Formative Assessment: Tips to Improve Student Achievement at Any Grade Level

Thursday, June 16, 2016 -- Shannon LaBree

Formative assessments are used during a lesson with a goal of gathering student data to make changes where needed in real-time during instruction. Without formative assessments, valuable time can be lost in the classroom on subject areas that a student may not be ready for or already understand. Preparing for end-of-course or year-end exams is always a challenge for students and educators, but if instructors don’t know where students are in their learning paths, it will be an uphill battle. With formative assessments, you can measure each students’ understanding of the content at hand on a regular basis throughout the instructional process and make modifications where needed.  

So, what does formative assessment look like from an elementary, middle, and high school perspective, and how do you do it? Check out a few examples from a variety of sources of formative assessment at elementary, middle, and high school levels.

Elementary School  

  • ABC Brainstorming: Halfway through a lesson, take a break and play a little game of ABC brainstorming. The game is simple. Ask students to brainstorm keywords related to your subject area for each letter of the alphabet. For example, if students are learning about water safety, a student might use the word “life jacket” for the letter “L.” This will keep your students engaged and interacting with the content while you have a chance to assess where they are individually in the learning process. You can use this exercise with your students in a one-on-one setting, in small groups, or in the classroom as a whole.
  • Artwork: Having your students draw or use art to show their understanding is a great way to give them a fun and educational break from a lesson and simultaneously provide you with some understanding of what each student’s knowledge base is. One example of this would be to have students draw pictures to demonstrate their comprehension of a scene from a book you are reading.
  • Student Teach: Another great example of formative assessment at the elementary level is to give students the opportunity to teach each other. This offers you a chance to observe how students have processed information through their explanation of subject matter and to view their concept of the lesson as they share it with their peers.

Middle School

  • Examples: One way to assess your students’ knowledge midway through a lesson or unit is to ask them to provide you with examples (or non-examples) of the subject matter. For instance, if you are studying history, have your students provide you with examples of who the founding fathers were or what caused WWI.
  • List Items Learned: Halfway through your lesson or unit, have students list out a number of items they learned thus far. You’ll get a good read on what students understand, where learning gaps remain, and what students misunderstood about the lesson. This information helps provide you with a clear picture of what should be addressed going forward.
  • Personal Whiteboards: With personal whiteboards for your students, you can make quick assessments of student learning. Ask your students questions midway through a topic, and have them record their answers on a personal whiteboard. This helps you get a good temperature check of each student’s understanding as you progress through a lesson. For example, if students are working on basic algebra, give them an equation to answer on their whiteboards.

High School

  • Exit Cards: High school students are great candidates for the use of exit cards. At the end of each class, present your students with “exit card” assignments that they must complete before leaving. This is a great opportunity for you to pose questions or problems central to the concept you’ve been working on in order to quickly assess students’ understanding and build creative problem-solving skills.
  • Discussion: Class discussions get students engaged with each other and focused on a specific area of learning. Watching your students interact with classmates regarding a specific subject can provide you with a great idea of where each student’s knowledge and understanding is.
  • Technology: Technology is a resource that students and educators use daily, and the ways in which you can use it to formatively assess your students are endless. Just a few of these formative assessment tools include: social media, blogging, online surveys, and online graphs. For example, social media can be used as an interactive communication platform that allows you and your students to informally discuss and further explore what they have learned and what they may not understand.

For more tips on incorporating formative assessments in your classroom, check out this blog post. Interested in learning more about how Edmentum can support your formative assessment initiative? Find out how Study Island can help your students achieve success with proven, data-driven solutions

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