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Types of Assessment: Expand Your Repertoire

Types of Assessment

Types of Assessment

Teachers are often wondering what the different “types of assessment” are — but, the truth is, this is a complicated question.  Trying to categorize “types of assessment” is similar to trying to categorize “types of food.” How would you categorize eggs? Based on their nutritional value (are they “high protein” or “low carb”…?), based on when they’re eaten (are they breakfast foods… even in Cobb salads?), based on where they come from (organic, free-range, large, extra-large), or some other manner of categorization (vegetarian, non-vegan, healthy / not-healthy, dangerous, etc.)?

What we’re going to endeavor to do in this article is simply to categorize types of assessment in a number of ways that make sense, and that can be beneficial for the purposes of inspiring some top notch instruction.  But it’s important to keep in mind that almost all of these different types of assessment overlap, cross-pollinate, and/or complement each other in countless ways.

Types of Assessment that Enhance Teaching and Learning.

Types of assessment that serve the primary function of enhancing teaching and learning as typically considered formative assessments.  That said, just about any purposeful exchange between teacher and student that checks for understanding, and that is used to adjust and enhance learning, qualifies as an example of formative assessment.  You can check out these resources on formative assessment:

Types of Assessment to Expand Your Teaching RepertoireTypes of Assessment that Measure Learning Outcomes.

Types of assessment that serve the primary function of measuring student learning outcomes are considered summative assessments.  A clearcut example of this would be a final exam, or standardized tests such as the SAT.  These types of assessment are more “final” in nature in that they aren’t designed to enhance instruction or to generate data that can be used to immediately enhance student learning.  But, if you’re already considering some counterexamples, you’re spot on. (Do end-of-unit tests count as summative examples, even if students can retake them to demonstrate further learning, and even if the teacher uses students’ performances on those unit tests to inform the next day’s instruction?)  There’s certainly some gray area, as summative assessments can (and often do) borrow from the principles of formative assessment.

Two commonly used types of assessment that fall into this category are “benchmark assessments” and “common assessments.”  Benchmark assessments are essentially locally implemented standardized tests for the purpose of obtaining a summative snapshot of student learning.  (And yes, these can be used for formative purposes, too.) For example, the math department might develop an Algebra I test that is administered across all Algebra I students in September, regardless of course level, for the purposes measuring student understanding across the board.  

Benchmark assessments typically fall under the larger umbrella of common assessments — meaning, in the example described above, they are common across all teachers and sections of Algebra I.  But common assessments can be any shape and size. A group of 7th grade ELA teachers might decide to open class with the same ungraded assessment that measures students’ understanding of targeted grammar standards.  This three-minute task qualifies as a common assessment, and provides the same kinds of benefits and insights with regard to what it’s trying to measure (in this case, understanding of those targeted grammar standards) across students in different sections.  This can be great for trying to identify instructional practices, or even nuances in how certain kinds of content or skills might best be delivered, by trading notes with colleagues.

If you’re still feeling hazy on the differences between formative and summative assessment, or if you’d just like some inspiration, consider exploring our clarifying resources:

Types of Assessment that Engage Students

It’s important for us to preface this with the fact that, as mentioned earlier, these categories are not mutually exclusive.  Just as a summative assessment can borrow from the principles of formative assessment, assessments that are optimized to heighten student engagement can be formative and/or summative in nature.  Here are some examples of the types of assessment we’re talking about here:

  • Authentic assessments.  Types of assessment that reflect real world situations fall into this category.  Authentic types of assessment are heralded for optimizing student engagement, because kids (and anyone, really) is far more likely to invest maximum time and effort into a task that has real world applicability, as opposed to a task that doesn’t seem to offer any value beyond the task itself.  Generally speaking, considering a task’s audience is one of the best ways to check for, and enhance, authenticity. Is a student writing an essay for you, or for a specific audience outside of the classroom (the mayor, their parents, their friends, etc.)? Is a task a strictly academic exercise, or does it serve a real world purpose / address a relevant real world situation?  Often times, even reframing a task with an authentic context — even if its imaginary — can be a step in the right direction. The RAFT writing strategy, which prompts students to take on new Roles, to target a specific Audience, to write or create using a specific Format, and to address a specific Topic, helps to creak open the door to authentic assessment… but, the more “real” (i.e. not imaginary) the task, the better.
  • Performance based.  There is often a lot of overlap between performance based types of assessment and authentic assessments.  In short, performance based assessments ask students to demonstrate their understanding of a concept or mastery of a skill by “performing” a task that embodies those concepts, skills, or standards.  This prompts us to consider what does and doesn’t count as a “performance” (…most things count, don’t they?), and to consider opening doors beyond formal “testing” situations on a more regular basis.
  • Project based.  Types of assessment that are project based are, again, often complementary to, if not synonymous with, many of the other types of assessment already discussed.  The scope here is far greater than what this article is intended to achieve, but in short, project-based learning is designed to engage students in a problem solving process that spans weeks, throughout which student learning occurs as a byproduct of engaging with the development of their project.  Here, we see formative assessment, summative assessment, authentic assessment, AND performance based assessment all intertwined into one glorious project-based ball of learning. (Check out our PBL resources to learn more about project based learning!)


Other Types of Assessment.

Aside from the three major categories, we can certainly slice and dice types of assessment in countless other ways.  As with the other categories, there is plenty of overlap, and the optimal use of any particular strategy always boils down to its instructional purpose.

Types of Assessment That Are Graded vs. Ungraded

Note that whether or not an assessment is entered into a teacher’s gradebook ultimately has no bearing on whether or not it qualifies as formative, summative, or any of the other types of assessment previously discussed.  We can certainly make some generalizations. For instance, formative assessments occur continuously throughout every class period, and as such, it makes sense that they are more frequently ungraded, and that they generally have lower stakes — whereas summative assessments occur less often, and serve a weightier purpose, hence their association grades.  The interplay between graded and ungraded assessments ultimately because a question of district, school, and classroom culture — grades, after all, are just another tool that we wield to try to inspire motivation and learning.  (If you’re looking for an interesting read on this, consider checking out Hacking Assessment: 10 Ways to Go Gradeless in a Traditional Grades School…!)


Types of Assessment That Are Formal vs. Informal

A common misconception is that formative assessments are always “informal,” and that summative assessments are always “formal.”  This, too, is a generalization that we can make given the inherent nature of formative and summative assessment — but it isn’t always the case.  A summative assessment, such as a common benchmark given by all of the 7th grade teachers, can be ungraded, skills-based, and not-studied-for. Likewise, a pop quiz to assess students’ understanding of last night’s reading can be treated formally and entered into a gradebook with ease.

