Formative Assessment and Fine Arts Education: Assidere – To Sit Beside

By Tara Kintz

Editor’s Note

This is the third of a three part blog series by Tara Kintz exploring the intersections of formative assessment and the fine arts. In this blog she describes how assessment can truly place students at the center of learning through practicing the art of ‘sitting beside’ the learner. Be sure to check out Tara’s two previous blogs. At the end of this post you will see an invitation to join the Formative Assessment for Michigan Educators (FAME) Arts team. Enjoy!

~ Joni Starr


Assessment:  Derived from the Latin root assidere meaning to sit beside. In an educational context, the process of observing learning; listening, gathering, recording, reflecting and interpreting information about a student’s learning. At its most useful, assessment is part of the learning process; involving feedback, reflection, and an understanding of progress by both the teacher and the student. 

When I was a kid, one of my favorite songs came from a television show called Goldie and Kids: Listen to Us. The whole program was about listening to children’s ideas, giving them time to explain themselves, asking questions, and having someone sit alongside them to listen and provide support. I would stomp around our living room singing: “Listen to us, listen to us, somebody hear us. We may have something to say!” I remember my nine-year-old self feeling so impassioned by the message. I wanted to be seen, heard, and recognized. I think all children feel this way.

The formative assessment process is unique in its focus on students’ ideas. It calls for students to engage as active agents in their own learning, rather than behave as passive participants. This type of learning focuses on centering the students’ experience through the development of their understanding in a discipline. At its core, the formative assessment process is about cultivating self-directed learners. The student engages as a leader and a decision maker in their own learning; they experience a sense of agency in moving their learning forward. The formative assessment process also involves the teacher and other students who will sit alongside the student making sure the learner is seen, heard, and recognized as she moves herself toward the learning target.

Over the years, the educators that made the greatest difference for me were the ones who truly demonstrated assidere. The ones who sat beside me, who listened to me, and who related to me as someone who was capable. They provided guidance and feedback while supporting me in exploring my ideas and making my own discoveries.

Ms. Porrier, my first teacher, taught me how to read. She sat beside me. She listened to me read and she patiently read with me. She found books that were just right for me. She noticed words I could read and quietly gathered information about what I needed to learn next. She patiently provided time and support, as I eventually learned how to read. More than all the effective instructional strategies and assessment practices Ms. Porrier provided, it was how I felt when I was with her that brought me the most success. I felt capable, confident, and valued for exactly the way I was. I never had the feeling that I was lacking anything or that I should have been farther along. As I later pursued a teaching career, I often thought back to Ms. Porrier. How her teaching was defined by playful laughter, joy, and fun and how at ease I felt when she was sitting beside me. She inspired me to be a teacher like that for others.

Later in a performing arts high school, my ceramics teacher, Mr. Kennedy, demonstrated his mastery of the art of observing learning and what it means to sit beside a student. As I learned how to throw on the potters’ wheel, he would closely watch my technique and offer one on one instruction on how to shift my hands to improve. Then, over time, this led to my increased ability to throw bowls, cups, plates, teapots, and vases. I knew that Mr. Kennedy had regard for my ideas, he paid attention to the knowledge and skills I had acquired and together we outlined next steps in my artistic growth. While on my journey of discovering what I needed to learn, both about my art and myself, Mr. Kennedy saw his role as facilitator and guide. I later went on to study ceramics in college. It was Mr. Kennedy’s level of care and regard that has had the biggest impact on me, and I can say with confidence that I have carried his assidere process with me into my own teaching.

I fondly remember working with Mia, one of my students in special education. She had short term memory loss and difficulty retaining concepts. It was often like each day was a new day for her. Assidere was an essential part of my practice as we worked on mathematical concepts. I would sit beside her and carefully listen to elicit information about what she understood of number sense and what she needed to move her learning forward in light of the learning target or individualized goal. Many times we would cover the same lesson, similar to the day before but in a different medium or approach, in hopes that it may be more effective for her to remember. I learned from Mia that I could not march through the curriculum and simply hope that she would follow along. I had to sit beside her and continually observe, listen, inquire, and reflect to gather information about where she was in her understanding and what was needed next. This was not an easy practice, and not applied every time, especially because of all of the other students, but I did discover that it was most effective and it yielded the best results.

Although Mr. Kennedy and Ms. Porrier demonstrated the idea of assidere beautifully, it can be a demanding task. This process of sitting beside someone to close the gap between a current state and a desired state is not a simplistic formulaic approach. Recently we had my son’s 9th birthday party. He had many ambitious ideas about the party he wanted, and I was committed to sitting beside him and listening so that I could fully support him in realizing what was important to him. I hearkened back to myself at 9 years old, stomping around and singing: “Listen to us, listen to us, somebody hear us. We may have something to say!” As we began to plan his party, however, I realized that it is easy to say, “Let it be child led.” or “Be sure to sit beside him and listen.” In reality, it was very challenging. I had to provide structured support and give him options for the food, activities, and the theme for the party. I had to support him in discovering what he wanted. It was a lot of work, much more than just saying, “What do you want?” and then giving it to him. I had to engage in dialogue, provide choices and information, teach him about party planning and what was feasible within a budget and a timeline. I took a deep breath and reminded myself that I was committed to the assidere process.

I spent a lot of time listening to him, involving him, asking him for his idea and then asking him to share more detail in explaining what he wanted and why. I wanted to truly understand him and his choices. In this process I learned to facilitate his decision making abilities and his understanding of the options. I also discovered the importance of providing clear direction and authority on what we could and could not do. Likewise, I expanded my own frustration tolerance; my ability to allow whatever feelings he may have in response to what I said he could or could not do. In turn, he was also able to develop a resilience from withstanding the discomfort of his own frustration and working through it to find resolution. Ultimately, we grew together, learned a great deal from one another, and created a party that reflected what was important to him.

Whether in my own student experience, my teaching experience, or my parenting experience, the process of assessment is inescapable. In the end, we are all on a journey of discovery and would benefit greatly from someone to be there as we are learning, to sit beside us, like a gentle friend, to listen, to provide support, knowledge, and guidance, as we develop competence in a certain discipline or simply in becoming more human.


Join the FAME Arts team

Formative Assessment for Michigan Educators (FAME) is a statewide initiative to promote educator understanding and use of the formative assessment process. The FAME program is based on the belief that significant change in professional practice requires work over several years, supported by internal and external resources. Educators work together in professional learning communities (PLCs) to engage in collective inquiry, learning, and implementation of the formative assessment process. FAME and MAEIA together support educators to skillfully navigate rigorous arts education and social-emotional learning within instruction and assessment.

Sharpen your skills in deepening students’ thinking by joining the state-wide arts team in the Formative Assessment for Michigan Educators program.

Photo credit to istock and dreamstime.

Tara works as a research associate at the Michigan Assessment Consortium where she integrates 20 years of experience as an educator and administrator in reform contexts to inform K-12 schooling and teacher education. She is actively involved in research and curriculum development to support educators to promote student engagement and counter inequities in education. She is currently working on research and the development of resources to give educators the tools they need to effectively implement the formative assessment process.



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