Formative Assessment

Tips for teachers on student learning WHILE they are learning

Formative Assessment

What is it?

Formative assessment is about easy and effective strategies to find out what students know, how they’re learning, and how they have learned.  Formative assessment is a diagnostic, not a final result. Students benefit by identifying challenges and seeing clearly how they are doing, instead of waiting for the test to find out. 

Teachers use formative assessment to help students fill in the gaps.  And MOST formative assessments make life easier for teachers!

Ten Tips for Teachers

  • The Instructor asks a question
  • Students write down answers
  • Students work in pairs to discuss their answers
  • Teachers can move around the classroom and listen to discussions
Private Questions

For a topic, try distributing index cards and asking your students to write on both sides.  On one side of the card, they can write a question:  “How do I?…”  It is true that they may not know what they may not know or what they feel especially confident about.  Either way,  you can rephrase the question to get closer to asking students about what they’re struggling with or mastered without embarrassing anyone.  On the other side of the card, you might ask the students to write down their answer to a particular question, just to check.

What’s the purpose?  Here, you can find out what the students know (or think they know) about their learning, and also gather the evidence!  To explain:  A student may think she or he understands a concept, but when you ask the question about an answer, s/he may get it wrong.  In this way, you can measure a student’s progress.  If this is happening a lot, you can reteach the lesson or use other techniques to approach the stumbling blocks. After a while, you can watch your students grow!

Red or Green?

Students are given two cards, one with a red circle and the other with a green circle.  As they are following along with you and trying to understand the lesson, you can walk by each student’s desk and the student can show you (privately) the card.  A student may want to show you a red circle card if s/he needs more information, or clarification, or simply does not understand. This is more effective than raising hands.

Build it to Learn it!

Ask students to build/create something that requires that they apply what they have learned. Observe and take notes as they approach the tasks.  Ask questions non-judgmentally.

Just Three Things

Ask students to list three things that a fellow student might misunderstand about the topic. The students can then list what they, personally, do not know (to save embarrassment about their own misunderstanding),  so the teacher can get a sense of how the entire class is doing.

Hand Signals

Ask students to display a designated hand signal to indicate their understanding of a specific concept, principal, or process, like:  I understand________and can explain it (thumbs up); I do not yet understand (thumbs down); I’m not completely sure about (wavy hand).

Exit Ticket

The exit ticket is a question that can be posed to all students prior to the start of a lesson class ending. Students write their answer on a card or piece of paper and hand it in as they exit (hence exit pass). This formative assessment technique engages all students and provides the all-important evidence of student learning for the teacher. Teachers can get a sense about how the class is doing at any moment

Group to Teach

Have students work in stations and rotate through the stations.  Give each group a supervised activity that they need to learn and then teach another group.  Watch the involvement of individuals in groups. Take notes. Ask for the group to make a small presentation to you, then another group.

Pass the Chart
  • Group students into 4 or 5
  • Give each group a chart and markers
  • Ask an open-ended question:  “Why is the sky blue?”
  • The group shares their knowledge and pass it to the next group
  • Once everyone has worked on the chart, responses are discussed as a class

Students consider what they have learned by responding to the following prompt at the end of the lesson: 3) things they learned from your lesson; 2) things they want to know more about; and 1) questions they have. The prompt stimulates student reflection on the lesson and helps to process the learning.

Do you have idea for formative assessment that you would like to share?

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