If you’re looking to take a much deeper dive, we’ve developed an AWESOME online course that promises to bring you to the “cutting edge” with regard to student engagement and pedagogy.  Our course, Modern Mastery PD, hones in on student centered learning, the neuroscience of student engagement and motivation, gamification and game-based learning, gold standard educational technology integration, and more.  You can learn more here, or enter your email address below for more information and special offers!

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Ten Formative and Summative Assessment Examples to Inspire You

Practical Formative and Summative Assessment Examples to Inspire Your Practice

At this point, you’ve likely straightened out your understanding of formative and summative assessment.  If not, have no fear, formative and summative assessment are often confused by rookie and veteran educators alike.  So before we move forward, let’s get some clarity on formative and summative assessment definitions.

Formative and Summative Assessment: Definitions First

We’ve taken a close look at a variety of definitions for “formative assessment” (check out our analysis here), and ultimately landed on the following definition to guide our understandings:

“Formative assessment is every purposeful exchange between teacher and student that checks for understanding, and that is used to adjust and enhance learning.”

Similarly, summative assessment also strives to check for student understanding, but it doesn’t play a role in adjusting instruction to enhance learning.  We like think the “soup” metaphor does a great job of clarifying the difference between formative and summative assessment.

Consider a chef in the kitchen of his restaurant, preparing a soup.  He tastes the soup, and determines that it needs a pinch of salt. He stirs in the salt, then tastes it again.  Better, but it’s missing some pepper. He adds two twists from the peppermill, tastes it again, and then adds two more twists.  This process is formative assessment.  Then, the chef ladles his soup into a bowl and it’s served to a guest sitting at a table.  Now, it’s summative.  


Formative and Summative Assessment: Five Formative Assessment Examples To Inspire You

Ten Formative and Summative Assessment Examples to Inspire YouFormative assessments can feel burdensome when they’re considered out of context, or when they’re presented to teachers as “another thing to develop and implement” — but, the truth is, that’s all very silly.  Formative assessments are the stuff of good teaching, and they’re happening continuously throughout any well taught classroom, whether or not the teacher in that room is labeling these practices “formative assessment.”  The list that follows is intended to showcase some snazzy 21st century implementations of formative assessment — great to put into practice immediately, or to inspire your own ideas moving forward!

(1) Cups and Colors.  Use a color coded system, such as paper cups that resemble a traffic light, to empower your students to relay their level of understanding or comfort with the content and skills that are presently being focused on.

(2) Backchannel Chats.  Ask students to engage in a backchannel conversation on a digital medium — anything from to using a class hashtag, from a chat feature in your school’s LMS to a running Google Doc.  This backchannel can provide huge insights into students’ understandings in realtime.

(3) Parking Lot.  The old school version of the “parking lot” looks like a space on the wall or bulletin board reserved for students’ questions and/or brief reflections, posted using post-it notes.  Padlet is a great digital tool that recreates this experience, but in a virtual space. That means students can be prompted to engage in these reflective practices more often, and you can access that formative information in a super-timely manner.

(4) Plickers.  If you haven’t tried Plickers yet, you’re going to be absolutely thrilled to give this tool a whirl.  In short, Plickers enables you to give students paper markers (printable and free) that they can hold up in one of four different directions to indicate their response — i.e. multiple choice responses A, B, C, and D.  As the teacher, you can then use their app (downloaded to your phone) to scan the room with your phone’s camera — and, in realtime, see how they answered the question at hand. Students will literally light up red or green on your screen (talk about instant data analysis) and, simultaneously, their responses can be automatically recorded into your recordbook.  

(5) FlipGrid.  FlipGrid allows students to post short videos (up to five minutes) that can later be viewed by their teacher and peers, replied to (in video form) by their teacher and peers, and even scored using customized, embedded rubrics.  This is a great way to get into students’ heads — during class, at home, and anywhere where video might provide an instructional advantage — for formative assessment purposes!


Formative and Summative Assessment: Five Summative Assessment Examples To Inspire You

What follows is a list of summative assessment examples to evoke some inspiration in the way we think about and implement summative assessments.  Summative assessment often get a bad rap — mostly because school leaders who champion formative assessment have a tendency to paint summative assessment as an opposing sort of force.  The truth is, formative and summative assessment are complementary in nature. When formative assessments speak to the learning process, summative assessments serve the purpose of checking to see whether students have ultimately learned.  (In considering the metaphor of the chef and the soup… the whole point is that the soup is, eventually, served!)

All of that being said, summative assessments don’t have to be “strictly” summative (i.e. they can borrow from principles of formative assessment), and they don’t have to exist in the forms of painful exams and tests.  A chef serving soup to a guest in his or her restaurant is an authentic summative assessment — whereas a chef’s soup being tested by a critic, while still a feasible possibility, is less organic.  So, with that in mind, let’s stir up our inspiration with some summative assessment examples.

(1) The Redo.  Rather than simply administering a unit exam and moving on the following day (a strictly summative assessment example), consider offering students the opportunity to learn from their performance on that test, and consider how students’ performances might be used to adjust your instructional game plan.  Can students retake the test? (Why not?) Are some students doomed if you move on to the next unit immediately?  (Probably!) How can you save those students’ souls?! (An exaggeration, sure, but you get the picture.)

(2) The Student Authored Exam.  Now there’s a controversial summative assessment example.  But, consider this: the point of a summative assessment is to check for students’ overall understanding: Did they master the content?  Did they master the concepts? How deep are their understandings?  Sure, a formal exam can shed some light on these questions… but, if you take a look at an exam that I create on any given subject matter, you’ll be able to size up my understanding with equal efficiency.

(3) Performance Tasks.  Consider how the theoretical knowledge that’s applied to a traditional exam might be reimagined in a practical, real-world context.  Ask yourself, “What kind of performance would showcase students’ understanding of these skills?  Of students’ mastery of these standards?” Keep in mind, this doesn’t mean that students should be asked to “do a skit” instead of factoring polynomials… rather, it means that students should be asked to showcase their ability to factor polynomials in a more performance-oriented context (e.g. economic cost analyses, roller coaster design, etc.).

(4) Authentic Problems.  Ask students to solve an authentic problem that’s pertinent to the curriculum, standards, and skills being studied — or, ask students to engage in a project that showcases their mastery of the curriculum, standards, and skills.  This summative assessment example is inquiry-centric, but it promises to engage learners as they can connect to the content in a manner that is meaningful to their own lives — rather than a flat and painstaking exam.

