Formative assessment is currently a topic that is mainly addressed in relation to primary education. It’s a method of assessment that supports the learning process through providing continuous feedback. Because we believe that formative assessment should not be restricted to any specific level of education, we decided to present information about what formative assessment is and how you can also use it in online teaching at university.
Remote teaching not only means a change in the teaching conditions, it also involves transforming the teaching strategy and student learning. The initial enthusiasm for remote teaching gradually begins to ebb, students lose motivation to learn, and academic staff miss the immediate feedback to their teaching from students, and look for ways to support student motivation, their learning process, and learning outcomes.
One of the options is to use formative assessment, i.e. a process in which all actors get and give useful feedback on the learning process and its outcomes. We should not, however, dispense with summative assessment, by which learning outcomes are summarized at a certain phase of the learning process by a final evaluation. Formative and summative assessments each represent a different purpose of evaluation – they complement each other.
In our environment, the term ‘formative assessment’ is used more often, although ‘assessment for/as learning’ might be considered the more comprehensive term. Dylan Wiliam, a world-renowned proponent of formative assessment, speaks more about so-called ‘responsive teaching’.
According to foreign authors, assessment for learning is, however, a broader concept than formative assessment. It’s a comprehensive way of working that involves both student and teacher, and integrates assessment, learning, and teaching. By engaging students in the assessment process, it supports the monitoring of their learning and the use of feedback for further development. It allows students to ask reflective questions and consider different strategies for learning and behaviour.
Research has produced considerable amounts of evidence demonstrating why assessment for learning should be part of teaching, even at universities. For example:
- The results of a meta-analysis by John Hattie and Helen Timperley (2007) show that feedback is one of the most powerful phenomena affecting learning.
- The effects of formative assessment on student outcomes are described by Dylan Wiliam and Paul Black (1998). They provide ample evidence that if formative assessment is strengthened, student learning outcomes improve. According to the authors, all students benefit from such feedback, but “most of all those who achieve the lowest outcomes.” They’re convinced that this applies from nursery schools right up to universities.
- According to Lorna Earl (2013), formative assessment significantly contributes to the development of metacognitive skills. It allows students to ask reflective questionsand consider different learning and behavioural strategies.
The term ‘assessment for learning’ is understood in this article as quite a broad context. Whenever the term ‘formative assessment’is used here, it refers to a specific implementation of assessment for learning.
The precondition for quality feedback that supports learning is the student’s knowledge of what outcome and what quality is expected of them, how does the student know they’ve met the set requirements. In the course syllabi we can find the goals, outcomes, and course completion criteria clearly defined, but these are stated less often for partial seminars or teaching blocks, where they’re seldom communicated to students in connection with the required final outputs.
The process can be divided into three phases. Before teaching, its planning, its objectives/outcomes, and its assessment criteria are all important, during teaching working with feedback subsequently becomes the priority. University students are capable of continuously reflecting on and evaluating their learning process, planning and managing their learning.
This process is much more challenging in contactless teaching for both parties, teachers and students. In regular teaching, many reactions take place non-verbally, feedback takes various forms, and the teacher is able to respond immediately to whatever happens in the lesson and student needs. The lack of immediate contact between teacher and students in remote teaching requires more frequent deliberate monitoring of the learning process and continuous feedback.
Use of formative assessment is influenced by many factors: the nature of the course, the scope of teaching blocks, the teaching style of the teacher, the required feedback frequency, etc. The process we present below is based on the teaching of teacher propaedeutics courses, where the process of formative assessment in teaching is modelled and students gain direct experience with formative assessment, which is today a focus for teachers in practice.
We define the educational objectives we want to achieve and communicate them to students in an appropriate way. By presenting the objectives we make clear to the students our expectations, we give concrete expression to the learning outcomes/results. The requirements are framed within the overall context of teaching (interdependence with previous/subsequent teaching, overall outcome of the course, etc.). We work with them explicitly, we present them in interactive syllabi, we display them using the applications Padlet, Jamboard, Miro and other virtual bulletin boards, or we simply verbalize them orally.
We identify the expected quality of outcomes, the criteria which will help teachers and students to reflect on performance in relation to the set standards and quality.
We select suitable teaching strategies for the set goals and outcomes.
We reflect on their effectiveness in the course of teaching and adjust them according to how students’ learning is progressing and the feedback that students provide directly through their (non-)actions.
- We create space for providing continuous feedback from the teacher, the students themselves, and their classmates.
- provide specific information about students’ current performance in a descriptive way,
- provide information needed to bridge the difference between the current state and the expected state,
- communicate in a supportive way in the context of the social environment.
Using non-verbal signals in the course of teaching which we’ve agreed on: raised hands, symbols.
Asking verification questions to check that the assignment has been understood: orally, through the chat, using various applications.
By a formative test in online applications, e.g. in Socrative and Kahoot. For formative purposes it’s good to use applications in which results are displayed in a non-competitive way, and in which the teacher has access to everyone’s individual results and can thus work with them better when providing feedback. The goal is not speed and evaluation of the best, but the learning of all. Other techniques can be used using applications such as Padlet, Jamboard, and Miro, which students can work with on their own, e.g. using:
- unfinished sentences (e.g. “I understand…”; “I can't manage…”; “I still need…”; “It would help me if…”),
- term maps (e.g. prepared at the beginning and the end of the teaching block to monitor the progress of learning),
- summarization of the lecture in a single sentence,
- group presentation of three key ideas and the formulation of one question.
Application of whatever has just been learned: the result can be shown, written in the chat, on paper, copied, or entered into the IS MU, etc. The student’s output can be supplemented with their self-assessment and questions which they need an answer to.
Analysis of students' errors and the provision of feedback in a notebook (IS MU) or displayed using various applications.
Engaging students in self-assessment and peer review. However, to do this students need to know what they’re aiming for and to understand the required quality of the outcome. IS MU offers a peer review application which can be used for continuous and final evaluation.
Examples of using peer-review and self-assessment in teaching
- Students are acquainted with the objectives of teaching, the required outcomes, and with the assessment criteria. Proof of having acquired the defined professional competencies is a completed portfolio assignment.
- In seminars they work step-by-step to complete partial objectives and outcomes. They continuously reflect on their knowledge and skills, and feedback is also provided by teachers and classmates.
- At the end of the term, they work on a portfolio assignment with self-assessment according to the set criteria.
- As part of peer-review, students read the work of their classmates and provide them with written feedback, including assessment according to set criteria.
- Based on the feedback obtained, the author of the portfolio assignment improves their work and submits the final version for summative assessment.
Assessment Reform Group (2002). Assessment for Learning: 10 principles. Pamphlet on research-based principles to guide classroom practice. Available online
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The author of the article on this page is doc. Mgr. Jana Kratochvílová, Ph.D., Department of Education, Faculty of Education MU.