Current Issues

Formative Assessment


When you hear the word “assessment”, most likely your first thoughts are about tests, exams and projects that form the content of your gradebook.  However, if we view assessment as a critical part of the learning process, and that the purpose of assessment is to provide feedback for both the students and the teacher, then it is clear that assessment needs to involve something more.

The “something more” is what is often referred to as “formative assessment”.  These are the activities that you build into the learning process to give feedback before any grade is given.

There are many ways to do this, and many teachers do it instinctively and informally.  What is sometimes missing, though, is making it intentional.  That is, deliberate planning of activities to gather feedback from students about their progress towards the learning goals, so that the feedback can be used by the teacher to adjust their teaching and the by the student to adjust their approach to learning.

For example, listening to students discuss a question or problem in groups can provide a teacher with information about how well students are understanding a topic.  However, this is only useful if the question or problem has been carefully chosen to reflect the important learning goals, and the teacher is clear about what ideas (or misconceptions) they are listening for.  Formative assessment is often informal, but always intentional. 

As well as intentional listening to small or large group discussions, a few other strategies to try might be…

  • Predictions.

Ask students to make a prediction about something that they will learn more about in the lesson/unit.  This reveals which students already have some background understanding, either from past instruction, experience or intuition.  It also arouses curiosity – they want to find out if they were correct!

  • Quick response to a problem.

Present a problem that involves students applying what they have learnt, and ask them to suggest how they would solve the problem and/or propose a solution.  This is similar to a prediction, but involves applying something that was covered in the lesson.  It can reveal the extent to which students “got” the main point of the lesson.

  • Graphic organizers.

Students map out their understanding of a topic.  It reveals student thinking, especially in regard to how ideas are related.

  • Project Drafts.

Have students submit a draft/partially complete project for feedback.  The teacher can provide written feedback or hold a student-teacher conference.

What other strategies for providing intentional feedback have you tried?  Share some ideas in the comments below.

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