(5)  Presentations & Portfolios.  Ask students to develop a presentation or portfolio that showcases their knowledge.  This particular summative assessment example can be combined with many of the aforementioned summative assessment examples, e.g. assigning a weeklong problem-based scenario that culminates with a presentation of all the steps that were taken along the process of trying to solve that problem (regardless of whether or not it was actually solved).  Likewise, portfolios provide a great way to consider a body of work in a summative fashion, rather than an exam-driven snapshot on the last day of school.

If you’re looking to take a much deeper dive, we’ve developed an AWESOME online course that promises to bring you to the “cutting edge” with regard to student engagement and pedagogy.  Our course, Modern Mastery PD, hones in on student centered learning, the neuroscience of student engagement and motivation, gamification and game-based learning, gold standard educational technology integration, and more.  You can learn more here, or enter your email address below for more information and special offers!

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Formative vs Summative Assessment: What’s the Difference?

Formative vs Summative Assessment: What's the Difference?

Formative vs Summative Assessment: What’s the Difference?

Formative and summative assessment are two of the cornerstones of effective instruction, but it’s common to confuse the terms themselves — so, to better understanding formative vs summative assessment, let’s begin by defining both.

We’ve examined a variety of definitions for “formative assessment” (check out our analysis here), and came up with the following definition to contextualize our thinking:

“Formative assessment is every purposeful exchange between teacher and student that checks for understanding, and that is used to adjust and enhance learning.”

So, how does that differ from summative assessment?  Well, more often than not, formative and summative assessment are presented in a manner that makes them seem like they have a dichotomous relationship — that is, if an assessment isn’t formative, it’s summative, and vice-versa.  But in practice, this isn’t really the case. If we simply tweak the above definition by (1) changing the word “formative” to “summative,” and (2) removing the clause that says “and that is used to adjust and enhance learning” … tada!  Summative assessment!

The essential difference, when considering formative vs summative assessment, is as straightforward as that.  Formative assessments are intended to “check in” with students, and serve the primary purpose of informing instruction.  Some great examples of this include reading-checks, posing questions to students in order to check for understanding, and using students’ performance on the “warm up” to drive the specific kinds of instruction that immediately follows.  

Because of the purpose that it serves, formative assessment usually has lower stakes (not graded, or scored for a minor grade), occurs continuously throughout every class period, and is considered a “process” rather than a “thing.”

When looking for differences between formative vs summative assessments, we should consider common examples of summative assessments.  Common summative assessment examples include final exams, standardized tests, and unit tests. Like formative assessments, these assessments purposefully check for student understanding, but by nature, they aren’t designed to help the teacher adjust their instruction.  Rather, they’re designed to determine whether a student has met a standard or learning requirement at the completion of a unit or course.

But is the relationship between formative vs summative assessment that clear-cut?  No, of course it isn’t.

What if you use a collection of formative assessments (reading checks or journal entries) to determine a student’s final grade in that topic?  

What if you count a unit test as a major grade, but simultaneously allow students to retake the test after studying the topics they performed poorest in?

What if the standardized test that students take provides immediate reports that can be utilized to adjust instruction the following week?

The point is, the idea of “formative vs summative assessment” is a misnomer.  These assessment types don’t oppose each other, and they aren’t opposites. Rather, they serve different purposes, and often times, assessments overlap both assessment types.


Formative vs Summative Assessment: Which Is Better?

Formative vs Summative Assessment: What's the Difference?As with most things, the question of which is better comes down to purpose.  It helps to keep in mind that the relationship between these to assessment types (formative vs summative assessment) is less about which is “better,” and more about which is appropriate for the current situation or purpose.

In reality, we spend the bulk of our time trying to improve student learning outcomes.  As such, the principles of formative assessment are most often the most applicable for our needs.  And, as such, this means that we are always assessing our students.  Always! We’re honing in on the way they answer questions (was that a hesitation?), the timeliness of their work (wow, she nailed that quiz with plenty of time to spare!), and the quality of their thought (he just doesn’t seem to be getting it) across every interaction that occurs in our classroom.  And, to make good on what formative assessment offers, we act on those assessments and adjust instruction accordingly.

Conversely, we don’t spend nearly as much time crowning students as having “officially passed.”  Because these events are typically more formal and less frequent (e.g. midterms, finals, state tests), they can get a bad rap.  But summative assessments serve an important purpose too — even if it isn’t strictly about enhancing learning for the individual student taking that exam.  (That purpose often pertains to determining whether state standards have been met, determining whether a diploma can be awarded, determining whether a school or a district is effectively doing its job, determining whether a student meets the criteria to be admitted into a specific program or institution, and so on.)  Summative assessment is less warm and fuzzy, but it serves a real world purpose that we would be naive to ignore.


Formative vs Summative Assessment: How to Keep Them Straight

A few good metaphors can really help to clarify formative vs summative assessment for us — and, can help you to keep both types of assessment straight for years to come.

Formative vs Summative Assessment Metaphor #1: The Chef.  Consider a chef in the kitchen of his restaurant, preparing a soup.  He tastes the soup, and determines that it needs a pinch of salt. He stirs in the salt, then tastes it again.  Better, but it’s missing some pepper. He adds two twists from the peppermill, tastes it again, and then adds two more twists.  This process is formative assessment.  Then, the chef ladles his soup into a bowl and it’s served to a guest sitting at a table.  Now, it’s summative.  

Formative vs Summative Assessment Metaphor #2: The Race.  A track coach is helping one of her athletes to prepare for a one-mile race.  She times the athlete’s mile-run at practice, and notices that the runner is coming up slowest in the final stretch.  She asks the athlete to practice several exercises to strengthen her endurance — and, a week later, times the athlete’s mile-run again.  This time, the coach also notices that although the athlete’s time is faster, the athlete appears to be shorter of breath. The coach adds several breathing exercises to the athlete’s training regimen, and the following week, times the mile-run again.  This process is formative assessment.  Then, the coach wishes the athlete luck on race-day.  Now, it’s summative.

It’s easy to imagine the perils of a chef that never tastes the soup he serves his guests… and of a coach that doesn’t account for an athletes’ practice.  Likewise, it’s also easy to imagine how pointless a chef’s job might feel if the soup were never served… and, similarly for a coach or an athlete if there was no race-day to prepare for.  Formative vs summative assessment have a complementary, yin-and-yang relationship, that we must fully consider as we leverage both to enhance instruction for our kiddos.  And let’s not forget about the wide range of possibilities we must consider in terms of differentiating those assessments.  (Consider checking out Assessment and Student Success in a Differentiated Classroom for more on that.)

If you’re looking to take a much deeper dive, we’ve developed an AWESOME online course that promises to bring you to the “cutting edge” with regard to student engagement and pedagogy.  Our course, Modern Mastery PD, hones in on student centered learning, the neuroscience of student engagement and motivation, gamification and game-based learning, gold standard educational technology integration, and more.  You can learn more here, or enter your email address below for more information and special offers!

