Quick and Easy Formative Assessment

by Karen Birt


Does Johnny deserve an A? Did Susie answer enough questions correctly? Can Janie read the proper amount of words from this list? Sometimes assessment is easy, if there is a definite right/wrong answer or if the answer key explicitly tells how to grade the question. But sometimes assessment is more difficult if there are several possible correct answers or if an essay is involved.

Assessment, or seeing how much the student has learned, can be either formative or summative. Summative assessment occurs at the end of a learning unit, while formative assessment focuses on identifying students’ progress throughout a unit or grading period. Its purpose is to uncover students’ ideas and knowledge before a final grade is issued, giving both the student and the teacher a chance to make changes in the learning process. Often with formative assessment a grade is not given, but the teacher receives needed feedback to create proper lesson plans.

Several practical formative assessments can greatly aid the teacher. One quick method for the elementary teacher to assess student mastery of a single lesson is to use “traffic lights.” The teacher issues each child three craft sticks or stop signs: one red, one yellow, and one green. The student holds up the appropriate stick when asked to do so to represent his current level of understanding. Red implies that the child completely lacks understanding of the concept. Yellow means that he has partial understanding, but would not be able to explain the concept to someone else. Green shows that he both understands the concept and could explain it to someone else.

This can also be modified for use with older students. Instead of using craft sticks, the teacher can give the middle-school student colored cards to hold up. Even that might seem childish to the high-schoolers, so for those grades, students can color-code their papers or sections of their papers: red underlining or highlighting for parts they completely don’t understand, yellow for those sections they need help with, and green for the portions about which they are confident. This is especially helpful in editing writing assignments.

A second strategy of formative assessment is a teacher chart for noting observations about students throughout the year. The teacher creates a chart for the entire class, labeling columns with dates and rows with student names. Throughout the time period assigned to learning the particular objective, the teacher observes each student briefly for the same goal, such as participating in class discussion or reading fluently. Then the teacher briefly notes the student’s performance and can track their progress or lack thereof for that specific goal. The chart can be laminated and written on with erasable marker so it can be used again for a different goal.

A third formal assessment strategy is entrance slips used at beginning of class to ask the students a question from the day before, ask them preview questions of the current day’s topic, or provide them with a chance to give feedback. Many teachers use exit slips at the end of class, but do this at the beginning allows the teacher instead to see what students remember the next day or where they still need help. These can be adapted to work for any class and grade level. Even young students could draw pictures to respond to a beginning-of-the-day question.

So whether Johnny deserves an A or Susie answered enough questions correctly or Janie can read enough words can sometimes be difficult to identify. But by using formative assessment throughout daily lessons, the teacher can more easily determine student progress.

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CONTRIBUTOR: Karen Birt

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