Formative Assessment: Tools, Strategies, and Examples
Author Kevin Kelly described our age of technology as a protopia: a state of becoming. In this state, we are constantly learning, growing, upgrading, progressing. Every time you update your apps, you are experiencing this technological reality of becoming. It is empowering, yet humbling to live in a stream of continuous improvement. In education, your students are also "becoming." Formative assessment is how their growth may be monitored and served.
What is Formative Assessment?
Formative assessment is a journey of learning and improvement toward related objectives, not the final destination of performance on a single test or project. Susan Brookhart identified formative assessment as a process consisting of three points: a focus on learning goals, assessing current work in relation to those goals, and action taken to get closer to them. Formative assessment is an act of formation, not of completion. It is an act of becoming.
Here is a useful graphic from The Center on Standards & Assessment Implementation that demonstrates the formative assessment process.
In most definitions of formative assessment, educators point out that the assessment is not included in a student's grade nor used for the evaluation of the teacher.
Formative Assessment Strategies
A simple web search reveals a multitude of websites that discuss specific strategies of how formative assessment might play out in your classroom. For example, the Association of American Educators discussed the following formative assessment examples, among others:
- Journaling: A classic way for students to record and reflect upon their own progress toward goals. Ideally, peers and teachers should provide feedback on journal entries when appropriate.
- Metacognition Table: An exit-ticket style formative assessment in which students respond to various prompts on an index card, such as "What did we learn today?" and "What questions do I still have about this topic?"
- Four Corners: Each corner of the classroom is assigned to represent a response. Students move to the corner they believe represents the correct answer when prompted by the teacher.
- Thumbs Voting: One of the most common discussion techniques, in which the teacher asks for a thumbs-up from students if they understand the material, a thumbs-down if they don't, and a thumbs-sideways if they are unsure.
The NWEA has also compiled a treasure trove of formative assessment strategies, including the popsicle stick activity, think-pair-share discussions, venn diagrams, and more.
Formative Assessment Examples
A middle school English class is working on adding specific details to descriptive paragraphs. After students complete their initial drafts, the teacher assigns a round of peer review. Peers make suggestions related to readability and recommendations for other details that could be incorporated into their classmates' paragraphs. Students in the class then complete a second draft, taking peer feedback into account.
A high school government class is discussing the political spectrum (conservative - moderate - liberal). To help students think about the spectrum, their place in it, and to demonstrate that views may change depending on the issue in question, the teacher uses a modified four corners formative assessment strategy. As the teacher calls out position statements on various issues, students move to either the left side of the room (liberal positions), the right side of the room (conservative positions), or the middle of the room (moderate positions, unsure, not comfortable sharing an opinion on the issue).
After teaching a math concept, a primary grades math teacher provides an example problem to her students. To assess for and achieve transfer, the teacher then presents a real-world second problem that requires students to use information and processes from the first problem to solve it. The teacher engages in formative discussion, requiring students to explain their thinking and challenge each other's assertions as they work to solve the second problem.
Formative Assessment vs. Summative Assessment
Formative assessment differs from summative assessment in that it is generally low-stakes and is used to monitor student learning. In other words, we are measuring progress as student learning is forming and coalescing toward a goal. By contrast, summative assessment is a final, high-stakes assessment - a chapter or unit test, final exam, capstone project, or similar - that evaluates learning at the endpoint of instruction.
The great strength of formative assessment in relation to its counterpart is, of course, that it is formative. Think about life in general. How many times will you truly encounter a situation where you face a one-shot, perform-or-go-home scenario? From championship athletic competitions to make-or-break presentations at work, these moments exist, but much more common are practices, scrimmages, and regular-season games, or reports, projects, and daily feedback.
Formative assessment helps us develop a growth mindset and more closely mirrors the real world in which we live and work. It isn't "everyone gets a trophy" so much as it is "everyone gets better every day."
Formative Assessment Tools
This is where the power of your learning management system (LMS) really comes into play. Your LMS should make it possible to provide real-time formative feedback to students via course announcements, class discussions, online "exit slips" and formative quizzes, seamless integration with analysis software, and more. Learning management systems make it possible to do these things more quickly and more efficiently than ever before, and can put students in control of their own goal-setting, learning, and formative improvement strategies.
We Are All Becoming
None of us are perfect. Formative assessment acknowledges and celebrates this fact. Even summative assessment can be used formatively if feedback from the test or final project is incorporated toward future progress. We are all becoming, and formative assessment provides us with limitless ways with which to measure that process.
We hope this helped cover the basics of formative assessment! What is the most helpful thing you have learned? Tell us on Twitter @Schoology