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Four Types of Formative Assessment, and the Best Digital Tools to Implement Them

The Four Types of Formative Assessment

The Four Types of Formative Assessment

Before unpacking the various types of formative assessment, we examined a variety of definitions for “formative assessment” (check out our analysis here), and came up with the following definition to contextualize our thinking:

“Formative assessment is every purposeful exchange between teacher and student that checks for understanding, and that is used to adjust and enhance learning.”

With that definition in mind, we were able to categorize strategies into four types of formative assessment.  In this article, be taking a surface-level look at each of these categories before pairing practices with digital tools — but, for a deeper dive into each, check out The Best Formative Assessment Strategies and Formative Assessment Examples To Inspire Your Practice.

So, without further adieu, let’s jump right in.

Types of Formative Assessment That Rely On Student Signals.

The Four Types of Formative AssessmentThe first of four types of formative assessment that we’ll be considering is those that prompt students to somehow signal their understanding to the teacher.  In a traditional, non-technology infused environment, this can look as straightforward as having three different colors of construction paper (red, yellow, green) in a stack on students’ desks and asking students to keep the color that’s indicative of their understanding at the top.

How can technology be infused to enhance this type of formative assessment?

  • Many software platforms that are designed to monitor one-to-one device initiatives (i.e. that allow teachers to monitor students’ screens) also include features that enable students to signal their understanding.  DyKnow is one of many such platforms that you may already have access to if you’re teaching in a one-to-one environment!
  • A simple Google Form can be used and recycled multiple times per period to prompt students to respond to a single question, e.g. “On a scale from 1 to 3, how well do you understand this concept?”  Form responses can be kept anonymous if you’re trying to monitor whole-class understandings — but this is far less beneficial than the kind of formative assessment data you’ll get by linking responses to individual kiddos.  This Google Form option is awesome if you’re trying to respect student privacy — whereas the option that follows is a far more public strategy for accomplishing a similar end.
  • Prepare a Google Doc or a Google Sheet with all over your students’ names on it.  This doc can be a running list, or a grid in a table. Then, give students editing access to that sheet and prompt them to highlight their name (or, if you used Google Sheets, the cell that contains their name) with the color that indicates their level of understanding.  In order to keep the color-codes from being too evaluative, consider a system such as: green mean “keep it coming,” yellow means “slow it down,” and red means “give us more time / more examples.” This can diffuse some of the judgmental associations students might feel when showcasing their color-codes in a shared document.  

Types of Formative Assessment That Rely On Quick Student Responses.

The second of four types of formative assessment that we’ll be discussing are those that rely on quick student responses.  These are typically considered “quick-writes,” but they can often take the form of short quizzes, too. In a traditional classroom, this might look like prompting students to jot down a short idea, or to answer a question, on an index card — and then to submit those index cards to you for review.  The tricky part of all of this is that you’ll have to actually review those index cards, wrap you mind around the “data,” and adjust your instruction accordingly in order to feel the benefit of formative instruction. Fortunately, there are plenty of digital tools that really shine in this area.

How can technology be infused to enhance this type of formative assessment?

  • Although it comes up often, Google Forms shines here more-so than in other types of formative assessment.  Why? Well, it’s a free tool that enables you to deploy targeted “pop quizzes” to your students in any variety of formats — from short answers to paragraph replies, from multiple choice to checklists.  You can even set your Google Form to function as a quiz so as to automatically score students’ submissions, giving you INSTANT insight into their understandings, and immediately enabling you to adjust instruction accordingly.  When we talk about highly effective formative assessment and 21st century instructional practices, this hits the nail on the head. It’s easy to take this kind of analytical power for granted, but a hundred years ago, this would be science fiction!
  • A wide variety of digital tools that accomplish a similar purpose as described above, but that may be equipped with additional features, include Flubaroo (Google AddOn), Quizizz, and Padlet.  Flubaroo provides automatic grading and automatic student feedback on assessments administered via Google Forms, Quizzizz enables students to assess their own understandings, and Padlet prompts students to utilize a digital bulletin board as a place to jot their ideas — visible to you for formative assessment purposes.


Types of Formative Assessment That Rely On Student Reflections.

Student reflection is one of the most powerful types of formative assessment, and is likely the most underutilized.  Simply put, when students receive timely and relevant feedback, and when they have the time and space to reflect on that feedback, significant learning occurs.  Likewise, when students are simply prompted to reflect on their growth, their learning, their strengths and weaknesses, and/or their own journey as“learners — you guessed it.  Significant learning occurs. Simultaneously, these reflective moments provide a powerful insight into student understanding that can be utilized to adjust instruction. Hence, the reflective formative assessment.

How can technology be infused to enhance this type of formative assessment?

The greatest obstacle regarding the implementation of this kind of regular reflective practice is the time it takes to manage all of the reading and writing, as well as the associated organization.  If students are keeping weekly reflective journals in marble notebooks, you’re likely to end up with over 500 journal entries to read across 100 marble notebooks that won’t be fun to lug to and from your car.  Fortunately, Google offers a variety of tools that come to our rescue.

  • Google Docs is the most straightforward way for us to alleviate the heap-of-marble-notebooks concern, simply because it digitizes those entries.  It’s definitely worth taking the time to create a structure of folders in Google Drive for your students that can organize and streamline the organizational process.  Google Classroom automates some of this, but Doctopus is a great Google AddOn to Google Sheets that accomplishes a similar end; simply upload your class rosters and it will generate a series of Google Folders that are shared only between you and your individual students — ideal for submitting work and for maintaining a yearlong reflective journal in a contained, digital space!
  • Blogs are another wonderful way to create digital spaces that function just like marble-notebooks, but that offer additional opportunities for collaboration, organization, and more.  The biggest difference between encouraging students to reflect on Google Docs versus blogs is exactly that — blogs tend to open things up publicly in a manner that Docs are less able or likely to do.  (And yes, blogs do offer settings that will enable you or your students to prevent “outsiders” from looking in.) Google’s blogging tool, Blogger, is a great solution that also “plays nice” with other tools in the Google Suite (good to know if you’re a one-to-one Chromebook school).  WordPress is another widely used blogging tool that fits the bill!


Types of Formative Assessment That Rely On Questions & Discussions.

Classroom discussions of all sorts and sizes can provide great insight into students’ understandings.  As such, this may be among the most flexible of the types of formative assessment that we’re considering in this article.  So, how can technology enhance classroom discussions?

How can technology be infused to enhance this type of formative assessment?

