4 Ways to Use Formative Assessments in Your Classroom

May 8, 2017 Hans Mundahl

Teachers know many things: we are experts in our field, we have a plan for the structure of our course, we know what we are teaching today and how it fits into the bigger picture.

But here’s something we don’t always know: what do our students know?

Of course we have assessments and tests and exams to help us. But often it would be helpful to better understand gaps in student knowledge before we begin teaching. Or after introducing a particularly difficult concept it would be great to see where the gaps still are.

Summative assessments (like a test or exam) are designed for students to demonstrate their understanding at the end of a unit or course. The purpose of a summative assessment is to let the student (and often also their parents) know how they are doing in the course. Broader adjustments are often possible for the student (focus more on tests, complete more daily homework).

But formative assessments are different. The goal of these assessments is for the teacher to see how they are doing and to adjust if needed. Often formative assessments are very short and are useful within a single class period or single course unit.

Here are four kinds of formative assessments you can use to check in on student progress:

1: Activate Prior Knowledge 
This open ended assessment lets the teacher know what the class already knows. It also helps get students into the topic by helping them reflect on their existing knowledge.

Best Format: One question essay onCampus assessment

Pro Tip: Know everyone already understands a concept? Ask a question about it to get the conversation going.


2: Check for Understanding 
You just taught something big and complex. Who understood it?  

Best Format: Four question onCampus multiple choice assessment. 

Pro Tip: Everyone got the same one wrong? Reteach it on the spot! One person got one wrong? Follow up in person.


3: Exit Ticket  
Before everyone leaves class for the day find out if there are any questions. 

Best Format: One question short answer onCampus assessment. 

Pro Tip: Answer all the questions as a warmup next class.


4: Warm Up Video 
Do you ever have students watch a video to get ready for a class discussion? 

Best Format: Add a video to a three question True / False onCampus Assessment. 

Pro Tip: Review the answers to the questions as a warm up for the discussion.


What do you think? How do you use formative assessments?

About the Author

Hans Mundahl

I've been an educator since 1995 when I first stepped into the classroom as a Fulbright exchange teacher in the former East Germany. Since then I've been an Outward Bound instructor, a teacher, tutor, admission officer, house head, evening administrator on duty and I ran the experiential learning program at New Hampton School for almost ten years. Today I focus on technology integration centered on values-driven technology integration and 1:1 iPad initiatives. Recently I had the chance to help New Hampton School become an Apple Distinguished School and I co-authored the iBook Teaching with the iPad (available on the iBookstore). Now I'm the founder of a scrappy little company (one employee!) called Hans Mundahl and Associates, inc a digital strategy consultancy for schools and non-profits.

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