Formative Assessment: the What, the Why, and the How

I remember the first time I heard the words "formative assessment." I was a junior in college taking a class called Measurement and Evaluation, and my professor wasn't very good at making the topic of assessment exciting... which in hindsight, is very unfortunate.

Fast forward about 10 years, and my principal asked us all to participate in two book studies for the books Embedded Formative Assessment by Dylan William and Feedback by Jane Pollock. Through reading these books, I discovered the importance of purposefully using formative assessments in my classroom.

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So What IS Formative Assessment?

Formative assessments can be defined as continuous informal evaluation to check for understanding of skills/concepts throughout the learning process as students work toward mastery of the standards.

Why Use Formative Assessments?

There are numerous benefits for using formative assessments in your classroom. Formative assessments:
  • drive instruction
  • allow for flexibility in instruction
  • provide immediate feedback
  • allow teachers to adapt quickly based on feedback
  • allow students to take ownership of their learning
Formative assessments allow teachers to really know their students, their academic strengths, and their areas that need more practice in real time, and then they can makes adjustments as necessary.

How Do I Formatively Assess My Students?

So the ironic thing I learned through my book studies is that I'm actually formatively assessing my students all day, every day without even knowing I'm doing it! Have you ever asked a student, a small group, or your whole class a question during a lesson and realize they have no idea, so then you quick change your lesson? Guess what??? That's formative assessment!

Formative assessment can happen during or after a lesson:

During the lesson:

I don't like asking questions to the whole group, or even to a small group, because then only one student is doing the thinking. So I design all of my questions so that all students can be engaged and actively participating.

Show Down:
Each student has a mini white board, a dry erase marker, and an eraser (I use cotton socks), and they answer the question on the board. As they are writing their answers, I circulate the room to see how they're doing. Then when I see most students have their answers, I'll say "3, 2, 1, SHOW DOWN!" and they show their boards to me. I quickly scan to see who has the answer and who doesn't, and make a note of how they did. Especially in math, I might then ask a few students who have the right answer to come to the front of the class and show their boards so we can see multiple ways of solving the problem.

ABCD Cards: Each student has a binder ring with four cards on them, labeled A, B, C, and D. Similar to multiple choice questions, students are asked a question with four possible answers, and they hold up the card that matches their answer. Another option is to put the whole sheet into a dry erase pocket, and they circle the answer with a dry erase marker.
Use dry erase pockets for formative assessments! Just slip this ABCD page in the pocket for students to choose the right answer.
Either way you do it, it's super easy to scan the room or scan your group to see who is secure with the skill/concept and who needs more practice.

Teach a Friend: I L.O.V.E. partner talk, and another way to check for student understanding is after you've taught a skill/concept, ask them to turn and teach it to their neighbor or partner. While they're doing this, take a lap around the classroom/carpet and listen in.

After the Lesson:

Student Self Assessment: This can be as simple as thumbs up/sideways/down or using a traffic light visual (green means good, yellow means OK, red means I need more help) to indicate their level of understanding.
3, 2, 1: Students complete this super simple graphic organizer. They write down 3 things they learned, 2 things they find interesting, and 1 question they still have.
This simple 3, 2, 1 self assessment page allows teachers to formatively assess their students' understanding in any subject area.
Triangle, Square, Circle: This is another graphic organizer students can complete. The triangle stands for three important points they learned, the square is something they agree with (something that "squares" with their thinking), and the circle is a question(s) they still might have (something that is "circling" in their heads). This graphic organizer works better with upper grade students.
Exit Slips: a question a student answers on a slip of paper or a sticky note as their "ticket" out of the lesson.

Another type of formative assessment I use in my classroom is Mighty Math. I teach in a CCSS state, and I was looking for a way I could formatively assess all math standards each week in a snap. This was when Mighty Math was born.
Mighty Math is a CCSS aligned weekly formative assessment. In just 20-30 minutes a week, you can assess all of the standards! Grades K-3 available.
It takes my students about 20-30 minutes to complete this two sided sheet. All 12 of the second grade cluster standards are assessed each week. The data I get from Mighty Math is incredible! I use it to form small groups for reteaching, and I've even used it as a pre-assessment.
Mighty Math is a CCSS aligned weekly formative assessment. In just 20-30 minutes a week, you can assess all of the standards and use the data to specifically target your students' strengths and areas that need more practice! Grades K-3 available.
If you want to check it out for yourself, hop over to my TpT store and download the preview. Each preview has a free week you can try out in your classroom. Kindergarten, First Grade, Second Grade, and Third Grade are all available.

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In Conclusion...

Formative assessments have completely transformed my teaching. I feel like I know my students better, and I'm more responsive to their academic needs.

What are some formative assessments you use in your classroom? Leave me a comment below so we can all add them to our teaching toolboxes!

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Formative assessment strategies allow teachers to really know their students, their academic strengths, and their areas that need more practice in real time, and then they can makes adjustments as necessary. This blog post describes easy-to-implement formative assessment activities for any grade level.

1 comment

  1. I am going to purchase your mighty math assessments. I was wondering do you have the same thing for ELA? Thanks.


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