  • Chatting applications are a powerful addition to your repertoire, but the availability of these apps will vary widely from school to school based on students’ ages, district policies, and so on.  I’ve had great success using Discord to facilitate class discussions (whole discussions in the “full group” mode, and small group discussions in separate “channels” we set up), but Discord is primarily used by video gamers and as such, as of this writing, is a bit more of the “wild, wild west” of online chats.  (Read: not as secure as chat options that your school can monitor.) That said, Discord offers audio chat, video chat, document uploads, saved transcripts of all discussions… and, of course, invite-only chat spaces that you can leverage to get your kiddos in.
  • Backchannel discussions are a powerful tool to heighten student engagement, but for the same reason that chat applications provide great formative insights into student understanding, these backchannel chats are an awesome multi-purpose tool.  While students are engaged in any kind of a learning task (watching a clip, reading a story, even having an in-class discussion), ask them to simultaneously participate in a digital “chat.” Google’s in-document chat-windows are generally too small to accomplish this task, but related tools such as BackChannelChat and Twitter using a classroom hashtag (if Twitter is allowed in your school, and if your students are at an appropriate age).
  • Take advantage of multimodal means for communicating!  Not only is this a great way to heighten engagement (it’s fun) and participation (it creates more opportunities for access), it’s also supported by neuroscience research that suggests that multiple representations enhance memory, learning, and recall.  Turn text-based classroom chats into audio-based chats using Voxer — an asynchronous walkie-talkie smart phone app that can be a true game-changer for the way you communicate with your students. Or, consider using video posts via FlipGrid — an app that enables students to post videos (i.e. a video reflection), and depending on the permissions you set up, to view and respond to their peers.  FlipGrid includes some embedded rubric functionality, too!


Other Types of Formative Assessment

Although the four types of formative assessment we’ve discussed are among the quickest in terms of implementation and turn-around, they are certainly not an exhaustive list.  Quizzes, practice tests, pre-tests, and rough drafts of student writing are probably the most common examples of classroom strategies that lend themselves to the principles of formative assessment (“…purposeful exchanges between teacher and student that check for understanding, and that are used to adjust and enhance learning”).  In these cases, some of the greatest benefits that technology brings to the table come from (#1) faster data analytics, and (#2) faster turnaround for feedback.  Here’s a quick list of a few digital tools that nail it in these areas:


  • ActivelyLearn.  ActivelyLearn enables teachers to upload any kinds of texts or documents (articles, PDFs, websites) that can ultimately be assigned to students.  Then, teachers can intersperse questions throughout the readings that students must respond to during the reading process. The result? Students literally make their thinking visible as they engage with the assigned texts — which teachers can view responses and analytics in real-time.  ActivelyLearn is a formative assessment power house.
  • Kaizena.  Kaizena is a Google AddOn that makes it easy to create a bank of reusable comments for student work — so adding that same old “thesis” comment doesn’t have to take you ten minutes to write out every single time.  What’s more — you can add links to resources in these comments, so rather than just calling students out on their errors, you can provide meaningful resources for learning. Kaezena also boasts a voice-comment feature that can streamline the feedback process for you and your students.
  • TurnItIn.  While TurnItIn rose to popularity because of its plagiarism detection tools, it seems to have stayed at the top thanks to its full suite of assessment tools.  PeerMark makes digital peer-review a piece of cake (you can even make student work anonymous with the click of a checkbox).  GradeMark includes the same speedy-feedback features offered by Kaizena.  And TurnItIn’s acquisition of GradeScope leverages artificial intelligence to enhance the grading and feedback process across all subject areas.  (GradeScope literally lets you scan and upload your students’ handwritten exams for nearly instantaneous grading.  It’s unreal!)


If you’re looking to take a much deeper dive, we’ve developed an AWESOME online course that promises to bring you to the “cutting edge” with regard to student engagement and pedagogy.  Our course, Modern Mastery PD, hones in on student centered learning, the neuroscience of student engagement and motivation, gamification and game-based learning, gold standard educational technology integration, and more.  You can learn more here, or enter your email address below for more information and special offers!

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The Best Formative Assessment Strategies and Formative Assessment Examples To Inspire Your Practice

Formative Assessment Strategies and Formative Assessment Examples To Inspire Your Practice

If you’re reading this, you’re almost certainly itching for some new formative assessment examples to add to your repertoire.  We’ve taken a close look at a variety of definitions for “formative assessment” (check out our analysis here), and ultimately landed on the following definition to guide our understandings:

“Formative assessment is every purposeful exchange between teacher and student that checks for understanding, and that is used to adjust and enhance learning.”

With that foundation in mind, let’s consider what this looks like when the rubber meets the road.  There are heaps of formative assessment strategies with all sorts of cutesy names that, if we’d listed them all, would easily get us to a compilation of 100+ formative assessment examples.  Instead, we’ve categorized them into four major groups of formative assessment strategies and have included the best corresponding formative assessment examples in each category.

Keep in mind that the purpose of this list of formative assessment examples is to equip you with practical strategies you can implement immediately, and to inspire you to consider how you might apply similar practices that are already in your repertoire.  Otherwise, this compilation of formative assessment strategies strives to cut the fluff. So, let’s get to it.


Formative Assessment Strategy #1: Signals

Formative Assessment Strategies and Formative Assessment ExamplesWhat it is:  Signals are as straightforward as they sound.  Take the time to share a predetermined set of signals with your students (which could be as obvious as a “thumbs up” for “I get it” and “thumbs down” for “I’m still not sure”), or, better yet, co-create a set of signals with your students.  

Related Formative Assessment Examples:

  • Hand Gestures.  Any kind of hand gesture, which could be as straightforward as a thumbs up, or as holding up a certain number of fingers (one through five) in the style of a “likert scale” (e.g. “On a scale from 1 to 5, how confident do you feel in X?”).
  • Traffic Light.  This protocol may seem strictly elementary at first, but I’ve had great success implementing it at the high school and college level.  In short, find any kind of object or marker that can be used to indicate the colors red and green — or, red, yellow, and green.  Straightforward examples of this include a double-sided piece of construction paper (red on one side, green on the other), or a stack of three cups (one red, one yellow, one green).  Then, ask students to continuously monitor and report their level of understanding using those colors.
  • Subtle Symbols.  Often times, students will be shy about declaring that they don’t entirely grasp a subject — or, after expressing a need for clarification, will be hesitant to continue voicing their confusion.  To combat this, you might develop a system of subtle symbols — for the entire class, or even for use with individual students. For instance, if a student knows that placing a pencil on the upper-right-hand corner of her desk is her secret signal to you that she’s confused, she’ll be likely to take advantage of it!

