Teacher Tips: 4 Ways to Use Formative Assessment

A classroom is an energetic place full of learners that each have unique ways of receiving and interpreting the information presented to them. That’s one of the joys of being a teacher! One thing we are often told is each year teachers are flabbergasted by how much their students to teach them year after year. Celebrating this diversity in learning by moving towards personalised education is one of the ways create lifelong learners. Formative assessment can help in this endeavour. We have gathered four hands-on ways of learning that can use formative assessment.

What is formative assessment?

Traditionally summative assessment has been the primary means of evaluation in schools. Note we said, “evaluation” and not “assessment”. We’ll get to this in a jiffy! Summative assessments typically come in the form of midterm examinations, a final paper, or a major project. These appear at the end of a unit or at the end of an instructional semester or year and are often compared to a standard benchmark.

On the flipside, there is formative assessment which focuses on continual monitoring and mentoring of students’ learning progression towards mastery of key concepts. These assessments are best suited to submitting short paragraphs on the main topic learned, or weekly presentations on a subject and are rarely weighted as heavily as a summative assessment. One of the goals of formative assessment is to provide constant feedback to students so they can continually improve their learning. This, in turn, helps educators to tailor instruction based on how students are performing and immediately address any issues.

Competency-based learning

Competency-based learning approaches mastery of concrete skills. Kinesthetic learners – those who learn by performing physical activities rather than listening or watching – respond well to this style of learning. It is also well suited to classrooms where safety is of utmost concern, such as a chemistry lab or shop class. These incredibly granular skills are tackled one at a time, and mastery of a skill is a prerequisite for moving on.

Let’s use the chemistry lab example to dive a little deeper into this style of learning. Take a basic experiment of testing the effects of heat on a variety of substances. This requires the use of an open flame and a number of chemical substances that require safe handling. What would be the learning path a student would need to take? Well, it is likely students should know how to safely operate a Bunsen burner. They should also know the theory behind what should happen when substances are exposed to heat. But first, they need to be educated and required to prove their knowledge of general lab safety and etiquette.

Project-based learning

Project-based learning is a marathon, not a sprint. In this type of learning, students spend an extended period of time (think a full term or multiple weeks) on one project that answers a single complex question or a series of smaller but related, questions. The focus is generally on local community issues, or even global issues, related to the subject in which the student is enrolled. Proponents of this learning style praise the persistence required of students to gather knowledge, digest that information, and apply it the problems they are exploring.

Primary school students can get their toes wet in project-based learning by creating a home recycling program and learning about the environmental implications. They can even start a healthy eating program in their household. Each of these is critical issues for younger students to understand, but will also give them a sense of ownership over their work and start exposing them to peer and family feedback.

A project-based learning initiative is not for the faint of heart, but the learning growth far outweighs the work required of both teachers and students. A large amount of preparation time needs to be put into setting up the parameters for a project to ensure it is meeting learning goal requirements. Tying this into your formative assessment strategy is giving each unique learner the chance to shine in their own way!

Gamification

Learning should be fun! Especially if some of the core learning goals might not be that exciting but need to be covered. Gamification has been taking classrooms by storm by using game-like designs for lessons to teach otherwise ordinary topics. The purpose is to increase students’ motivation to learn through engaging activities.

There are unlimited ways to gamify your classroom. You can have a friendly system of competition where groups compete for points by completing activities that disguise the academics. Treasure hunts are a guaranteed crowd pleaser! Each clue may only be obtained by solving problems or completing tasks as a group. The output of each “clue” becomes the piece you assess. From math to art and everything in between, you can gamify your classroom with a little creativity.

Digital portfolios

You have spent an entire year working hard alongside your students to meeting learning objectives, but how does the world know what they have been working on? Have your students create a digital portfolio of their accomplishments and the results of the formative assessment you have been conducting all year! There are endless platforms students can do this through. Free website builders are a great choice, but Chalk recently released a new feature that allows teachers to showcase students’ grades and in-class observations for them and their parents/guardians to see!

Whatever learning style you choose to use formative assessment in, your students are going to love being able to put their personal flare on their learning!


If Formative Assessment is something your school is wanting to explore, be sure to download Chalk’s eBook Introduction to Formative Assessment & Standards-Based Grading.

chalk standards based grading formative assessment

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Laura is passionate about empowering educators. She believes equal access to personalized education is one of the ways to a better world.