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Formatively Assess Your Class in These Unique Ways

We often hear about the importance of implementing formative assessment in the classroom. It’s a great way to make sure that students aren’t just repeating information mechanically and by rote to get good marks but that they are actually actively comprehending the information they are learning.

Why use formative assessment?

Using formative assessment allows teachers to receive feedback from their class and quickly modify lesson plans and teaching methods in response to the data they collect. It is the foundation of a feedback loop that makes learning easier and more effective, and it is a key component in improved learning and student achievement.

So, how can you put these strategies into action? Nearly every teacher is familiar with hand signals, exit tickets, and warm-up activities, but there are many other creative activities you can use to formatively assess your students during daily lessons. Here are some ideas to get you started:

Write a Journal

Not only is journaling regularly a great way to get students to practice their writing skills, but it’s also perfect for getting more personal insights into how students feel about a particular lesson or activity. Journal writing prompts should always be somehow related to a student’s understanding of the day’s lesson or a concept or idea covered in the lesson. Collect journals at the end of class and promptly read the responses in order to make adjustments to the following day’s lesson.

Make the Late News

Get a quick snapshot of your students’ understanding and have some fun by asking them to come up with a good newspaper headline for a pretend news story written about the day’s lesson. For example, if you were teaching a unit on reptiles, you might suggest something like “Cold-Blooded Lizard Lies Eight Hours in the Sun, Doesn’t Break a Sweat” or “Camouflaged Chameleon Escapes Predator Yet Again.” You could even let your students draw a front-page picture to go along with their headline or make up a complete news story with more detailed information from the lesson. Based on the complexity of their headline, you’ll be able to see how complete their comprehension of the lesson was.

Have a Think Tank!

It sounds simple enough, but the results of a good idea-generation session can lead to an outstanding lesson; the trick is to get everyone to participate actively and willingly. Start by asking your class to tell you everything they know about a subject related to the lesson you are about to teach. For example, if you are about to cover a chapter on the water cycle, ask them to tell you everything they can think of about water. While you may have to weed through some silly and obvious answers, you will also be able to get a clear idea of what concepts your students have a good grasp of, as well as those they are still having trouble with, in order to adapt your lesson accordingly. Be sure to use open-ended questions while storming ideas so that you can keep the conversation flowing.

Pretend Play

Some impromptu theater can be a great way to understand how your students took in the day’s lesson. Divide your students into groups and have them create scripts to perform based on a reading section from the lesson. For an added twist, you can ask one group of students to write the script and a different group to act it out without any communication between the groups beforehand. Afterwards, have the students who performed the script explain the way they thought it was summarizing the lesson, and then compare that to the original group’s intended meaning. Was any information lost, or was extra information included? Was anything interpreted differently by the two groups? Open up the class to a productive discussion – and gain insight into how your teaching methods are working.

Traffic Light System

Introducing a traffic light system into your classroom is also ideal for assessing what has been understood and what hasn’t been. Place colored cups on the table in front of a student, or even pre-prepared interlinking green, amber and red cards, and ask them topic-related questions. As long as the student understands what they are doing, and getting everything correct, they stay at green. If they are struggling, or need support, they can switch to amber, and if they don’t understand at all, red. This enables you to immediately assess your each individual’s understanding of the topic. Why not get the children to color-code their work too, so that you have a reference as to who needs more support in the following lesson?

Let the Students Become the Teacher

Students’ test scores should never come as a surprise. By letting your students take an active role in helping you create testing material before they are assessed, you can get a better idea of how they will actually perform. One of the goals of formative assessment is for students to become more responsible for their own education. They have to want to learn, make progress, and understand the material in order for this method to work. By having students make up test questions, you are not only helping your class to look at their lessons in a different way, but you are also getting a window into how they are interpreting the information.

As you work to implement formative assessment in your classroom, it’s important to remember that the strategy should be ongoing. That is to say that these assessments should take place regularly throughout the school year. However, it is also essential to note that results should reflect honest feedback from your students. Students shouldn’t feel undue pressure to “ace” their formative assessments. Instead, make sure that they understand that the purpose of these assignments is to improve instruction. You are trying to accurately assess how your students are understanding material, not handing out grades.

Want to learn how Edmentum International can help you seamlessly incorporate formative assessment in your classroom to support data-driven instruction? Talk to our team and learn about how our proven, online practice and assessment solutions can help you turn data into classroom action. They’d be happy to help, so email them at or call them on +44 (0)1572 492576.

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