What is formative assessment?

Formative assessment refers to a wide variety of methods that teachers use to conduct in-process evaluations of student comprehension, learning needs, and academic progress during a lesson, unit, or course.” (https://www.edglossary.org/formative-assessment/)

It doesn’t stop there, however. Assessments should guide a teacher on what to do to remediate, challenge or move on with each individual student. Let’s explore reasons to regularly use formative assessment in the classroom.

Why Should You Use Formative Assessment?

Five reasons to formatively assess include:

  1. More relevant learning experiences: Education shouldn’t be a one-size-fits-all practice. Teachers have the tools, resources, and power to provide students with quick feedback and personalized learning experiences. Formative assessment is the tool to utilize daily to get a quick temperature of the class, and/or monitor individual growth and needs for remediation or enrichment. Formative assessment allows teachers to provide relevant learning experiences for all students.
  2. Better opportunity for retaining new knowledge: Research has shown that when students have frequent feedback and instruction tailored to their needs, they have a higher retention rate, making learning meaningful and long-term.
  3. Allows learning to be based on individual needs and learning styles: Formative assessments are only beneficial if we use them to impact instruction. If they are only used for collecting a grade and moving on, then they are summative assessments. Formative assessments help us get a read on each individual student. We can know where they are and where they need to get. We can individualize learning to offer them content, concepts, and strategies that are just right for them. The focus becomes on educating the whole child rather than taking a grade.
  4. Gives students feedback to guide their own learning: There are many ways to formatively assess and many ways to provide student feedback. For the feedback to be effective, target the task, be specific, focus on the process, and provide frequent feedback. Digital assessment tools provide immediate feedback to both the students and the teachers. Teaching students how to access the feedback, evaluate the feedback, and set personal action steps for themselves based on the feedback empowers them to own and guide their learning.
  5. Guide teachers in planning and practice: Using the feedback that is readily available through formative assessments allows teachers to make adjustments to timelines, projects, and future lessons to better meet the needs of each student. It takes away the guesswork of teaching and provides the data necessary to guide teacher practice.

What Types Of Assessment Are There?

There are various types of formative assessments that you can utilize. Digital tools definitely broaden that spectrum of possibility, as well. Let’s look at some different types of formative assessments and resources to help carry them out.

  1. Observation: The teacher roams around the classroom, observing students, sometimes offering guidance to the students and collecting anecdotal notes. A clipboard or notebook that is divided into separate spaces for each student is an easy place to jot down notes during periods of observation. Digitally, you can take observation notes on your phone or a tablet in apps like Google Keep, Evernote, and OneNote.
  2. Exit Tickets: In this video, Mr. Thain explains a way he uses exit tickets as a formative assessment strategy. The sticky notes example Mr. Thain gave is a simple way to collect exit tickets. Students don’t have to write an answer, they can also draw or sketch a response. Padlet, Flipgrid, Socrative, and Seesaw all provide easy digital platforms to collect exit tickets as well.
  3. Conferences: One-on-one conferences are some of the most effective (and underutilized) forms of formative assessment. During these brief (think five minutes, max) conversations, the teacher is able to meet each child where they are and tailor the next bit of instruction to their immediate needs. These are perfect for individualizing reading, writing, and math instruction. Organization becomes key in managing weekly conferences with each student. Teachers should be able to get to around five students per lesson each day during their independent work time. Some teachers like to use digital forms to track these conferences, where other teachers prefer a clipboard and sheet for each student’s anecdotal records. I like starting each conference with simply asking, “How’s it going?” The students will give a quick synopsis on what they are working on. You can often gain insight into a teaching point from that question alone. After listening, do a quick review of their work. First, find a compliment for the student, then offer the teaching point based on your observations. It’s important to stick to only one teaching point so students can immediately apply it to their practice.
  4. The good old-fashioned quiz: Even if the notion of a quiz is old-fashioned, the creation and utilization of one doesn’t have to be. Using tools like Google Forms, Socrative and Formative, teachers can quickly create and deliver quizzes. The best part is that the feedback is received in real-time for both the students and the teacher, allowing for quick changes in instructional plans.
  5. Reflection: Teachers don’t always have to be the drivers of formative assessment. It’s important for students to reflect on their learning, their personal goals and the steps they are taking to achieve them. Set aside intentional time for student-reflection. Students aren’t used to this, so in the beginning, consider offering them questions to consider. Teach them how to use these reflections to structure their own learning paths. Examples of reflective questions can be found at: 35 Questions for Student Reflection

The regular use of quality formative assessments may just be the biggest factor in effective student-driven teaching and learning. It’s not about taking a grade. It’s about driving instruction and helping students guide their own trajectories. What small step can you take to use formative assessments more effectively?


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