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Formative Assessment Strategies for Use in Everyday Practice

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".

  • 'How to Improve Tasks' added onto mark sheets for immediate correction - not only does this speed up marking but it gives pupils a specific task to work on depending on their target. For example, rather than giving the target 'use sophisticated vocabulary', you will highlight a task that addresses this 'go back and re-write one paragraph by replacing 3 average words with more sophisticated ones'.

  • Sharing and co-creating success criteria - this allows you to see how much pupils understand what the task requirements are rather than you just giving them this information - you may be surprised at how much they know! This also helps you to identify where any gaps are and address these. For example, I did this activity with my Y8s before a short story writing task and they managed to cover everything I had prepared on the next slide (just in case), but had forgotten to add 'links between paragraphs', which is something I really wanted them to work on based upon the previous assessment. Therefore I took some time to go through this and demonstrate how and why this is used. This task made it very easy for me to see what they were recalling from previous work as well as what had either been forgotten, misunderstood or overlooked.

A Little Bit Fun

  • Group work on a section or part then move around and share - ask pupils to work in groups on a task then pass their work in a clockwise direction. The next group either: asks a question to elicit a better response, peer marks or adds to what is already there. You can do each of these three as separate tasks or mix it up.

  • Pupils making up the question - this helps pupils to understand how questions are constructed and why, this also helps with command words and subject specific vocabulary. You can do this as a small task and ask pupils to write their ideas on post-its and then post these on the wall for another person to come and collect and answer, or as a larger more structured task. I recently asked my Y11s to create a poetry question for the exam. Once they were happy they'd met the criteria for a good question (I had shown them a range of past exam questions first), they passed their question to another group who planned the answer. These were then photocopied into a revision booklet and handed back out. This task always produces lots of good discussion between pupils with regards to 'what makes a good question' and how to devise a question that effectively enables others to address the success criteria in their answer. They are actively assessing each other and themselves in terms of the task criteria, and there is always a lot of self correction and independent review to be seen!

  • Move > Stop > Talk > Move - I use this randomly and whenever I feel like the class needs a bit of shaking up! I begin by shouting, "stand up!". Then I ask pupils to move around (this is where I have fun as I shout out directions, 'turn 90 degrees to the right, walk, turn 180 degrees left, walk etc). When I shout "stop" pupils must share ideas on whatever the task was: they can make notes if they come across something they like. I will repeat this a few more times and then ask pupils to return to their seat and spend 3 minutes consolidating what they learned from others and improving their work if necessary. Then I will ask a few questions to determine what they learned from others and how this helped them with their own work.

  • Whiteboard Share - Pupils write their group idea on the main teacher whiteboard. We then work through each one with a thumbs up or down to see which ones meet our criteria. This task allows for lots of discussion, questioning and clarification in terms of task requirements and criteria. I give each group a board pen and when they are ready they can come up to the board and write their idea - this is the fun part for them!

  • 'How far have you come' continuum at the end of a lesson - I usually put this up on the whiteboard and ask pupils to think about where they are and write 2 things on a post-it: ‘what I need to do’ ‘what I want to know’. They then stick these on the board at the correct place in the continuum and give an explanation the rest of the class as they do so. I collect these in and give them back out either in the next lesson or whenever I feel they are ready. We they then review their place on the continuum and if I notice that they are in the same place, I can adapt and re-teach. If they have moved along the continuum, this is a good way of prompting them to reflect on how they got there or how they found the answers to their questions.

  • Listen and respond – I will quite often give pupils the job: 'listen and respond' to someone else's verbal contribution. They are allowed to ask a question; offer advice; give a comment about something that they liked. I then let this pair pick the next pair...which they hugely enjoy!

  • Gallery marking - place books or pieces of work around the room and give pupils a 'comment card'. They then walk around and 'view' the work as they would art in a gallery, then they pick 3 to write a comment card for. I limit the amount of cards allowed on any one piece so that the comments are evenly distributed. Then pupils can come up and collect their work and comments. They use these comments to improve their work before final submission or marking.


