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    The Essential Formative Assessment Tip Guide for Teachers

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    The Essential Formative Assessment Tip Guide for Teachers

    Our students are all one-of-a-kind. They need unique assessment processes that are relevant to instruction in the modern digital age. For the diverse and creative bunch of kids in our classrooms today, formative assessment fits the bill like no other.

    With that in mind, here's the only formative assessment tip guide you need as a teacher. In this post you'll get indispensable formative assessment tips to help you make the most of it in any classroom.

    All the information you'll find here goes hand in hand with our bestselling book Mindful Assessment. Formative assessment is powerful and revealing, leading to self-discovery and fostering transformational lifelong learning.

    Why Do We Assess, Anyways?

    Teachers do nothing without purpose. That purpose is primarily to help their students experience the most relevant and useful learning possible. According to author and educator Andrew Churches, we assess our students for these five fundamental reasons:

    • Measuring our students' progress
    • Aiding them in their learning
    • Tracking their learning
    • Pinpointing their weaknesses
    • Measuring our own performance as educators

    Formative assessment is assessment as learning, as opposed to being assessment of learning. It's about looking backward and forward, as well as feeding back and forward as learning happens. It considers where our students are and where they want to be, and helps them get there.

    Ultimately, formative assessment shapes both the direction and the development of a learner.

    Types of Assessment

    The following chart appears in our book Mindful Assessment. It provides a brief snapshot of the assessments that are most common in education along with their objectives.

    types-of-assessment Source: Mindful Assessment (2016): Adapted from Holmes-Smith, 2005; Stevenson, 2007.

    There are some unique characteristics that define truly effective formative assessment. Let's have a look at them below.

    1. It's Intuitive

    When using formative assessment to connect with students, we must make the information we give them quick and easy to understand. Students have busy minds just like teachers do, so it helps if our assessments are easily digestible while still being meaningful. In addition, it should be able to connect with them on a level they can relate to.

    Formative assessment is assessment as learning. It's about looking backward and forward, as well as feeding back and forward.

    2. It's Metacognitive

    Each assessment we give students must be aimed towards helping them gain awareness and understanding of their own thought processes. This means naturally developing their inherent independent thinking skills. If they are able to answer the following questions, you're on the right track with formative assessment:

    • What did we do in class?
    • Why did we do it?
    • What did I learn today?
    • How can I apply it?
    • What questions do I have about it?

    Another useful framework to consider is used by Australian educators in their own formative assessment. Part of their focus is placed on enabling students to respond to these 3 key questions:

    • What can I do?
    • What can’t I do?
    • How can I do better?

    3. It's Goal-Oriented

    Be sure to choose assessments that are appropriate for both the content you're teaching and the skills you are measuring. In addition, make sure that every question is tied to an essential learning objective.

    4. It's Aligned with HOTS

    Our formative assessment tip guide includes a focus on HOTS (higher-order thinking skills). For example, examinations can certainly measure a students' literacy and fluency with writing. Unfortunately, many examinations we give still only test lower-order thinking skills such as memorization and comprehension.

    Formative assessment should always include these skills with higher thinking skills like analysis, evaluation, and creation.


    5. It Has Transparency

    What makes formative assessment so special is that it's built on trust. Part of this trust is actually including our students in the assessment process, rather than assessing from a distance as we have done traditionally. Both teacher and student share the learning journey and the objectives.

    Transparency is an unspoken pact between teacher and student. We are essentially entering into a learning partnership with every student we teach. The partnerships that succeed are the partnerships that share.

    It is crucial that our students know what they are being assessed on and what the expected learning outcomes and goals are. How can we simply hand back an assignment with a pass or fail without explaining what these grades actually mean, and more importantly, suggesting how they can be improved?

    Our students can benefit from becoming directly involved in the assessments that we design for them. It connects them with a deeper sense of their progress and a higher purpose for learning. This is because giving students a chance to have input in their own assessment cultivates ownership of learning.

    Feedback in Formative Assessment

    Feedback is an essential element in our formative assessment tip guide. Great feedback can push our students to excel in ways they didn't know they could. There are some guidelines here for giving proper feedback during formative assessments of any kind. Employ these and you can't go wrong.

    • Timely—Providing feedback at the end of the task is far too late. We must give it often and in detail during learning for it to be effective.
    • Appropriate and reflective—The feedback we give our students should reflect their abilities, maturity, and age. Also, they must be able to fully understand it in their own way.
    • Honest and supportive—Getting feedback doesn't need to be devastating to our students. As teachers, our responsibility is to nurture and shape our learners for future successes. The goal is to always give feedback that's honest and supportive. It's the kind of feedback that will make the student want to continue.
    • Focused on learning—Any feedback we give must always be linked to the purpose of the task. Otherwise, it's just praise or criticism without purpose. Not that there's anything wrong with either. It's just that beyond being constructive, they need to be both actionable and tied to the specific learning objectives students are reaching for.
    • Enabling—Getting feedback and not having the opportunity to act on it is limiting, counter-productive, and downright frustrating. Students must have the opportunities to utilize what the feedback we give is meant to teach them. Remember, feedback isn't just a teacher's domain; students can also thrive on constructive feedback from their peers.

    What makes formative assessment so special is that it's built on trust, part of which is including our students in the assessment process.

    Another Knowledgeable Model

    You might also benefit from a look at Dr. Jodie Nyquist's feedback model for higher education (2003), a summary of which appears below. Even though it's for higher ed, it matches quite well with every educational level.

    1. Knowledge of Results (KoR)

    This is the weakest form of feedback in which students are simply made aware of their result. It gives them no idea of how to improve on it, or where they went wrong. For example, with final examinations, a student receives a grade but has no opportunity or background to use it as a springboard for further learning and development.

    2. Knowledge of Correct Results (KCR)

    Now the learner can compare their answers and the correct ones. That said, there is still no explanation of why their answers are right or wrong, and no chance to improve their performance. Simply reading out the correct answers isn't really helpful, but it's a step up from just giving the student a grade and leaving it at that.

    3. Knowledge of Correct Results and Explanation

    Now we're getting somewhere. If a teacher provides an explanation of the difference between a student's results and the correct answers, this is the start of much more powerful feedback. The learner can begin to understand and clarify the differences between what they achieved and what the expectations were.

    4. KCR + e and Specific Actions to Reduce the Gap

    This next stage is even more actionable than the last. The student knows their results and the correct answer. They received an explanation of the differences between the two. Best of all, we've now given them ideas for specific actions that they can take to improve their performance.

    5. KCR+e and Activity

    The student is provided with KCR+e, specific steps that reduce the gap, and an activity that reinforces the processes, skills, concepts, or learning. Because of this, the student and teacher grow together—job well done.

    Editor's note: This post was originally published in 2019 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.

    Originally published Nov 19, 2019, updated September 21, 2021

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