Formative assessment of students
Educators who use student-oriented approaches adapt to different students’ needs, abilities, interests and learning styles. There is now evidence to suggest that educators who supplement or replace lectures with active learning strategies improve their students’ knowledge retention and motivate them to learn.
Studies show that educators are increasingly using student-centred assessment approaches, such as active learning, collaborative learning, inquiry-based learning, cooperative learning, problem-based learning, peer-led team learning, team- based learning and peer instruction.
While they need to identify their students’ learning needs and respond to them, they should also measure the progress of their students.
Summative assessments are a usual way of measuring student progress. Assessments are integral to the schools’ quality assurance, syllabi and curriculum programmes.
However, this is only part of the story. To be truly meaningful and effective, assessments should also be formative. Educators may use tools and activities embedded in the curriculum to garner students’ feedback at key points in the learning process.
Interestingly, educators are moving away from the conventional teacher-centred methodologies as they enhance their interaction with students. Formative assessments respond to students’ individual learning needs as the educators make frequent appraisals of their students’ understanding. This enables them to adapt their teaching to meet the students’ requirements, and to better help everyone reach high standards of excellence.
Educators ought to involve students in their learning journey. This helps them to develop key knowledge, skills and competences that enable their intellectual growth.
Although individual educators seem to be incorporating formative assessment in their teaching frameworks, it is less common to find it practised in a systematic manner. To my mind, formative assessments are highly effective in raising the level of student attainment, as they are likely to increase the equity of student outcomes. They entice students’ curiosity in a subject, and improve the students’ ability and aptitude to learn.
Such student-centred methodologies involve students in their own educational process. They also build students’ skills during peer and self-assessments, and help them develop effective learning strategies. Students involved in building their understanding of new concepts (rather than merely absorbing information), and who learn to judge their own quality and that of their peers, develop invaluable skills for lifelong learning.
As a proponent of active learning, my formative assessment strategies often feature role-playing, debating, student engagement in case studies, active participation in cooperative learning and the like. Such teaching approaches can be used to create a context of material, where learners work collaboratively. Needless to say, the degree of my involvement while students are being active may vary according to the specific task and its context in a teaching unit.
A non-exhaustive list of formative assessment strategies can include:
• Questioning strategies: during classroom interactions, students may be asked challenging questions. Questions often reveal student misconceptions. Questions can be embedded in lesson plans. Asking questions often gives me an opportunity for deeper thinking and provides me with significant insights into the degree and depth of student understanding. Questions will inevitably engage students in classroom dialogue that both uncovers and expands learning.
• Criteria and goal setting: students need to understand and know the learning targets/goals and the criteria for reaching them. Establishing and defining quality work together, asking students to participate in establishing norms and behaviours for classroom culture and determining what should be included in criteria for success are all examples of such a strategy. Using student work, classroom tests or exemplars of what is expected will help students understand where they are, where they need to be and an effective process for getting there.
• Observations assist teachers in gathering evidence of student learning to inform instructional planning. This evidence can be recorded and used as constructive feedback for students about their learning curve.
• Self and peer assessments help to create a learning community within a classroom. Students will learn as they are engaged in metacognitive thinking. When students are involved in criteria and goal-setting, self-evaluation is a logical step forward in the learning process. With peer evaluation, students see each other as valuable resources for checking each other’s quality work against previously established criteria.
• Student record-keeping helps students better understand their own learning, as evidenced by their classroom work. This process of students keeping ongoing records of their work will help reflect on their learning journey, as they examine the progress they are making toward their learning goals.
• Portfolios, logbooks and rubrics: these instruments are widely used to provide an opportunity for written dialogues with students. Such tools help educators to evaluate the quality of their students’ work. On the other hand, students will use rubrics to judge their own work, and improve upon it.
There may be still some perceived tensions among stakeholders about formative assessments and summative tests. Education institutions have to be accountable for student achievement. They guide students to satisfy the requirements of their curriculum programmes.
There may be a lack of consistency and coherence in policies between assessments and evaluations at both the institutional and classroom levels. And there are different attitudes among educators about formative assessments. Perhaps ongoing assessments may be seen to be too resource-intensive and time-consuming to be practical. Educators are faced with extensive curriculum and reporting requirements and often teach to large classes.
The right assessment systems foster constructive cultures of evaluation. Formative assessments are likely to help in promoting reforms for student-centred education.
Ideally, information gathered through assessments and evaluation processes can be used to shape strategies for continuous improvement at each level of our education system.
In classrooms, educators can possibly gather information on student understanding. Consequentially, this enables them to adjust their instruction to meet students’ identified learning needs.
In conclusion, the locus of emerging educational strategies is pushing toward a proactive engagement in student-centred learning theories, where the student is placed at the very centre of the educator’s realms.
Mark Anthony Camilleri is a lecturer at University.