Using Formative Assessment to Promote Student Learning

Formative assessment is a process that aims to improve a student's learning. To know about formative assessment and how it is used to help students to acquire knowledge or skills, read this article.
Formative assessment is a type of assessment, dealt by teachers, to help the progress of their students. It aims to achieve good understanding of the subject and to build confidence in students related to academics. This is done by giving feedback on their academics and by exhibiting clear learning goals to the students. The fact is that, grades alone don't determine the student's knowledge about a subject. If this strategy is implemented, the progress of a student can be effectively monitored as compared to the grade system called summative assessment. It also helps the teachers to know what knowledge their students have acquired from their teaching. By identifying and diagnosing the strength and the weakness respectively, the efficiency of a student will surely improve.

Quick Facts About This Strategy
  • This is a strategy that emphasizes on learning conceptually.
  • The goals are made transparent to the students and provides clear assessment criteria.
  • The gap between the knowledge acquired by the students and the desired outcome is reduced.
  • Enhanced feedback provided by the teachers are comprehensible and systematic, which is crucial to achieve best results.
How Can a Teacher Implement this Strategy?

The three important things a teacher should keep in mind prior to formative assessment are:
(i) Focus on the desired outcome.
(ii) Devise the necessary steps to get there.
(iii) Implement the action.

Clarify the Prior Knowledge and Information
All children in a class have different IQ levels and their understanding abilities differ from one another. So, for a good teacher to assess a student, he/she must understand the student's capabilities and interest towards the subject. For that, the teacher can arrange pre-tests, to assess the student's prior knowledge on the particular subject. For example, if you are planning to teach about 'The Constitution of the United States', you can prepare a question paper consisting of basic questions like, "During which year the United States constitution was adopted?", "Which committee formulated the constitution?", etc. Through these pre-tests, the teacher can know about the basic knowledge of the students on that subject and then he/she can decide about the depth of the teaching required.

Identify the Predisposition and Beliefs of Students
Some students have fixed ideas and beliefs, and so they are reluctant to comprehend, what a teacher wants a student to understand. The factors affecting the beliefs and values of a student could be his/her background, family conditions, etc. For example, if a teacher is teaching about evolution, he/she cannot expect that all students must agree to the point. Some may obstinately believe creationism. In such cases, a teacher should be open-minded and welcome the views of the students.

Provide Guidance in Choosing the Study Materials or Resources
Nowadays, students learn from web resources more than textbooks. It is true that all websites don't provide the right information and some may even misguide the students. So, good guidance from a teacher is very important for a student to learn from reliable sources, and to avoid misconceptions on the subject.

Analyze the Student's Knowledge through Benchmarks
Benchmarking is a right approach to know whether a student has sufficient knowledge that is required, considering the grade he/she belongs to. Apart from what was taught in the class, a teacher should ensure whether a student is up to the standard mark or not.

Use the "Fingers-Up" Strategy
Posing questions and answering the queries of the student during the class, will help to enhance the thinking of the student. According to some scientific researches, it has been found that movement does several things for the brain. It enhances circulation so that neurons get more oxygen and nutrients. It spurs the production of hormones that enhance brain function and it stimulates the production of dopamine, a mood enhancing neurotransmitter. So, asking the student to stand up, sit down, raise hands, etc., during the query section, will help in their thought process.

Provide Opportunity to Reflect What's Learned
Before assessing the statements that mention what the student will know or be able to do after the learning activity, the teacher should provide the clear guidance of what is required from them. Give a feedback on the outcome of the student. Appreciate wholeheartedly, the students who perform really well in their projects and don't discourage those who didn't perform well. This may create a negative impact on those students. Instead, encourage them to perform well and be a good guide in shaping their future.

Thus, formative assessment is definitely an effective teaching strategy to assess a student's performance. I conclude this article with the words of Stephen R. Covey that say, "...people are working harder than ever, but because they lack clarity and vision, they aren't getting very far. They, in essence, are pushing a rope...with all of their might".