Formative assessment is oftentimes the ideal way for educators of all age groups to get an accurate gauge of how students are retaining information, whether they are understanding what is going on, and whether or not their lessons are understandable and comprehensible.
Assessing student knowledge and understanding is not a new phenomenon, but doing so can take on a variety of different forms. We are all familiar with homework, examinations, and quizzes as part and parcel of academic life, no matter if you happen to be a child in the early school years or a university student progressing through their undergraduate program.
Many of us may be familiar with FA but not quite able to define what it is and what it is when put into practice. In essence formative assessment is a way to monitor student learning while it is happening and thus adjust teaching methods and lesson plans accordingly. FA is a continuous process that helps to uncover student learning with the goal of helping to improve their understanding of specific topics and subjects. Many define formative assessment as an ‘assessment for learning'.
Summative is what comes to mind when many of us think of assessments and evaluations. Examinations, finals, quizzes, and graded papers are examples of summative assessments that test student knowledge of a given topic or subject. These graded assessments and assignments are often high stakes and are geared towards testing students.
The key differences between these two methods of assessment are that summative assessment assesses what students know, what information they have retained, and how they are performing. FA helps educators understand if lessons, lectures, classes, and assignments are providing students with the necessary framework to comprehend and retain information.
FA is a continuous process that can be run on a day-to-day or even a lesson-by-lesson basis while summative assessments tend to take place at the end of chapters, semesters, or years. Both work to inform educators how students are progressing and work in tandem to paint a picture of classroom performance.
So with those definitions covered, it is time we look at some relevant activities and examples that educators of any institution or age can implement in their classrooms, lecture theaters, or seminar rooms. The beauty of these examples is that they can be run at a variety of points throughout a class or lecture. Some work best when included right at the beginning, while others can be used at a midway point.
As with all formative assessments these are not designed to be graded in any way and are constructed to be simple and offer a basic reading of students’ comprehension.
No matter if you are discussing World War II or the different past tenses in French, a live multiple choice that asks students about your current lesson is the most basic and useful form of FA. These quick hitter questions can be more informative than simply asking students, “Is that clear for everyone?”. Using a tool that can both run this poll and visualize results means it can fit seamlessly into the lesson without taking an inordinate amount of time.
Asking students to recall what they learned last week or even yesterday can help gauge what important information has been retained and what may have been overlooked. This type of question will require students to recall and reflect on what they have learned and to construct an answer in their own words.
Neither questions nor responses need to be overly complex or detailed, they can be something as simple as “What was the most interesting thing we discussed yesterday?”. This will allow you to see what students found compelling and what topics come up the most and least frequently.
Ok so you’ve gone through your hour-long lecture or seminar, but how can you be sure that your students retained anything, and that their eyes didn’t glaze over twenty minutes in? A survey can help clear things up for you and can help you accurately evaluate how things went. Like with a live poll or open-ended question, a survey does not necessarily need to be 10 or fifteen questions long, it can be short, sweet, and to the point.
Here you can ask students if they found the lecture or class informative, whether it was engaging enough to make concentrating easy, or if it was an enjoyable way of learning.
Asking students to write down answers can potentially be time-consuming as they formulate ideas and consider how best to word their responses. Likewise, it can take some time for you to go through each answer and draw solid conclusions, identify patterns, and gather insights. Providing students with set responses in the form of scales questions can eliminate much of this additional time as they can respond almost immediately. Additionally, you can see swiftly and clearly from a graph of answers how the average responses look at whether there are notable outliers.
If you are looking for some clear and concise responses then simply ask students to submit a one-word or short response to your question. This will require them to carefully consider before submitting their answers and this can help you quickly parse through answers in comparison to those containing full or multiple sentences. Word Clouds can be an easy way to gather these answers as they can provide a dynamic visual.
Anyone who has been unfortunate enough to spend time in the hospital is probably familiar with the Wong-Baker pain scale. Travelers may have also seen something similar in airports and train stations when asked about security services or how happy they were with the available services. So why not introduce something similar to your classroom or lecture theater? These are simple and effective scales that can be customized to ask any question you like while respondents are presented with uncomplicated answers that take little to no time to submit.
By providing students with a platform to voice and express their thoughts and opinions on how things are going for them within the classroom you can quickly develop a culture of sharing that is free from anxiety or fear. Asking students to regularly contribute in this way may help them overcome fears of speaking out and voicing their own opinions, which can often be difficult for introverted or young students who lack the confidence to express an inability to understand something.
As well as this, FA can underline just how important participating in classroom activities and discussions is and how they are ultimately beneficial for every student. Thus, they can help improve student buy-in and avoid some frustrations that often come with difficulties to understand or retain information. Allowing students the chance to express this inability to comprehend you can help to clear roadblocks that ultimately lead to frustration and discouragement.
So now that you have a series of examples that you can use, you may be wondering what you can do with the feedback and submission provided by your students. Well, hopefully, you have managed to gain a series of useful insights that you can use to improve lesson plans going forward, highlight ways your teaching method can be adapted for your student's benefit, or underline things that may not have caused confusion in the past.
A wonderful part of FA is that you can continuously monitor the situation and look at trends over time to not get just a clearer picture of the situation, but how students' responses have changed over time in reaction to changes you have implemented. You can see if some of the tweaks you have made have benefited everyone or the majority, whether your adjustments have been beneficial or they have created a new series of difficulties.
No matter if you want to run live polls and open-ended questions, or if you prefer the idea of using questionnaires and surveys, Mentimeter has a wide variety of interactive slides that make it straightforward for students to respond immediately and anonymously. Likewise, you can download results from each presentation and analyze trends over time to uncover actionable insights that will benefit both you and your students.