Formative Assessment

Formative assessment and feedback are like two peas in a pod, Dr Strange and his cape, or beach and plakkies! It’s almost impossible to think of the one, without the other. 

Formative assessment takes place throughout the learning process and is almost always accompanied by some form of feedback to the learner. This is why it is also termed Assessment for Learning, because it is intended to improve learning and prepare learners for the summative assessment task. The results from formative assessments can be formally captured, or it can take place informally within the classroom.

The feedback that learners receive through formative assessment serves different purposes. Learners are often unsure about their progress, and feedback on their progress while they are learning, gives them a guideline to show whether they are on the right track or are completely missing the plot. This in turn helps them to learn how to assess their progress, and develops metacognitive skills of judging. This isn’t the Judge Judy kind of judging, but the judging that helps a learner decide how well they interpreted the task requirements, and how closely to the golden standard they are performing. 

Learning to judge one’s learning, is a critical metacognitive skill needed to be a successful lifelong learner

Very often, learners may expect to do really well in a test, and when they receive the results, they are devastated because they did terribly or even failed. This difference between the expected and the actual result is due to poor judgement. Perhaps when they studied for the test, they couldn’t judge which sections would be more appropriate to focus on than others, or they studied for a short while judging that it would be enough, when in fact they needed to study far longer and put in more effort. 

Feedback given timeously to learners, as part of their learning process, helps them to judge their learning activities more accurately. This is called calibration. The more feedback learners receive within the learning process or immediately after, the more they learn to calibrate their judgement. So feedback is indeed a fancy and powerful tool.  

Formative assessment is child-friendly and learning-centered. It personalises and individualises learning, seeing individual learners and how their unique learning journey differs from everyone else. Rather than focus on the marks received, formative assessment focuses on:

  • Ways in which the learner can improve their performance or where misconceptions developed in order to address these.
  • Ways in which the teacher can improve their teaching to make sure that learning takes place more successfully / effectively.
  • Ways in which the summative assessment can be improved to capture the actual learning that took place.

Teachers often find it very difficult to provide real-time feedback to learners, especially when the classes are big and demands on the teachers’ time are many. Feedback however does not need to be provided in writing, nor is it the sole responsibility of the teacher to provide feedback. There are many useful EdTech tools that can provide learners with formative feedback as part of the learning process. Peer- and Parent/Caregiver feedback can also support formative assessment. 

In next week’s blog post we look at the two main requirements of assessment: reliability and validity.

If you’d like to learn more about formative feedback, consider taking the Limina online course in Assessment.

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