Formative assessment is an assessment form that promotes learning, and is therefore often called "assessment for learning". This form of assessment has learning as its purpose, and this distinguishes it from other forms of assessment whose purpose is to judge or rank achievements.
Practical tips for implementing formative assessment
It is important to view formative assessment as an integral part of the teaching and learning process.
The examples of assessment forms mentioned below can all potentially promote student learning because they increase student activity, interaction and reflection.
Students must apply, analyze, evaluate, create and reflect as part of the learning process.
In addition, they will evaluate the work of others and make available their own work to receive constructive criticism and perspectives.
Tips for planning formative assessment
1) Ask yourself the following questions:
- When during the course can it be useful for students to work on assignments they will receive feedback on?
- How much time can I invest into giving feedback during the semester? In case of very limited time, is it an option to use peers or student assistants to provide more feedback?
- What feedback forms are most accessible and useful for students, e.g. individual or in groups, written teacher comments, peer feedback, video feedback, automatically through multiple choice tasks?
- Who has enough expertise to give good feedback on a specific task? When and to what purpose may peers or others give feedback?
- Is the connection clear between the tasks the students are to work on (and get feedback on) and the exam?
2) Make sure that students see how feedback on one task will help them do better in the next (e.g. by using iterative or repeating tasks)
- Iterative task example: Students write one research report that is based on several sub-tasks that build on each other and become increasingly complex (feedback in between sub-tasks helps students develop their work further)
- Repeating task example: Students write three assignments that cover different topics, but follow the same format (feedback in between helps students become better in doing the same kind of work)
3) Make expectations clear: mention explicitly in your course description or first class meeting what role formative assessment and feedback will play in your course and what you expect of your students.
Examples of different formative assessment strategies
1) Peer assessment
Peer assessment is a learning activity where students give feedback on other students' work, with the intention of helping each other learn more or bring about a better end product. In some cases, peer assessment may replace the teacher's assessment, but it is recommended that both elements be included.
Examples of peer assessment:
- Peer interviews: The purpose here is to talk through evolving ideas, rather than commenting directly on each others’ texts. Students are paired up and ask each other a fixed set of questions about their work in progress. To document their work, they need to submit a brief report where they summarize what they discussed in their meeting.
- Response-centered reviews: this shows students the variety of responses a text can evoke, rather than on providing concrete advice. Students work in groups of at least three. They exchange drafts on Canvas and fill in a form with three columns (+, -, ?) that specify parts of the draft that worked well for the reader, parts that did not work so well and places that opened up questions. In a follow-up online meeting students talk through the forms.
- Advice-centered reviews: Through this, students can improve each other’s drafts. Students work in pairs, where one pair provides a jointly written review on the two drafts of another pair. Ask students to comment on at least two aspects that are strong, two aspects that need improvement and two specific suggestions on what to change in the draft. Introduce the assessment criteria of the course (called ‘rubric’) and ask students to relate their advice to these criteria. Students may write the reviews during class time or as homework.
It is not a given that students immediately will understand how to give feedback to each other. Therefore, they need clear assessment criteria and instruction so that their feedback is constructive.
Self-assessment is when the student assesses his or her own work. Self-assessment can be used both at the beginning of a semester to bring about students' pre-understanding; clarify expectations and build trust between teacher and student; and throughout the course of study to make the student more aware of what and how he or she is learning.
If such self-assessment is shared with fellow students and/or teachers, they can be a useful starting point for further learning.
Examples of self-assessment
- Include self-assessment questions during live teaching sessions which ask students to assess their own understanding of core concepts. Give students time to write their answers down and let them discuss their answers in groups (e.g. breakout rooms).
- An example instruction to students: “After this session, how would I define the concept XY? Paste your definition in the chat and compare with your peers. Discuss what you agree and disagree on and write down a shared definition.”
3) Analysis of exemplars
‘Exemplars’ are previous assignments that students analyze to understand assessment criteria. Ideally, provide exemplars of different quality level/grades in order to make it easier for students to see the nuances in the assessment criteria.
Example of an online ‘exemplar analyzing exercise’
- Students are assigned 1-2 exemplars (previously given assignments). Students will then individually analyze strengths and weaknesses based on a set of assessment criteria.
- The students write a short summary and upload this text to Canvas.
- Once the students have uploaded the text, the teacher uploads a video (sharing screen with exemplar) where the teacher reviews and explains their assessments of the task step by step.
- In this way, the student gains a clear understanding of the assessment criteria, and can use these later.
4) Teaching evaluation
Formative assessment is also useful for supporting the teacher's own learning processes, for example by providing the teacher with feedback on whether the teaching is working as intended. The feedback is used to adjust teaching along the way.
Examples of how students can evaluate your teaching
- A simple poll with, for example, Mentimeter when you start, during, or after the lesson. Have the students understood what they were supposed to?
- Pose questions to the students about specific aspects of your teaching.
- A response group with a selection of students who gather online once or twice a semester to provide feedback on teaching, such as structure and content, learning outcomes related to specific learning activities and / or resources.
- "What is most unclear?" (The muddiest point): The teacher asks the students individually or paired with a fellow student to write down and submit information about something in the subject they find unclear.
Tips for giving feedback
- Feedback comments should be relevant for future learning. Do not just tell students what they have done right or wrong, but focus on how they may do this (even) better next time. Include a combination of two following two types of comments:
- Feedback that informs students how to improve a task (e.g. “Adding information on XY here would strengthen your argument”).
- Feedback that helps students learn to improve the task on their own (e.g. “You have used a good structure in the opening paragraph. Try to find a way to apply a similar structure to your XY argument here”)
- Set fixed office hours when you are available in your Zoom room so students can visit and ask you questions about the course or their assignments.
- Ask students to add a table to the final submission of an assignment in which they list all comments they received on their drafts and how they have addressed them.
- Consider organizing formal ‘feedback engagement sessions’ in which students come together to discuss the feedback they have received (use breakout rooms in Zoom).