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What is Formative Assessment?

Formative assessment is the process of monitoring student learning and providing ongoing feedback and adjustments throughout the duration of a course. Formative assessments are generally simple, non-graded (low stakes), in-class activities that include observations, reflection journals, and question sessions. Formative assessment techniques are also known as Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs.)

What are some examples of Formative Assessment?

The Background Knowledge Probe A short and simple questionnaire designed to reveal student's preconceptions. It is administered at the start of the course, or before the introduction of a new unit or lesson.
The Minute Paper A brief, written response at the end of a class period, asking students: "What was the most important thing you learned during this class?" and "What important question remains unanswered?"
The Muddiest Point Students are asked to jot down a quick response to one question: "What was the muddiest (most unclear or confusing) point in the lecture/discussion/assignment?"
What's the Principle? Students are given a few problems and asked to state the principle that best applies to each problem. Especially useful in courses requiring problem-solving.
Defining Features Matrix
Instructor creates a matrix of three columns and several rows. At the top of the first two columns, two distinct concepts that have potentially confusing similarities are listed (e.g. mitosis vs meiosis, Classical vs Operant Conditioning.) In the third column, important characteristics of both concepts are listed in no particular order. Students are asked to identify which characteristics belong to each of the two concepts.

Why use Formative Assessment?

Formative Assessment:

  • Can improve both student learning and teaching effectiveness.
  • Provides just-in-time feedback.
  • Requires less work than traditional assignments.
  • Helps students learn to monitor their own learning.
  • Encourages a view of teaching as an ongoing process of inquiry, experimentation, and reflection.
  • Helps students feel less anonymous.
  • Shows that instructors have a deep interest in student learning.

How Should I use Formative Assessment?

A good strategy is the following:

  1. Decide what you want to assess about your student's learning.
  2. Choose a technique that provides this feedback, can be easily implented in class, and is consistent with your teaching style.
  3. Before you conduct the chosen activity, make sure to explain its purpose to your students.
  4. After class, review the results and determine what they tell you about student learning.
  5. Decide to make changes, if any.
  6. Discuss with your students the outcome of the assessment and how you will use this information going forward.

Where can I find more examples of Formative Assessment Techniques?

From Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching: Classroom Assessment Techniques

From George Washington University Teaching and Learning Center: Classroom Assessment Techniques

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