How can you move learning forward using formative assessment strategies in your classroom?
What are Formative Assessment Strategies?
Formative assessment is an ongoing process used by teachers and students for teaching and learning; to improve student understanding of planned disciplinary learning outcomes and help students to become self-directed learners. The main purpose of formative assessment is to monitor the process of learning and to provide ongoing feedback that can help learners to improve their learning and help instructors to improve their instructions. More precisely, formative assessments:
- help learners recognise their weaknesses and strengths and work on areas that need improvement;
- help instructors identify where learners are struggling and dealing with the problems.
Hattie (2009) conducted a meta-analysis of over 800 studies investigating factors that influence student attainment and found feedback to be the most influential factor. This finding has often been wrongly used to justify teachers needing to spend more time marking. However, this is just one of three forms of feedback that Hattie was referring to. He also considered the impact of feedback from students to teachers and from one student to another.
Feedback is evidently an important part of learning. This article provides an overview of Dylan Wiliam’s secrets to effective feedback (Wiliam, 2016).
Feedback is only successful if students use it to improve their performance and we cannot take it for granted that feedback of any type will achieve this. Research has shown that it is possible for feedback to be detrimental to learning when compared to students receiving no feedback at all. To avoid this situation, Wiliam (2016) shares the following advice.
In most cases, unlike summative assessments, formative assessments in schools are low stakes, having low or no point value; however, these ungraded assessments are considered to be highly valuable to help students enhance their performance and to help teachers identify what students understood, and what they didn't. Often, the purpose of feedback is to enable a student to achieve something in the future that they are currently not able to achieve. In this case, feedback should focus on improving the student rather than the piece of work.
Sometimes, the purpose of the feedback may be to inform the teacher about what their class knows and to influence their lesson planning. In this case, notes in the teacher’s planner may be more appropriate than notes on every individual piece of work. The time spent marking work and giving feedback can be much more productive if you consider the purpose of the feedback before you decide the best approach to take.
Examples of Formative Assessment Strategies
Use students’ work to understand where they are starting from and give them feedback that they can use from this starting point. The effectiveness of feedback will be limited by the task that has been set; if it is cleverly designed to illuminate students’ understanding, the feedback that can be given will be more effective and more accessible for the student. Formative assessment strategies help teachers determine if more instruction is needed. Using formative assessments in the classroom prevents both teachers and students from getting any surprises in the form of poor final grades. Some of the most significant formative assessment strategies are:
1. Analysis of Students Work
Students' homework, quizzes and standardised tests can be used as evidence of student learning. When teachers carry out the analysis of student performance they get knowledge about:
A student's current level of skills, attitude and knowledge about the subject matter;
A student's strengths and weaknesses;
A student's need for special assistance; and
How to modify their teaching methods and make their teaching more effective in the future.
2. Strategic Questioning Strategies
Strategic questioning methods can be used with the students as daily classroom practice. The main aim of questioning is the academic progress of students. Effective formative assessment practices involve asking learners to answer higher-order questions such as “how” and “why.”
It is one of the simplest formative assessment strategies. As a classroom practice, the teacher asks a question, and students write down their responses. Then students sit in pairs to engage in effective classroom discussions about their answers. The teacher moves around the classroom and gains insight into the student learning process by listening to students' responses. Then, the students share their answers with the whole class.
4. Admit/ Exit Tickets
An Admit / Exit Ticket provides a simple but useful formative assessment type. An Exit Ticket is a small index card or piece of paper, on which they provide an accurate interpretation of the current topic taught in the class, and then they discuss more of the topic. The learners deposit their exit slips when leaving the classroom. Admit Tickets are used as the students enter in the class. They are used to check student learning by answering questions about the homework or what was taught the day before.
5. One-Minute Papers
One-minute papers are mostly carried out before the day ends. They provide an opportunity for students to answer a brief question. Then, these papers are collected and assessed by the teacher to gain insight into the student learning process. One-minute papers provide the formative assessment practices that are found to be more beneficial when done on a regular basis.