What makes this awesome: Symbols are first on our list of formative assessment strategies because they’re so easy to implement, because they provide immediate information to the teacher, and because they come with a host of related benefits.  For example, the simple act of sharing whether a student understands the lesson requires that student to (1) reflect on the lesson, (2) formatively assess his or her own understandings, and (3) contribute to the classroom culture of learning, safety, and trust as they report out.  

What are the pitfalls: With great power comes great responsibility!  Whatever you do, don’t ignore your students’ requests for help — and never call a student out for voicing confusion.  Signals are almost entirely dependent on trust, and once that trust is broken, students won’t be nearly as likely to share their honest self-assessed levels of understanding with you.  Keep in mind that good formative assessment is ongoing, and is used to adjust instruction in real-time.


Formative Assessment Strategy #2: Quick-Writes

What it is: This section alone could contain upwards of a hundred differently named formative assessment examples — but, at their core, they would all be doing the same thing: asking students to briefly commit some idea to paper (or, to a screen).  We call these formative assessment strategies “quick-writes.” The idea here is that students will have to share their level of understanding in a manner that is visible to you — and writing is one of the fastest ways to get this done. (*Note that any of the formative assessment examples that follow can be translated into their audio and/or video-based counterparts with ease.  If you practice UDL, or if you’re designing your lesson with accessibility in mind, you might consider asking students to speak and/or record rather than write — but the same principles hold true. “Quick-writes” simply become “Quick-speaks.”)

Related Formative Assessment Examples:

  • Do Now / Warm Up.  I know, I know, this seems so straightforward that you’re wondering why it’s even on this list.  Here’s the thing. “Do Nows” and “Warm Ups” are not inherently formative assessments! By nature, a “Do Now” only requires that students engage with the assigned learning task “now” — typically at the start of the period.  The timing is optimal for a formative assessment, but it’s absolutely essential that the activity itself be formative in nature.  “Do Now: Take this unit test” is not a formative assessment. Conversely, “Do Now: In one sentence, summarize Gatsby’s motives in last night’s reading” fits the bill.
  • Exit slip.  The same ideas mentioned above (for “Do Now / Warm Up”) apply here.  What matters is not that the activity is called an “exit slip,” but rather, that students have the opportunity to showcase their learning to you.  Likewise, it’s incredibly important that you use the exit slips that students turn in to hone your instruction the following day. (This is the biggest pitfall associated with exit slips as formative assessments!  Because they’re turned in at the end of the period, the opportunity to impact instruction shifts from *immediate* to *tomorrow* or *next week*.)
  • Index card summary.  Index cards are a great way to quickly collect and review student responses.  As is the case with the aforementioned formative assessment strategies, the timing and the medium matter less than the questions and responses — but, if you’re looking for a protocol, index cards are a great way to go.  Similarly, you can implement a digital version of this using any number of digital tools that take formative assessment to an entirely new level. You can check out our list of digital formative assessment strategies here!
  • One-question-quiz.  That’s about as straightforward as it gets.  And, for the sake of stirring up your inspiration, let’s brainstorm a few more formative assessment examples that take a minute or less to commit to paper.  Sixty-second-pictionary! Explain what-matters-most! What’s the big idea? Sketch a quick Venn diagram! Jot down what confuses you! These are all nifty little formative assessment strategies that are easy to roll out, quick to review, and powerful to inform your instruction.

What makes this awesome: A growing body of research is showing that asking students to commit pen to paper comes with a variety of benefits, including better recall.  In formatively assessing students using quick-writes, you’re also helping them to build stronger, longer-lasting memories. What’s more, these quick check-ins are easy to implement, and require little to no preparation.  Hence why they’re great for implementation “on the fly” and continuously throughout any lesson.

What are the pitfalls: It’s important to keep your eye on the prize.  “Do Nows” and “Exit Slips” offer the allure of timing-based activities with cute-sounding names, but (#1) the actually stuff that students are writing matters most, and (#2) you must review the assessments and act on the results in order to truly harness the power of formative assessment.  Otherwise, a significant portion of the benefit is lost.


Formative Assessment Strategy #3: Reflection

What it is: Unlike “symbols,” which only take seconds, and “quick-writes,” which can take about a minute or two, reflections are typically longer assignments.  Reflections prompt students to take a closer look at what they’ve learned, and to showcase those understandings in writing. Additionally, reflections can prompt students to engage in a number of higher-level, meta-level, and social-emotional skills.  (Higher-level reflective prompts shift away from the “what” and toward the “how” and “why.” Meta-level ask students to consider what they’ve learned about the learning process, and what they’ve learned about themselves. SEL-related questions prompt students to reflect on how their work has impacted their own social-emotional wellness, how it has been influenced by their growth-mindset, and so on.)  The power of this formative assessment strategy is ultimately derived from the reflective question that is posed, but the activity itself can take many forms.

Related Formative Assessment Examples:

  • Journal Entries.  Students might be asked to maintain a reflective journal.  This is something students can keep in class and complete on paper (a marble notebook will do the trick).  Or, consider how a digital blog might accomplish the same ends — except, with the option to extend the writing process beyond the class period.  A variety of digital writing tools and blogging tools can make this process a piece of cake for your and your students — or, you might even consider shifting these reflective entries off of “the page” and into the multimedia realm (audio reflections, video reflections, etc.).  For more on that, check out our list of digital formative assessment strategies here!
  • One Pager.  If a regular journaling experience feels like more than you (or your students) have bargained for, consider implementing the “one-pager.”  This is literally the same process (engaging in a written reflection), only it’s assigned by the teacher in a targeted manner, rather than on a regular (daily/weekly) basis.  At the high school level, one typed, double-spaced page can be just right. For middle and elementary grades, just scale down as appropriate for your kiddos.
  • KWL.  The “KWL” chart is a popular graphic organizer that prompts students to indicate what they Know and what they Want to know prior to engaging in a learning task… and then, afterward, indicating what they’ve Learned.  This makes for an optimal formative assessment tool, as the information that students indicate prior to the learning task (in K and W) can be used to adjust the lesson accordingly — and, subsequently, what students indicate in L can drive instruction for the following day.  You might even consider making the L column a running-list that is updated throughout the course of the learning activity (ideal for longer tasks or labs) so as to continuously monitor students’ understandings.  Perfect for Google Docs!

What makes this awesome: Formative assessment aside, reflection is a powerful learning tool.  It provides learners an opportunity to consolidate their learning, to consider the learning process itself, and to take a good introspective look at themselves.  As a teacher, these kinds of reflective tasks can really enable you to peer into students’ minds. And, what’s more, students generally enjoy writing reflections.

