Formative Assessment Strategies for Use in Everyday Practice

Updated: Dec 4, 2019

I remember hearing the terms formative and summative assessment almost on a daily basis during my PGCE and in the 14 years since then, the terms may have slipped from everyday usage but their presence is still felt and feeds into almost every decision I make.

There can often be some confusion over how these two types of assessment compliment each other and in some cases people see the term assessment and assume that they are in fact interchangeable. They are not. Whilst they both focus on assessing pupils in some way, the methods can vary wildly. They are not isolated approaches, and when used together and with purpose, can have impact on the pupils in your classroom, their learning and their progress.

Summative assessment is the end goal, it is a task situated at the end of a unit of course of study which evaluates the learning. It is an assessment of the learning. This can be in the form of an end of unit test; an end of year test of external exams. Formative assessment on the other hand, is to do with evaluating pupil progress during a unit or course and then trying to close the gap between where they are and where they need to be. Formative assessment is part of the learning, whereas summative assessment is a way of asseing learning that has already taken place.

As a teacher, I view formative assessment as my way of intervening; re-visiting; re-working and supporting progress. I think it is vital to any classroom. And as a bonus, there are ways to make this a bit more fun!

I always want to ensure that my pupils have mastered a skill before I continue with the next task it stage of learning. But in order to feel confident they have mastered it, I need to find ways of evaluating their current knowledge and application of skills. This is where formative assessment comes in.

I often start with the summative assessment in mind and map out the skills required as well as what ‘success’ will look like. Then I track back and think about how to effectively prepare my pupils and structure their learning in order to provide them with the skills, knowledge and understanding they need. Some of my formative assessment is planned, whilst others are spontaneous and prompted by whatever the pupils do or say. I have tried to give as large a set of examples as possible here!

When I first set out to write this post I started to make a list of all the formative assessments strategies I use – quite often on a daily basis. However, due to the fluid nature of formative assessment, I could have filled 4 blogs with this list. So instead I decided to focus on what I thought would be more useful to a range of teachers and have divided the different types of formative assessment into categories: Quick and Easy; A Little Bit Fun; Planned.

Quick and Easy

  • Walkabout Talk - walk around and read what pupils are doing, read out examples as you go "Some great examples of short sentences for effect in Sonia's piece. She's written 'No one knew where he went' - great way of creating tension. " This reminds pupils of what their focus is but also gives real examples if they are struggling. It also let's pupils know what they have done well and gives them confidence.

  • On the spot - this is similar to Walkabout Talk, but I will do this more on a one to one basis. I would still tell Sonia she had used a short sentence correctly but then I would give her something extra to think about as she continues, "Could you now see if you could make a link back to this short sentence at a different point in your writing?"

  • Purposeful and specific feedback using relevant terminology - repeat terminology linked to the skills they are using. This not only models how to use these but also alerts pupils to when it has been demonstrated "Good use of simile Joseph!". This is linked to Walkabout Talk but could also be used when pupils are offering an answer or reading work aloud.

  • High quality verbal feedback – use questions to clarify or develop pupil responses. Also take regular opportunities to point out successes and develop by questioning, "I like that you are thinking about what the character feels and you are correct in saying he's scared. Could you take this further and say how you know?" If they're not sure I will give them 1 minute to think about it or find the information they need while I move onto someone else.

  • Don't be afraid to keep the questions coming - I often follow questions up with another question to see just how far they can go. If we get to a point where no-one can answer, then I can use that as a springboard to do some further clarification or demonstration. Or it may be something that you think deserves a full lesson, so you may want to go away and prepare an extra activity to address this need.

  • Tell a partner, feedback on their best idea - pupils share ideas and together decide on which ones are the most relevant or specific. When they feedback I will ask why they chose this one and they must justify by thinking about what the task requirements were.

  • Add on tasks for particular targets - I have a list of 'add on tasks' that are based on common targets. Pupils are directed to work on whichever one they need based upon peer, self or teacher feedback. It's a good idea to collaborate in Departments on this as, whilst it is quick and easy once these tasks have been created, it will take some time to put them together. It's more time effective if you brainstorm the range of targets you give across your subject and then divide up the creation of these tasks between Department members.

  • Allow time to discuss, collaborate and share - give pupils time to engage with a task and clarify ideas with peers before committing a response to paper. This enables them to work through any problems, questions and misconceptions whilst building upon the ideas they already have. In addition, discussion is such a great tool for enhancing pupil ideas as they must find ways to verbalise their thinking in a coherent and relevant way.

  • Share with a partner - share ideas or written work with a partner. Encourage them to question each other and use terminology relevant to the task. Always provide guidance for this so pupils know what the success criteria is and can use this to make valuable comments.

  • Marking symbols or codes - this encourages pupils to independently identify, address and fix rather than the teacher correcting errors. This also forces pupils to engage with targets rather than simply overlooking them in search of the grade! I often ask them to 'be the teacher' and use these codes. to mark a partner's work.

  • Experts - use peers as a tool. When marking, I identity 'experts' (I make sure that everyone gets to see their name on the board at various points of the year) who can be questioned on how to fix a target. This helps those who need further instruction or modelling but also helps to consolidate this skill for the expert as they are required to explain how they did this and why.

  • Highlighters for self or peer marking - this is a quick and easy way for pupils to assess their own or a peer's work. The fact that this uses colours means that they can quickly identify what they have a lot of and what is missing.

  • Make links between units and skills - this kind of review also aids memory. Wherever you can, remind pupils where they have used these skills before. You could even revisit work they have done so they can see clear connections between tasks and skills. Sometimes they just need to be reminded that they can do it!

  • Peer and self Self checking using traffic lights - traffic lights help pupils to easily see what they have mastered, what needs to be reviewed and what is missing. This also helps you to see if there are any common skills missing if you notice a lot of red in the same box. You can also use this as a peer-self or peer-teacher task in order to compare traffic lights.

Traffic light sheet with target identified by pupil at the top

  • Verbal reminders – 'when you reach the next full stop, read back through your work and check your progress…use a checklist, success criteria" etc. I do this a lot when pupils are completing tasks, whether this is independent or group based. I will also stop a task if I notice common errors as I walk around. I stop, clarify, model if necessary, and then set them back off again.

  • Refer back to your target, write this at the top of your work. When pupils have finished the task, ask them to highlight where in the work they think they met the target. If not, they can go back and fix it or ask for further help.

  • Can you say more cards - pupils use these to try and take their own ideas further both verbally and in written work. These can also be used when pupils are giving verbal responses to a question you have asked, "Great comment on how the character feels, have a look at the 'Can you say more card' and I will come back to you in 1 minute to see if you can add anything extra".</