Dylan Wiliam's Formative Assessment Strategies
According to a well-known British educationalist and Emeritus Professor of Educational Assessment at the University College London, Dylan Wiliam, 'formative assessment' defines all the processes by which learners and teachers use information about the achievement of students to make changes in the students learning that enhance their achievement. Some of the great formative assessment strategies proposed by Dylan Wiliam are:
1. Clarifying, understanding, and sharing learning intentions
Research suggests that the teachers need to:
- Describe learning intentions at the beginning of the lesson.
- Provide success criteria and learning intentions in the simple language.
- Use keywords on posters to explain, describe, discuss and evaluate learning.
- Use writing frames and lesson plans judiciously.
- Use annotated examples of various standards to “flesh out” rubrics for the chapter tests.
- Give opportunities to the students to construct their interim tests.
2. Engineering effective classroom discussions, tasks and activities that elicit evidence of learning
It means that the questioning in the classroom must encourage the process of thinking and provide evidence to inform teaching. Teachers can improve the process of questioning through:
- Attending specialised training for educators and generating questions with their colleagues;
- Thinking low-order vs. high-order, not open vs. closed;
- Giving sufficient wait time to the students.
Teachers need to discourage the I-R-E (initiation-response-evaluation) by:
- Regularly using student response techniques through mini whiteboards, ABCD cards, and exit passes.
- applying the 'no hands up' rule (except to ask a question).
Providing feedback that moves learners forward
Dylan Wiliam gave practical advice to educators that their feedbacks are said to be successful only if they improve students’ learning process. Then, it depends upon students' capacity to understand and accept the feedbacks and show a willingness to act on them. Successful feedback has a motivational and interpersonal element. Effective feedback suggests actions learners can apply rather than providing a negative retrospective critique.
A common goal of feedback must be to improve the students’ capacity to create high quality work, not just to improve their task. This characteristic of formative assessments connects it to self-regulation and metacognition and Rosenshine’s concepts about switching from guided practice to independent practice. Successful learners possess the ability to link their task with the success criteria and create their regular self-improvement feedback narrative.
Provide feedback in the form of a task to ensure that students actively engage with the feedback they have been given. For example, give students just enough information about an error they have made so that they can identify it for themselves (e.g. ‘one of the causes you identified is incorrect’, or ‘there are three incorrect answers’). Students should spend at least as much time responding to feedback as the teacher has spent providing it; making feedback into detective work can ensure students take time to reflect on their original piece of work.
Activating students as learning resources for one another
This is an important formative assessment strategy proposed by Wiliam. According to Wiliam's advice for teachers, the frequency, quality and ratio, of student interactions with the knowledge in hand can significantly increase if teachers create strong routines in which students help other students to learn in a serious structured way. It is not easy for the teachers to engage in conversations on the performance of students in each class but students can be engaged in meaningful conversations with one another to support the process of learning.
At this stage of formative assessment activities ‘think pair share‘ becomes very strong. A high volume of peer feedback and peer-to-peer interactivity is found to be very useful if teachers apply a strong process to evaluate students’ responses for quality and accuracy. There are so many ways of activating students as learning resources for one another. Some of these ways are:
- learners checking answers of their partner,
- learners using the structured dialogues for rehearsing explanations and arguments and practising the use of language.
- Students' pairs verify the work of their partner using a factsheet, mark schemas and exemplars as reference.
Activating students as owners of their learning
Owning one's is an important part of metacognition and strong self-regulation. Like any other developmental process, these traits of effective learning can be nurtured in students by creating expectations and good routines. Teachers can play a crucial role in making students understand where they are on the curriculum planning and where they want to be. Teachers can do this by:
- providing students with access to the plan of instruction, syllabus and long-term topic plans before teaching them the details;
- setting milestones to check pupil progress. By doing so, teachers enable students to plan their next steps and make them increasingly independent.
- demonstrating performance exemplars at different levels of success up to a high level so learners can compare their levels and move forward to achieve their learning targets.
- setting clear relational models for building conceptual schema.
If a student understands for himself what he must do to improve himself and knows that he can achieve success by applying effort to his self-determined objectives, then he can gain confidence that brings him even more success. Dedicating time to equip students with the skills of self-assessment is likely to be more productive in the longer term, save teachers’ time, and improve students’ ability to reflect and learn independently.