What are the pitfalls: Be sure to clarify the ground rules for your students.  Should written reflections be just as formal as academic writing?  Should they be informal? Or, somewhere in between? How often will you read them?  Will you provide feedback on every single reflection? How on earth would you manage that?  Putting a system in place that clarifies the role of reflection for your students in a manner that gives you formative insight while allowing you to keep your sanity is a must.  Consider issuing a participation grade for completed reflections and adopting timely reading practices to ensure that reflections are actually used for formative practices.


Formative Assessment Strategy #4: Discussion

What it is: The fourth and final category on our list of formative assessment strategies is “discussion.”  This strategy entails any activity during which you prompt students to speak to each other. The key to making any kind of discussion task formative is to ensure you’re overhearing, considering, and acting on the quality of the conversations that are taking place.  At its core, formative assessment through discussion functions in exactly the same way as quick-writes — but, rather than extracting information through writing, you’re extracting it through discourse. It helps to listen carefully, to keep notes on a notepad, and even to utilize a rubric, depending on the discussion task.

Related Formative Assessment Examples:

  • Think-Pair-Share.  Tried and true!  The “Think-Pair-Share” technique can actually span multiple formative assessment strategies, because it first requires students to work independently (“Think”), which could take the form of a written reflection or a quick-write.  That’s already one great entry-point for you in terms of formatively assessing your students — but once students turn and talk with a partner (“Pair”), you’ll have a flurry of activity and an avalanche of formative assessment data to consider.  Pay careful attention to what you overhear, and be sure to adjust your instruction accordingly! The third stage, “Share,” prompts students to share their ideas with the whole class — which is a much slower, and potentially more intentional, version of the formative assessment practice that’s occurring during “Pair.”
  • Small Group Discussion.  Small group discussions are not limited to “Think-Pair-Shares,” and we could likely list a number of nifty sounding discussion protocols that ultimately accomplish this end via slightly nuanced implementations.  Students might be in pairs, in trios, or in quads. Students might have guiding questions handed to them by the teacher, or might be prompted to generate questions on their own. Groups might have specific roles and protocols, or they might simply be allotted a block of time to discuss.  In every scenario, the same fundamental formative assessment strategies and practices apply.
  • Large Group Discussion.  Although there is less activity (in a whole group setting, students will have far fewer chances to speak than when discussing in pairs or small groups), it’s easier for the teacher to listen to and assess student understanding in larger-group discussions.  Popular examples include Socratic circles, four-corner discussions, and discussion-ball style protocols.  (We LOVE Socratic Circles: Fostering Critical and Creative Thinking in Middle and High School — consider checking it out for some wonderful inspiration!)
  • Chalk-Talk.  “Chalk-Talk” is a discussion strategy that essentially prompts students to engage in a class discussion, but in a manner that (1) is entirely silent, and (2) occurs on the chalkboard.  This is a great practice of encouraging students to be more purposeful in their responses (this happens when students are asked to write, rather than to speak off-the-cuff) — and a byproduct of this strategy is that it’s much easier (for our purposes, as teachers) to track and assess student understanding.  This is a lovely avenue into formative assessment!
  • Chatroom.  Take the benefits associated with formative assessment that are gained from a Chalk-Talk, and consider how they transfer perfectly into a chatroom environment.  Use a chatroom to (1) create a back-channel during a class discussion, (2) assign a discussion for homework, or even (3) facilitate an entire “silent” class discussion.  The chat transcript will provide you with all of the insights you need to formatively assess your students.
  • Oral Questioning.  This is as old-school as it gets.  Think Socrates, in ancient Greece, grilling his students.  Well, as long as you’re being purposeful in your questioning, actually listening to students’ responses, and adjusting your instruction accordingly — this is formative assessment in its most essential form.

What makes this is this awesome: Discussion protocols can be integrated into any subject area, at any grade level, at just about any time.  They can be planned, or they can be implemented on the fly. They can be fun and welcome by students, as long as the stakes are appropriate.  And the research shows that discussions can be hugely effective in fostering critical thinking skills and in building more durable understandings of content and concepts.

What are the pitfalls: The first major pitfall of discussion-based formative assessment is the sheer quantity of data that’s missed.  In other words, when all of your students are talking in pairs, it’s impossible to assess every one of those conversations.  Circulating helps, and often times, that’s just to formatively assess all of your kiddos… but, other strategies (such as chalk-talks… and, such as recording discussions and/or generating transcripts of discussions) can also alleviate this concern.  The second major pitfall is associated with students who may be averse to speaking in front of their peers — students who would rather accept a “0” for a discussion grade than to speak up. In these instances, that “0” would almost always be an inaccurate reflection of that child’s true understanding, so it’s important for us to consider alternative avenues of formative assessment.  (Could this child be asked to complete a one-pager, or a written reflection, in place of the discussion?)

The Formative Assessment Strategies We Haven’t Discussed…

Of course, this isn’t intended to be an exhaustive list of formative assessment strategies — but rather, a smorgasbord of inspirational springboards to fuel and empower your practice!

If you’re looking to take a much deeper dive, we’ve developed an AWESOME online course that promises to bring you to the “cutting edge” with regard to student engagement and pedagogy.  Our course, Modern Mastery PD, hones in on student centered learning, the neuroscience of student engagement and motivation, gamification and game-based learning, gold standard educational technology integration, and more.  You can learn more here, or enter your email address below for more information and special offers!

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What is Formative Assessment?: The Only Formative Assessment Definition You’ll Ever Need

What Is Formative Assessment

What Is Formative Assessment?

If you’ve found yourself wondering, “What is formative assessment?” — well, rest assured, you are not alone.  Formative assessment is one of the most commonly used and research-backed strategies that we have in our teacher-toolkits, and whether or not you’ve inked a formative assessment definition on your bicep, it’s something you surely put into practice on a daily basis.

That said, I’ve been part of countless workshops and in-services during which I’ve heard one colleague quietly mutter to another, “What is formative assessment, anyway?”  Whether it’s coming from a veteran teacher who’s unfamiliar with the language, or a new teacher who’s still building their repertoire, this deserves a fair and straightforward answer.  

So, fear not.  You’ve just met the formative assessment definition of your dreams.


Formative Assessment Definition

We’re going to answer the question, “What is formative assessment?” in a comprehensive and strategic way here.  What follows is a series of formative assessment definitions drawn from a variety of credible sources. Let’s take a look:


Formative Assessment Definition #1.  Source: Wikipedia.

Formative assessment refers to a range of formal and informal assessment procedures conducted by teachers during the learning process in order to modify teaching and learning activities to improve student attainment. It typically involves qualitative feedback (rather than scores) for both student and teacher that focuses on the details of content and performance.  It is commonly contrasted with summative assessment, which seeks to monitor educational outcomes, often for purposes of external accountability.


