What is formative assessment, and why should you be considering it as part of your regular teaching routine?

Formative assessment is an assessment-styled task or piece of work, designed to provide feedforward and feedback to students. The goal of formative assessment is to guide the learning process, rather than focus on grades like a summative assessment. The purpose is to inform students about their progress; what they’re doing well, and should continue doing, in comparison to the ideas or skills they need to work on developing.

Formative assessment is an important diagnostic tool – in the classroom, they should be a regular occurrence. Have in-lesson check-in strategies, as well as more formal approaches, to give students critical feedback on how they’re progressing towards achieving summative assessments. It’s also vital that teachers use formative assessment practice to inform their lesson plans and ensure they’re based on assessment data – rather than simply working through the curriculum or assessment requirements with no regard for student learning, ability, or progress. Instead, formative assessment informs the pace of learning and any required adjustments, ensuring your practice is inclusive and responsive!

Formative assessments are highly beneficial to learners for a number of reasons:

1. More understanding

Formative assessment provides valuable data on students’ abilities, performance, and engagement. When you use this data to inform planning and required interventions, student understanding is directly and positively impacted! As you’re addressing student needs, it makes sense that their understanding is going to increase. It means that you’re not simply trucking on, as some learners get left behind, which could impact negatively on high-stakes summative assessments.

2. More motivation

Students are more interested in learning when they understand the content and skills they need to develop! By responding to learning needs in real-time, rather than after a summative assessment when the learning is done and dusted, students will be more invested in the learning experience. They can see the purpose of the information, will be able to use it and are simply more motivated by the support they’ll feel in that class. This also means they’ll be responsive to applying the feedforward and feedback provided!

3. More support

The use of formative assessment helps to reduce potential misconceptions about how a student is progressing, and instead, provide access to real-time data. This allows you to proactively include initiatives and teaching methods that respond to individual student needs. Overall, this encourages inclusive practice as you’re aware of which students may need reteaching of content or skills – as well as which students need extensions, ensuring that when they complete the summative assessment, they fairly achieve the grades they’re capable of! Formative assessment encourages you to teach the students in front of you, how they need to be taught, not just as the curriculum demands.

4. More student progress

Finally, a major key benefit of formative assessment is that students will simply do better – and who can argue with that! Students progress better when they have regular and useable feedforward and feedback. It also helps students make learning goals and take accountability for their own learning. And, as mentioned, you can be more responsive to their learning needs, ensuring optimal progress.

The benefits of formative assessment are clear and indisputable. So how can you do it?

Getting started

Start by ensuring you’re well aware of the requirements of the end-of-unit summative assessment. This is needed to inform your learning objectives and learning goals – what do you need students to know and be able to do by the time they’re graded on high-stakes learning? Make sure your learning objectives use keywords and cover key skills needed!

This allows you to pace the learning to ensure you fit in formative assessment (such as practice questions or group tasks) throughout the unit. It also means you can give students checkpoints of when feedforward or feedback is taking place. This helps students to feel as though they’re working towards the final product of an assessment, rather than not conecting in-class learning to an assessment.

Finally, you can use scaffolds to help build student understanding. For example, for a student who is struggling with writing, you may give some formative feedback. Start small with feedback on sentence structure, then build them up to a paragraph, and then to an essay. Or for a whole class learning new content, you could, for example, present one perspective in one lesson, another in the second, and then use the third to compare the ideas and arguments. This means after each lesson you can check understanding to see if anything needs reteaching, or if students need any additional support.

You can also collect data from practice or group assessments to give formal feedforward and feedback using the rubric that will be used in the summative assessment. This allows students to understand the assessment process in a fair, low-stakes environment, while ensuring that the support given can be used critically to improve skills! Student engagement will be high as they’ll see this is important and worthwhile to their own learning.

Good luck exploring the world of formative assessment – we’re sure you will see the benefits of it for your practice and student achievement in no time!