If you aren’t using formative assessments yet, you are missing out on a way to gather valuable information that informs your teaching while setting your students up for success.
What are formative assessments?
When we talk about assessments in education, the focus is often on the summative or final assessments. While summative assessments conducted at the end of a subject or unit are a way to measure how and what students have learned throughout that unit, a formative assessment is often even more valuable because it tells a teacher, on a daily basis, how students are progressing in their learning of a subject.
Formative assessments are a way to provide support and feedback along the way in a task or project. By collecting information while learning is happening, formative assessments help teachers see where students are in the learning process, quickly identify if students are struggling with a particular subject and adjust their teaching approaches to help students stay on track. The formative assessment allows the student to see their own progress and improve their work immediately, which improves learning outcomes.
When should you use formative assessments?
Formative assessments are best suited for tasks related to future learning. Typically they’re used during the early stages of a new topic when the students do not yet have much knowledge about the subject or as a check-in on how students are progressing. The formative assessment may include some level of correction or constructive feedback on the work along with encouraging comments that help students stay engaged and motivated to keep learning.
How do you give a formative assessment?
Because formative assessment is done during the learning process vs. at the end of a subject, teachers have a great deal of flexibility in how they can use it.
Here are five ways you can use formative assessment to improve learning in your classroom:
- Quality questioning: As a teacher you likely spend 30-50% of your time asking questions. When you shape those questions in a way that stimulates student thinking above the simple recall level, you also have a perfect tool for formative assessment. When you ask questions like “What caused that to happen?” or “How does that compare to X?”, you require students to seek evidence, explain or relate concepts, ideas or opinions. These questions not only stimulate more engaging discussions, you also see whether they truly grasp the nuances of a subject. Open-ended questions like: “What makes you think that?” or “What will your next step be?” enable students to do self-assessment as well.
- Ungraded check-ins: Allow students to engage in multiple iterations on their papers or presentations and use verbal feedback or comments in documents to provide specific, detailed and constructive feedback along the way. For example, if a formal presentation will be required as an end assessment in a subject, you can organize mini practice sessions to help the student improve their presentation skills. Because the student has received good guidance along the way, the result will be a much stronger final presentation.
- Self-assessments: Ask students to reflect on their own learning process and articulate what they do well, what they struggle with, what they have learned and what they feel they still need to learn in order to meet course goals or standards.
- Student-generated questions: Ask students to develop their own questions as they do a reading assignment, then ask them to share their questions with a partner or small group. Have the small group vote on the best questions then share their top picks with the larger class. This not only stimulates thinking and reasoning, it gives you a chance to observe the discussions and see how individual students are processing information as they go along.
- Exit slips: Ask students to quickly jot down their responses to a few questions at the end of a lesson or class period. Use those responses to see where students may not be comprehending the material and modify the next lesson accordingly.
Making the most of formative assessments
As you create your own strategies for formative assessments, it is important to keep in mind that they are not designed to grade the students’ abilities, but rather to see how a student is progressing and stimulate the acquisition of future knowledge and learning outcomes. You will take on the role of a mentor for your students.
Whenever you engage in providing verbal feedback to a student, it’s an opportunity to use formative assessment. And tools like Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, OneNote and Teams provide the ability to insert contextual comments right in the document or workspace. This allows teachers and students to interact throughout the development of an assignment before it’s officially turned in for a grade.
Using formative assessments regularly gives you the ability to proactively engage and understand how well your students are performing long before the summative testing or evaluation takes place. This means no surprises for you as the teacher and a much richer ongoing learning experience for your students.
How do you use formative assessments in your classroom? Please let us know.