Kristen A. Clarke, Former Cross-curricular Department Head for Assessment, Evaluation and Literacy
The following four strategies can help junior-, intermediate- and senior-level students and teachers use formative assessments more effectively to improve student learning.
Description: Providing students with a
handout that outlines the term “formative assessment” and the reasons for this type of assessment’s use has many benefits. The term can hold many definitions, but in James Popham’s recent book,
Transformative Assessment (2008), he suggests that “Formative Assessment is a planned process in which assessment-elicited evidence of students’ status is used by teachers to adjust their ongoing instructional procedures or by students to adjust their current learning tactics.” The formative assessment handout can address student issues regarding the importance of scaffolding and chunking, receiving descriptive feedback, adjusting work to improve next steps and homework and assignment completion. In addition, the use of this strategy will demonstrate support for relevant assessment policy and its continuity. It can also be the starting point for student engagement with formative assessment if you follow up with a quick
true-or-false quiz to assess the students’ understanding of the term formative assessment. Please be aware that schools or boards may have their own assessment and evaluation policies and that these should be reviewed and incorporated prior to the use of this strategy.
Benefits for students: By using the terminology in class, students can be better informed of this type of assessment and its purpose while engaging their ability to act on feedback.
Benefits for teachers: You can be sure that both students and parents have an understanding of the benefits and positive learning effects of formative assessment. Black and Wiliam’s pivotal article on formative assessment, “Inside the Black Box: Raising Standards Through Classroom Assessment” (1998), outlines the strengths of this instructional strategy to improve student learning and the quality of teaching.
Description: “What’s the Big Idea?” is a simple twist on a strategy called the “Ticket Out of Here,” which is available in the Beers and Howell’s Reading Strategies for the Content Areas (2003). This strategy requires students to complete a simple task prior to dismissal from class. To set the stage for student thought, use an image of Albert Einstein or another appropriate visual on the small
handout. Prior to the end of a lesson, instruct your students to reflect on the learning and to write down, in complete sentences, the “big idea” from the day’s lesson. The students should also be required to provide one or two details to support their “big idea.”
Benefits for students: This strategy provides time for students to digest the lesson and to ensure that they understand the key concepts or to ask questions.
Benefits for teachers: This strategy allows you to quickly see which students grasped the main concepts of a lesson and who needs additional support. It is a starting point for planning differentiated tasks, and it also yields data that can be collated to help build a stronger idea of a student’s overall ability. Popham (2008) explains how selecting the appropriate occasion to identify the need for adjustments to the lesson should be well planned and aligned with the correct assessment strategy in order to allow for optimal instructional adjustments. By using the “What’s the Big Idea?” slip at the end of class, a teacher has embedded an opportunity for lesson adjustment and a place to begin the next lesson.
Description: “The Big Three” is a strategy that presents students with three multiple-choice questions to be answered during the lesson. Multiple-choice questions are a quick and easy way to assess a student’s ability as you progress. “The Big Three” can be modified to fit any situation. Provide three questions visually prior to the lesson; this will guide and chunk the learning. Have students jot the questions and their answers down on
“The Big Three” slip of paper, in their notes, or simply have them raise their hands for the appropriate answer. You can collect or note the responses immediately after each question and determine whether to continue with the lesson or to modify and readdress an issue with the whole class, a smaller group or an individual. Alternatively, students can self-assess. Bruce (2001) claims that teachers who use student self-assessment and engage their students in correcting their mistakes show faith in their ability and foster independence, thus increasing the likelihood of student success.
Benefits for students: The three questions are useful for students because they guide and chunk the learning throughout the lesson. The three questions also provide an opportunity to take a short break for reflection and to ask necessary questions. Chappuis (2005) contends that teaching students to revise in a focused manner, engage in self-reflection and document their learning is key to developing their own understanding of assessment.
Benefits for teachers: By developing the three questions prior to the lesson, you will draw up a more thorough lesson plan along with integrated assessment strategies. This will allow you to demonstrate the elements of the Ontario College of Teachers’
Foundations of Professional Practice (2006) that link to assessment.
Description: An Assessment Log is a chart that both teachers and students can use to track the students’ learning through their formative assessments. After students receive a formative assessment back from their teacher, they take five minutes to review their own work and the teacher’s comments. They then complete the
Assessment Log based on their own reflections. Boston (2002) notes that students who reflect on their work and understand the objectives being assessed show greater academic improvement.
In their log, the students note something that they did well in the assessment, something they struggled with, a question or comment that they have about their work or the feedback they received, and finally, a “next step” to identify how they will improve. The Assessment Log can be provided to students as a handout and kept in their workbook, or they can simply keep their own log on lined paper. The key to the Assessment Log is that it be maintained by the student and be focused on his or her own work.
Benefits for students: The Assessment Log promotes reflection, attention to detail and self-evaluation. It also ensures that students take responsibility for their learning, and it can be used as an essential piece of information for parents.
Benefits for teachers: Teachers can use the log as a tool for parent-teacher interviews, as it clearly outlines students’ strengths, areas for improvement and strategies to develop their skills and knowledge further. The Assessment Log comments also reflect the format teachers are required to follow on the standardized provincial report card and which are described in
The Guide to the Provincial Report Card Grades 1-8 (1998) and
The Guide to the Provincial Report Card Grades 9-12 (1999). (On the report card, educators are required to make three comments per subject area, one each for strengths, weaknesses and next steps.) The log is also a tool for communication between the teacher and the student and their parents if they have any questions or concerns regarding an assessment. Chappuis (2005) outlines the importance of providing descriptive feedback to students on their formative tasks; the Assessment Log will encourage teachers and students to be more descriptive in their assessment of work.
The use of formative assessment to gather data is no longer a new idea, and it is increasingly supported by both classroom teachers and research.
Growing Success: Assessment, Evaluation and Reporting: Improving Student Learning (2008), the new working document on assessment from the Ministry of Education, emphasizes using a variety of types of assessments and presents formative assessment as fundamental. Instead of viewing it as another onerous task that teachers must perform, practise formative assessment to see how it can work for you and your students. Try some of the following with your colleagues:
Practice makes perfect when students engage in formative assessments and when teachers begin to integrate this assessment strategy into their lessons. This strategy will lead to improved student learning and stronger instructional practices.
Beers, S., & Howell, L. (2003).
Reading strategies for the content areas. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Black, P. & Wiliam, D. (1998). Inside the black box: Raising standards through classroom assessment.
Phi Delta Kappa International.
Boston, C. (2002). The concept of formative assessment.
Practical Assessment, Research & Evaluation, 8(9).
Bruce, L. (2001). Student self-assessment: Making standards come alive.
Classroom Leadership. 5(1)
Chappuis, J. (2005). Helping students understand assessment.
Educational Leadership, 63(3), 39-43.
Ontario College of Teachers. ( 2006)
Foundations of professional practice. Toronto: Author.
Ontario Ministry of Education. (1998).
The Guide to the Provincial Report Card, Grades 1-8. Toronto: Author.
Ontario Ministry of Education. (1999).
The Guide to the Provincial Report Card, Grades 9-12. Toronto: Author.
Ontario Ministry of Education. (2008). Growing Success: Assessment, Evaluation and Reporting: Improving student learning. Toronto: Author.
Popham, W. J. (2008).
Transformative assessment. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.