Formative assessments are used to monitor students’ progress during learning. The National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) describes them as assessments that take place ‘on a day-to-day basis during teaching and learning, allowing teachers and pupils to assess attainment and progress more frequently’.
The aim is to dynamically monitor learners’ understanding of a topic while it’s being taught so that adjustments can be made to teaching and misconceptions can be addressed during the period of learning. It is a key tool in teaching strategies such as the mastery approach, with frequent assessments providing the insight required to adjust teaching and support interventions so that all students meet learning targets.
In order to fulfil their purpose, formative assessments need to take place frequently. The results are used by teachers to adapt lesson plans and teaching strategies, unlike summative assessments that tend to be graded, benchmarked against national standards and may be communicated to parents and carers.
The less structured use of outcome data from formative assessments, plus their frequency, mean they can be more relaxed in their delivery. Using a mix of fun, interactive activities, such as games and quizzes, you can gauge knowledge and skill levels in quick and subtle ways. Ideally, learners enjoy the task and don’t realise they are being assessed, keeping the process stress-free.
If you’re already a Bedrock teacher, you’ll know that our platform is continually assessing your learners’ progress and understanding whilst automatically adjusting to serve content which challenges them each individually whilst reteaching misunderstandings and giving meaningful feedback. With Bedrock, there is no need to continually create formative assessments for your vocabulary and grammar teaching. It’s already being taken care of, and our reporting tools provide you with deep, meaningful insights into how vocabulary, grammar and subject-specific vocabulary are improving at the school, class and learner level.
But in case you’re not sold yet, or you’re looking for ideas for formative assessments for other areas of learning, here are 19 creative suggestions for you.
It’s useful to use a variety of activities, as this provides multiple assessment points and allows for the fact that different learning outcomes can be best measured in different ways. Following are some fun and subtle ways to approach formative assessments in the classroom.
Technology facilitates regular formative assessments that are fun and interactive and may offer a degree of automation to save teachers time.
Activities might include:
- Online polls, with free options from companies such as Poll Everywhere or Socrative
- Online quizzes within educational apps, such as Bedrock for literacy or Duolingo for languages, or quiz apps for any topic, such as Kahoot and Quizizz
- Creating your own online games through software such as Factile and Blooket
With digital tools, there is real-time data capture that builds an image of the learning journey and learning behaviours as they happen. Teachers can simulate this themselves, by simply setting up a spreadsheet and entering a Yes or No result for each student against learning objectives, using technology manually to track patterns and identify areas of concern.
These are great for assessing critical thinking skills in relation to a topic. Rather than getting them to tick a box or select an option, ask students open ended questions that require more analysis, such as:
- What would happen if…?
- How do you know that…?
- What are the pros and cons of…?
Children are familiar with emojis, making them an effective way of gathering quick and authentic feedback on how learners are feeling about a topic. There are many ways to use emojis in the classroom. Here are a few ideas:
- Print individual cards for learners and ask them to select the emoji that best reflects how they’re feeling, giving them a choice of smiley, neutral and unhappy emojis.
- Have a selection on the wall and ask learners to point to one as they leave the room.
- Get them to draw an emoji (or simple smiley face) on their homework or a piece of work before they hand it in.
As the name suggests, this is spontaneous questioning that teachers use in response to learners' behaviour during class. The focus and level of challenge of the questions can be adapted by cohort, and by individual, to maintain motivation and engagement across mixed-ability groups.
Exit tickets are short end-of-class assessments filled in by learners just before they leave their lesson. You can include multiple-choice questions that align specifically with a lesson’s objectives, or set a single task, such as writing the most meaningful thing they’ve learned in that lesson.
This is a self-rating hand signal, with learners holding up one to four fingers on their hand to indicate how well they feel they’ve mastered a topic. It’s important to be clear on the rating scale and communicate it, for example, through a visual in the classroom. Following is an example:
- One finger: I don’t understand at all.
- Two fingers: I partly understand, though I have lots of questions.
- Three fingers: I understand and could try an activity with some help.
- Four fingers: I fully understand and I’ve no questions.
This gets learners up and moving around the classroom. Present learners with a statement or question and assign possible reactions or answers to each corner of the room. Ask them to go to the corner that aligns with their own answer.
Using this collaborative strategy, learners work together to answer a question. It can be used as follows:
- Think: The teacher asks the question and provides time for individuals to think about what they know.
- Pair: Learners are put in pairs or in small groups to discuss and come up with an answer.
- Share: They share their answer with the class.
This works well when there’s a specific foundation fact or piece of information linked to the learning objective of the lesson. It is a quick gauge of how many learners have grasped that fact and are ready to move on to the next piece of learning.
Present a false fact or common misconception connected to the topic being covered and ask learners to agree or disagree and explain their response. The teacher shares the correct answer and gives the reasoning behind the misconception.
Involve students in their own learning. Create times throughout a lesson to pose a challenging question. Allow learners time to think individually and then to come together in groups to work out the answer. Students learn from each other, while teachers observe the process and assess understanding.
Create a display with a horizontal line that represents a scale of interest for topic-related questions. At one end there is zero interest, while at the other there’s extreme interest, with gradual increments in between.
Ask each student to come up with a question and share it with the class. Depending on the level of interest each question generates, the student places it on the continuum using a sticky note. The questions created give the teacher an idea of the depth of understanding of a topic.
Similar to the question continuum, but a bit simpler. Ask learners to write a question on an adhesive note and place it on the wall, observing how they engage with the exercise.
Using movement is fun and gets learners engaged. Assign specific movements or responses to understanding levels, including actions for all responses so everyone can take part regardless of how they feel. During a lesson, pause and ask learners to demonstrate their understanding. For example, putting their hands on their head means they understand, while putting their hands on the table means they don’t.
Hand signals are great for gathering feedback when you’re short of time. In addition to the four finger rating already discussed, you could try the following.
- Thumbs up: I get it.
- Thumb to the side: I still have questions.
- Thumbs down: I don’t get it.
Create cards featuring the traffic light colours of red, amber and green, with an image of a traffic light and an explanation of what each colour means:
- Red means stop, I don’t understand this yet.
- Amber means I’m not quite ready, but I’m getting there.
- Green means go, I understand this fully.
At the end of a lesson, ask learners to tick the colour of their choice on their individualised cards.
Learners give each other feedback on their work using a set success criteria linked to the learning objective. There are learning opportunities in giving and receiving feedback, while teachers can assess through observation.
Ask learners to respond in writing or orally to three prompts – providing three pieces of information, two pieces of information and one additional piece of information. For example:
- What three things have you learned today?
- What two things surprised you?
- What one thing did you find most interesting?
Build in creative homework tasks throughout a period of learning so that students’ performance in, and feedback from, those tasks can inform the remainder of the learning journey.
For some more inspiration on how you can implement some fun formative assessments, download our free resource outlining, in detail, 15 formative assessment strategies perfect for English teachers (and other subject teachers too with a little tweaking!), or read a blog from our Director of Education and former Head of English on her 5 favourite formative assessment strategies for English teachers.