Formative assessment, when done right, can have a significant impact on children’s learning and academic achievements. It’s a collaborative effort between the pupils and the class teacher. The approach encourages peer talk, clear learning objectives and frequent feedback.
The term is interchangeable with ‘Assessment for Learning’. Formative assessment involves a constant dialogue between teaching and moving learning forwards towards pupil progression of understanding.
Is formative assessment actually working in practice?
According to The Chartered College, formative assessment hasn’t necessarily worked in schools; despite, its seemingly foolproof system and evidence that it can transform pupil’s success.
First of all, the main problem is the negative connotations of ‘assessment’ as it’s associated with tests and exams.
Second, it that teachers often class giving scores with feedback as part of formative assessment; however, the risk here is that children focus on the score alone, compare it to their peers and then ignore the comments completely. Therefore, pupils are not always benefiting from the written feedback.
Lastly, there is pressure on teachers (and pupils) to push attainment levels in the form of grades and therefore, ignore formative assessment practices.
So, how can we use formative assessment to actually improve our pupil’s learning and understanding?
Formative assessment is centred around what we, as the teacher, actually do with the information gathered about our pupils. More specifically, how we go about adapting the children’s future learning to develop their understanding further according to CEA. Children are to become owners of their own learning experiences!
In Clarke’s book, Outstanding Formative Assessment: Culture and Practice (2007), she discusses the key elements of formative assessment that if carried out correctly can have a significant impact on the pupils that you teach. These are:
- Laying the foundations, meaning that children are provided with the conditions required to be active learners and self-assessors.
- An effective start to lessons including questioning, activities and examples of work for children to visually see the potential outcome of their own learning.
- Developed learning whereby dialogue is central and children are therefore able to articulate their own learning and understanding.
- Effective endings to lessons to encourage pupil reflection and identified what they need to progress with future learning on/linked to the topic.
Her opening statement in the book’s introduction is that “…formative assessment is always relevant, as it revolves around the only focus that makes any sense: the empowerment of the learner. Once this becomes the prime focus of every teacher and pupil, with formative assessment as the driving and guiding force, outstanding achievement is not only possible, but highly probable” (viii).
The key aspects according to Clarke (2014) are:
- Creating assessment literate students who have a clear understanding of what they are learning and how they are learning it; the pupil can then improve their own learning. It’s about self-empowerment and self-assessment.
- Classroom discussions involve encouraging talk partners. Children cooperatively discuss and therefore improve, their own learning.
- Feedback as a means to progress; you not only learn from peer feedback but also teacher feedback: verbally and written. This is to be positively constructive. However, the pupil doesn’t always maximise this aspect as outlined above.
- The development of meta-cognitive strategies, such as generating a positive growth mindset culture; all learning can be then built upon and altered for the future.
Similarly, Clarke emphasises mixed ability groupings to highlight inclusion and remove fixed expectations, peer talk over ‘hands up’ and the use of positive language when talking about developing skills to be active learners, e.g. using characters to aspire to for certain behaviours like Daisy Duck never gives up.
I feel that Clarke’s argument is strong and her ideas are practical within the classroom. Effective formative assessment practice adopts all/many of these aspects.
The class teacher chooses what ideas are enforced, but all aspects need to be considered for general teaching practice.
Clarke, S. (2007) Outstanding Formative Assessment: Culture and Practice. Hodder Education.