to understand each and every one of our students’ strengths and weaknesses and help them stretch their potential. By using FIP, we can get to know where our students are, where we should take them to, and let them know how to get there.”

Fervent to accomplish her mission of Law Ting Pong becoming a model FIP school in Hong Kong, Ms. Tam sponsored some of her teachers to come to Ohio in October to share her experience with the rest of the team. As a result, the teachers returned with as much enthusiasm for FIP as she had. When I visited again in January and witnessed the growth that these teachers had made in just 5 short months, I recalled the ancient Chinese saying, “A good horse never turns its head to eat the grass behind.” To me this translates into, “Those who know better, do better.” I could not help but reflect on what these educators know to be true: FIP, like horses, give people a ride to their destination.

Here are examples of FIP in classrooms across the ocean just as it is happening in classrooms across Ohio.

Here, students in Form 1 (7th grade science) take ownership of their learning. They are working in groups of three to build their own water treatment plant, considering what they have learned about the purity of the water, the prices and the speed of the treatment of water. Each group then goes to each of the other groups in the class to provide formative feedback and to see which water treatment plant is the most affordable and has the greatest function.

In this classroom, evidence of student learning is being gathered using colored cards. Here you see students at Law Ping Tong showing their teacher how much they understand about the water cycle lesson by putting up cards of various colors. Green cards represent solid level of understanding; yellow cards represent “I understand mostly, but have a few questions,” and red orange represent “limited level of understanding.”

I saw many examples of clear learning targets posted in the classrooms in student-friendly language. To the right, an example of where evidence of student learning is collected and documented using exit cards that are aligned with the clear learning targets. Look familiar?

About the Author:

Barb Cockroft works in the Powerful Practices Portfolio at Battelle for Kids as a school improvement specialist. She conducts professional development training sessions in Ohio, TX, TN, OK, GA and Hong Kong to help educators at all levels learn best practices to effectively use formative instructional practices and other research-based strategies and tools for school improvement. Barb has more than thirty-five years of classroom experience as a 7th and 8th grade language arts teacher, holds a professional teaching license in the state of Ohio, is a National Board Certified Teacher, and has earned a K-12 Gifted Education Endorsement.