Formative Assessment

We all know what formative assessment is, right? This is something with loads of names (Assessment for Learning or AfL is one, for example) but which is often taken for granted. Let’s check we’re speaking the same language.

What Is Assessment?

A useful checklist for assessment is SKU, standing for Skills Knowledge and Understanding. Different aspects of a course (and different subjects) will have a different balance of what we are checking.

  • Skills – what can a student do? I’m currently checking what mathematical methods my students can apply to specific heat, for example.
  • Knowledge – this is what most people think science is about (see my page about this if you want my viewpoint), the facts and lists of details.
  • Understanding – always the tricky one, this is tested by explanations and applying what a student knows, usually to a new situation.

What many students – and non-teachers, come to that – think of when the assessment word is used is what we might call summative assessment. This means checking what somebody can do, knows or understands at a particular point in time. This can then be compared to other people. GCSE exams are an example of summative assessment.

We as teachers like to use formative assessment. This comes in many forms, but what it does is to identify what a student can do and what they need to change/improve/modify to improve. The feedback needs to be specific to the student and allows them to progress. It can be a simple comment to a student in a lesson, part of a ‘ladder’ of improvement or be a formal response to a piece of work.

This is, I suspect, not news to anyone reading this. I’m not trying to get my colleagues to use formative assessment – we all do. I want some for me.

I’d like some feedback about what I’m doing, as I know I’m getting more traffic than the comments suggest. If you like what you see, please let me know, especially if the resources are useful for you professionally. Even more important, I’d like to know what doesn’t work. What would stop you coming back, or subscribing, or telling your friends or colleagues?


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