Formative Assessments:  Why do we do it?

Posted by Teresa Marchant on Sep 21, 2016 11:35:00 AM

Pupils-In-Class-Using-Digital-2.jpgBy definition, a formative assessment can be formal or informal but are used as a tool to change teaching and learning for your students throughout a unit.  Basically, it gives you “snapshot” of your students' newly acquired information.

So, why do make the effort to check for understanding along the way?

First, we can change our teaching. I am constantly changing my teaching, even though I have taught the same grade level for ten years. My students may not have the same background knowledge. I can either make a quick “pitstop” to get my students up to speed or change the lesson entirely.  The goal is to increase student learning.

Second, we can see if students are missing fundamental skills.  This allows us to differentiate our lessons to better meet our student needs. Just like above, it may be for the entire classes benefit or for one student.  I remember when I was in 5th grade. I had recently moved and was going to a new school in a different state. I missed something a foundational skill in double digit multiplication. My teacher caught the “mistake” and quickly taught me what I had missed. This experience,made me want to became a teacher. Her kind way of explaining things to me to help me, I will forever be grateful. Formative assessments allow us to spend time with each student.  

Lastly, we need evidence for data-based decisions. With classroom models and best teaching practices, we need to defend why we are doing what we are doing.  If you have tracked the formative assessments even as a check or minus, you have data.  

These are my top five formative assessments

  • Quizzes

Big Universe has excellent resources that provide you instant feedback. These quizzes can be given to the entire class. For example, if you’re studying landforms with your class, simply search for quizzes for information texts on Big Universe. After reading and discussing new vocabulary on one landform: (for example) Mountains, take the quiz together. As a class, you must agree on the answers. This type of assessment  encourages teamwork and class discussion.

  • Written Responses

Exit tickets are my favorite way to check my students’ understanding before they leave for the day. You can find information about this formative assessment here.

  • Observations

This allows me to visually see if my students understand the assignment.  By seeing how they sound out a word or do a math problem, I see if they "get" the process.

  • Conferencing

I have my students explain a process to me. This is another quick way to check if they have gaps in their learning.

  • Thumbs Up

Have students rate their knowledge. I have them use one of the three choices: thumbs up they understand, thumbs down they don’t understand, or thumb in the middle they need a little more practice. It is quick, but effective. Some pre-teaching may be required to encourage students' honesty.

Remember, that formative assessments are not to be used to compute grades. Formative assessments help you evaluate your teaching.  This type of attitude promotes a learning culture in your classroom.

We love to hear from our readers, what are your thoughts about formative assessments?

Topics: Classroom Ideas, Common Core, Literacy

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