  • Pupils keeping track of their own progress - use a tracking sheet and glue into books or put on the front of assessment folders. I use one that focuses more on targets than grades. They write down targets from pieces of work and then check back to see if they've met it with the next piece. If they notice the same target twice they know they need to do extra work on this and can take specific tasks - see 'add on tasks'.

  • Self reflection at the end of a unit - ask pupils to consider their progress in this unit and spend some time reflecting on their success as well as their targets. They can then refer back to these in units that require similar skills.

  • In depth marking of one paragraph that displays errors across all work - when marking, focus on the in depth marking of one paragraph only. Identify the common errors that you have noticed across the rest of the work and ask pupils to go through the rest of the work themselves and replicate your marking. This helps pupils to identify and correct their own targets and hopefully will make them more aware of how to do this independently in the future. It also promotes the idea of being more active when it comes to self-correction, meaning a lot of errors could be fixed before the pupil hands in work or completes a summative task.

  • Build skills - think ahead about which skills pupils need over a longer period of time and teach these skills in stages. Use a range of strategies to check when this skill has been mastered, then move onto the next one.

  • Whole class feedback, re-teaching and re-drafting - share common errors after marking a class set of work and address any areas that everyone needs to work on. Once you are confident this has been understood, re-test.

  • Guess work marking - this one does take a while to prepare so I tend to use it with KS5 classes as they are smaller but also because they can handle the requirements of this type of task much better than the younger pupils. I begin by marking a piece of work only using symbols, then I ask pupils to write the comment that they think I would've written. Sometimes I photocopy the pieces and write my comments on one copy and once pupils have tried to 'guess my marking', I hand out my version so they can see how close we were. This not only builds independence but forces them to engage with the marking criteria if they are to accurately guess what my comments are.

  • Explain - Demonstrate – Write - Check - Review - this process goes through the stages of learning a new skill and scaffolds this so pupils can be successful. It also builds in opportunities to check learning and assess the understanding of new skills.

  • Build independence by creating a bank of self-check sheets - I have lots of these in a drawer and will use these as a way of pupils doing some self assessment based on the skills they are trying to display. It gives pupils time to check their own work and reflect upon their targets. This also links to the 'add on tasks' as from the checklist pupils will be able to see what they have not yet demonstrated and may need to 'add on'.

  • Repeat - sometimes it becomes evident that something needs to be re-taught and you need to deviate from your plan. If, through formative assessment, you realise that pupils need another try at something, be prepared to re-teach.

  • Plan opportunities for a range of different self and peer assessment tasks - these can be built into the lesson or completely random depending on when you feel it is needed. Use a range of both verbal and written feedback.

  • Plan for regular response to marking time - allow pupils time to respond to either your marking or that of a peer. They need to have time to enagge with comments and think about how to improve. In my lessons, we have regular respond and re-draft sessions and all re-drafts or corrections are done in green pen so I can clearly see what they have attempted. Also see above image in 'quick and easy' section for an example of green pen response.

I love diving into teaching and learning and not only trying to improve my own practice, but also the way in which pupils learn in my classroom. Formative assessment has long been one of my favourite topics of discussion with other teachers and is something that, over the years, I’ve worked hard to master. So I’ll end with a summary of my takeaways on formative assessment:

Ms Duckworth's Takeaways:

  • Must be sustained and focused

  • Timely

  • Often

  • Based upon pupil needs

  • Be prepared to deviate based upon what formative assessment yields

  • Doesn’t have to be fancy: simple but effective

  • Spontaneous is just as effective as planned

  • Put strategies in place for knowing which types of FA are working with your class and which are not

  • Structure all tasks by ensuring pupils know how to question each other and how to make effective comments. This takes time and needs to be reinforced to avoid comments like 'really nice handwriting'. Teach pupils how to use the task criteria and requirements as a basis for feedback and both self and peer assessment.

  • Promote independence wherever possible

  • Make links between units based on skills, pupils need to know when and how

  • they are using skills they have already mastered

  • Celebrate success

  • Always provide specific guidance

  • Challenge and encourage

Please click here to download the free resources mentioned in this blog.

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