As our site explores the many different types of assessment, it’s important to understand that while some are assessments of learning – interim and summative assessments, for example – formative assessment is assessment for learning.
Formative assessment supports learning by allowing the teacher and student to gather evidence of their learning progress so that together they can adapt instruction moment-to-moment and day-by-day. While there are many different techniques and tools available to support formative assessment, the process itself does not need to be complex or difficult; in fact, it can be simple. The key is finding a few strategies that work best for the teacher and students. Every teacher is different, as is every classroom of students, and thus some techniques work better than others, but all of them are simple. And today, it’s even easier to implement some of these formative assessment techniques because there are digital tools (tablet or phone apps) and online websites and resources to help you.
If you’re looking to start using formative assessment in your classroom, by all means do your homework (pun intended) as there are many options to choose from. One of the most common strategies that most teachers use in some capacity is called the exit ticket. The exit ticket is simply a question that is posed to all students prior to class ending. Students write their answer on a card or piece of paper and hand it in as they exit. This formative assessment strategy engages all students and provides the all-important evidence of student learning for the teacher.
Still not convinced that formative assessment is valuable? Here’s some research to ponder.
Informal and formal methods of collecting evidence of student understanding have been shown to enable teachers to make positive instructional changes. In 1989, Thomas Carpenter, Department of Curriculum & Instruction at the University of Wisconsin’s School of Education, and some fellow researchers examined one informal method by randomly assigning 20 first-grade teachers to participate in a month-long workshop. During this workshop, teachers focused on posing problems, questioning students regarding their problem-solving strategies, and listening to those strategies. (Using knowledge of children’s mathematics thinking in classroom teaching: An experimental study. American Educational Research Journal, 26(4), 499–531.)
When compared to teachers in the control groups, these teachers had a better understanding of their students’ abilities and were better able to predict performance. In addition, students in these classes outperformed their peers on a mathematics achievement test. The researchers hypothesized that the teachers’ ability to understand the processes that students were using may have helped them to adapt instruction and try different activities, resulting in higher achievement.
There’s certainly more research to support the use of formative assessment; the bottom line is that it works. Find a technique that suits your style of teaching, and try it out. You can adapt it for your classroom or for the age of your students. Assessment for learning is powerful, and understanding how it can fit into your classroom can make a big impact on student learning.