Formative Assessment Definition #2.  Source: Connie M. Moss and Susan M. Brookhart’s Advancing Formative Assessment in Every Classroom: A Guide for Instructional Leaders

“Formative assessment is an active and intentional learning process that partners the teacher and the students to continuously and systematically gather evidence of learning with the express goal of improving student achievement. Intentional learning refers to cognitive processes that have learning as a goal rather than an incidental outcome (Bereiter & Scardamalia, 1989). Teachers and their students actively and intentionally engage in the formative assessment process when they work together to do the following (Brookhart, 2006):


  • Focus on learning goals.
  • Take stock of where current work is in relation to the goal.
  • Take action to move closer to the goal.


The primary purpose of formative assessment is to improve learning, not merely to grade or audit it. It is assessment for learning rather than assessment of learning. Formative assessment is both an “instructional tool” that teachers and their students “use while learning is occurring” and “an accountability tool to determine if learning has occurred” (National Education Association, 2003, p. 3). In other words, to be “formative,” assessments must inform the decisions that teachers and their students make minute by minute in the classroom.”


Formative Assessment Definition #3.  Source: The Council of Chief State School officers (CCSSO)

Formative assessment is a process used by teachers and students during instruction that provides feedback to adjust ongoing teaching and learning to improve students’ achievement of intended instructional outcomes.


  • Formative assessment is a process, not any particular test.
  • It is used not just by teachers but by both teachers and students.
  • Formative assessment takes place during instruction.
  • It provides assessment-based feedback to teachers and students.
  • The function of this feedback is to help teachers and students make adjustments that will improve students’ achievement of intended curricular aims.



What Is Formative AssessmentSo, What Is Formative Assessment?  And, What Isn’t It?

In short, formative assessment is every purposeful exchange between teacher and student that checks for understanding, and that is used to adjust and enhance learning.

That said, let’s tackle some popular misconceptions to deepen our understanding:


Can an assessment be summative and formative?  (Unit tests? Final exams?  Standardized tests?)

Yes, this is possible.  Summative and formative assessments are often described as being mutually exclusive and different entities — as if any assessment must one or the other, black or white.  The truth is, in practice, there are many shades of gray.

An end-of-chapter test that is administered on Monday, but reviewed in class on Tuesday, and used to determine the course of instruction based on students’ needs on Wednesday, makes good on what formative assessment is all about.  The stakes don’t necessarily have to be lower — although they can be, and often are. (This makes sense, considering that formative assessment is generally happening continuously, from bell to bell, as opposed to unit tests, which happen far less frequently.)  

Even major standardized tests have made an effort to incorporate some of perks of formative assessment into their design — such as faster access to feedback with the hopes of impacting instruction.  In this context, it can be helpful to think of formative assessment as a spectrum, rather than as a binary qualification.


If I grade it, it isn’t formative anymore?

Whether or not an assessment is graded has nothing to do with whether or not it’s formative or summative.  If you don’t grade a final exam, and it’s never revisited, it still isn’t formative. Likewise, if you formatively assess students’ understandings of linear equations to inform your instruction — and suddenly, you translate their work into grades in your gradebook — well, it’s still a formative assessment.  Entering grades, on the other hand, becomes a matter of professional practice, classroom environment, and fostering a culture that values safety, wellness, and learning… but that’s another conversation entirely.


My reading quizzes are formative assessments, right?

Only if you’re using them to inform instruction!  Do you review the quizzes as soon as they’re turned in, and, more importantly, do you make decisions to adjust your instruction as a result?  If you simply review the quizzes and suspect that students didn’t complete the assigned reading, but then put students in the same random groups to have the same exact discussion they would have had otherwise, the quizzes weren’t formative.  It’s essential that the assessment helps to inform your instruction in some way.


Is this for teachers only?  Can students formatively assess themselves?

That’s the real beauty of formative assessment!  Formative assessment doesn’t just help to empower you, as a teacher, in real-time (which is incredibly powerful, by the way).  Rather, the feedback that your students receive regarding these assessments is paramount to help them come to terms with their own current understandings, and their own needs as learners.


How important is feedback?

Feedback isn’t just “important.”  It’s capital, bold, underlined IMPORTANT.  It’s part of what makes formative assessment so powerful.  But, in order for feedback to have the tremendous impact that it’s capable of, it must be timely and relevant.  

Returning essays a month later?  Not going to improve learning. Instead, consider engaging students in partnered peer writing review for multiple feedback cycles per period.  


What is Formative Assessment: Considering the Neuroscience

Aside from simply staking out a comprehensive formative assessment definition, it may be especially enlightening for us to consider the neuroscientific underpinnings of formative assessment.  After all, the question, “What is formative assessment?” is almost always followed by, “Well, what’s the big deal? Why does this matter?”

In a nutshell, recent neuroscientific research has shown that one of the most effective strategies for building stronger neural connections (i.e. longer-lasting learning) is test-taking.  Now, that isn’t to say that all students should be taking tests day-in and day-out. This research isn’t about battering students with more standardized tests than they’re already subjected to.  Rather, it speaks to the positive impact of self-testing prior to test-day, of being hyper-focused on the exam once test-day rolls around, and of being highly sensitive to what you already know and already don’t when faced with the content on an exam.  This is a universal feeling that we’ve all experienced on a test at one point or another — or, more likely, on every test we’ve ever taken. And that feeling, well, that’s what learning feels like.

So from a neuroscientific perspective, formative assessment can offer students the benefits associated with “testing,” but in an environment with much lower stakes.  This, too, is wonderful for a number of neuroscientifically supported reasons — including increased access to the memory centers of the brain, and activating prior knowledge to strengthen memory.

If you’re hungry for more research or evidence regarding formative assessment, consider that it’s among the most impactful factors of student achievement as measured by John Hattie’s meta-analysis of instructional strategies, and popularized in his work, “Visible Learning.”  Research consistently shows that formative assessment has tremendous power.


What Is Formative Assessment: Strategies & Examples

Now that we have a working formative assessment definition, and now that we’ve unpacked some of the reasons why formative assessment is so critical to high quality teaching and learning, the time has come to discuss strategies and examples.  We’ve put the following resources together for this very reason:

If you’re looking to take a much deeper dive, we’ve developed an AWESOME online course that promises to bring you to the “cutting edge” with regard to student engagement and pedagogy.  Our course, Modern Mastery PD, hones in on student centered learning, the neuroscience of student engagement and motivation, gamification and game-based learning, gold standard educational technology integration, and more.  You can learn more here, or enter your email address below for more information and special offers!