The skill of self-assessment can be scaffolded: starting with feedback on anonymous work, then peers’ work, and then the student’s own work. The type of feedback required will depend on the subject, the task, and the purpose of the feedback.
Adapting Formative Assessment Strategies for different abilities
Adapting formative assessment strategies for different abilities is essential in creating an inclusive classroom learning environment that caters to the diverse needs of all students.
By considering the varying levels of skills and attainment levels among students, teachers can design assessments that not only evaluate student progress but also encourage effective classroom discussions and foster higher-order thinking skills.
One approach to adapting formative assessment strategies is to incorporate thinking blocks or tiered activities that challenge students at their individual skill levels while still addressing the same learning objectives.
These activities can be designed to gradually increase in complexity, allowing students with varying abilities to actively participate in the learning process.
Establishing a dialogue between teachers and students is another crucial aspect of adapting formative assessment strategies. By engaging in open communication with students, teachers can better understand their individual needs, address any misconceptions, and provide targeted feedback. This can also help alleviate teacher workload by focusing on the areas where students require the most support.
In conclusion, adapting formative assessment strategies for different abilities is vital in creating an inclusive and engaging learning environment.
By carefully designing assessments that cater to varying skill levels, fostering open communication, and providing targeted feedback, teachers can ensure that all students have the opportunity to succeed and develop essential higher-order thinking skills.
Embedding formative assessment tools
Many of the schools that we work with have been utilising the mental modelling technique to find out what pupils know. The block structures allow children to dig deeper into the curriculum and figure out how all the parts fit together. As they build, they articulate their understanding to one another.
This opens up opportunities for responsive teaching. The block structures reflect what the students think which means that we now have access to their mental models. Teaching staff can use these block structures for higher-order questions.
Using big picture questions, educators can use the models as a launchpad for deeper thinking. Unlike standardised tests, the mental models are malleable and change as the students understanding progresses. Embedding these opportunities into curriculum design means that educators always get the inside picture of what a pupil really knows.
Instructors can use these insights to provide detailed, actionable feedback when the learner needs it most. The added benefit of this pedagogy is that it promotes rich classroom dialogue which over time, builds a positive classroom environment.
Further Reading on Formative Assessment
Here are five key research papers focusing on the efficacy of formative assessment in classroom practice. These papers provide insights into the efficacy of formative assessment in enhancing student understanding, feedback mechanisms, and learning outcomes in diverse educational contexts.
1. Review of Formative Assessment Practices: Primary Evidence on Relationship with Self-efficacy and Self-esteem by Li-na Yan, Charanjit Kaur Swaran Singh (2022)
Summary: This paper shows that increasing variation in formative assessment can reduce variation in students' achievement, promoting self-esteem and self-efficacy, highlighting the impact on student understanding and feedback from students.
2. Using reflective practice to incorporate formative assessment in a middle school science classroom: a participatory action research study by Amy E. Trauth-Nare, Gayle A. Buck (2011)
Summary: Incorporating formative assessment through reflective practice in middle school science teaching led to curricular enhancements supporting students' learning needs, emphasizing open-ended questions and detailed feedback.
3. The Impact of Systematic Implementation of Formative Assessment (Fa) on Efl Learners' Affect by Amir Asadifard, A. Afghari (2016)
Summary: This study demonstrates that formative assessment, or assessment for learning, improves students' mastery of subject matter and enhances performance on tests, focusing on formative feedback and verbal feedback.
4. Using Learning and Motivation Theories to Coherently Link Formative Assessment, Grading Practices, and Large‐Scale Assessment by L. Shepard, W. Penuel, J. Pellegrino (2018)
Summary: This paper discusses how formative assessment based on discipline-specific tasks can provide qualitative insights about student experience and thinking, supporting equitable teaching practices and feedback loops.
5. Formative Assessment: Improving Learning in Secondary Classrooms by Mehmet Aydeniz (2009)
Summary: The research indicates that formative assessment in classrooms enables teachers to adjust teaching to meet individual student needs, helping all students reach high standards and enhancing the learning journey.