Formative assessment is the informal process of checking for understanding during instruction. This type of assessment tells teachers whether students are keeping up with the lesson or if they'll need to reteach any concepts to ensure student success. Teachers often use formative assessments without even realizing it, as checking student progress is an essential part of any well-planned lesson.
Common Formative Assessments Examples
Formative vs. Summative Assessments
Summative assessments take place at the end of an instructional period and determine what students have learned. Teachers use formative assessments to see how students are learning, and to determine whether they need to adjust their instruction.
Formative Assessment Examples for Preschool
Children come to preschool with a wide range of skills. Preschool teachers use formative assessments to check the cognitive, social-emotional, and physical development of their students throughout the school year. Based on formative assessment results, they can fill in learning gaps as students prepare for kindergarten.
Here are some examples of preschool formative assessments.
Preschool teachers constantly observe their class to assess whether everyone is grasping a concept or engaged in a lesson. Monitoring can occur in whole-group activities or during playtime. If several students are struggling with a particular skill, the teacher can use their observations to form a small group or provide one-on-one guidance.
Preschool games can be very informative when checking for understanding. Students who struggle with gross motor skills may lag behind in tag or relay races. Other learners might not be able to name every letter in a class guessing game. Every time, the game provides information for the teacher moving forward.
Keeping strong contact with parents is a great way to ensure that learning is occurring. Teachers can periodically send short surveys home for parents to note progress with skills like emotional regulation, following one and two-step directions, and physical milestones.
Because preschoolers are often more physical than they are verbal, physical responses are effective formative assessments. Students who understand a concept can clap, while those who don't understand might stomp. This type of assessment is especially helpful when implementing Total Physical Response strategies (TPR).
Formative Assessment Examples for Elementary Classrooms
Checking for understanding in elementary lessons can be more engaging than spelling tests and math drills. Formative assessments can be both engaging and aligned to Common Core standards. Here are some Common Core formative assessment examples for elementary school students.
Sometimes students are too embarrassed to ask for help or admit they don't understand something. Classroom polls tell the teacher what percentage of the class is ready to move on. Students can anonymously indicate whether they understand a concept with slips of paper, and the teacher (or a student volunteer) can compile responses into a bar graph.
For a quick check of understanding, hand out brightly colored coasters to the class. Have them flip the coasters to one side at the beginning of the lesson, and when they understand the concept, they can flip them to the other side. A glance around the classroom can tell the teacher if the lesson is complete or if they need to readdress a concept.
There are many learning apps that connect student progress to teacher dashboards. These high-interest teaching methods inform teachers which students have passed levels or what skills they need to improve. They also provide instant feedback for students who want to know about their own learning.
What have students learned by the end of the day? Exit tickets are useful for students to reflect on the day's instruction. They can use index cards or slips of paper to write down what they learned, what they struggled with, or what they'd like to know more about. Students then hand these tickets to the teacher on their way out the door. Using an answer board is another way to check for understanding.
Formative Assessment Examples for Secondary Classrooms
Raising hands or nodding might be too simple for middle and high schoolers who are capable of self-reflection. Teachers can check beyond basic concept understanding with formative assessment options that make students a part of their own learning journeys. Here are some ways to check on student progress in middle and high school.
Hand out mini whiteboards (or sticky notes) at the beginning of a lesson. Have students note any questions they still have when the lesson is over. As they engage in independent work, take a walk around the classroom and address any concerns. If many students are struggling with the same concept, reteach the idea tomorrow.
Restating a concept in your own words is a good indication of understanding. Students can write three summaries - one in 75 to 100 words, one in 30 to 50 words, and one in 10 to15 words - to demonstrate what they understand so far. For quick checks, have students complete only one of the summaries.
Determine how deeply students understand a concept with strategic questioning strategies. If they can answer questions in the first few levels of Bloom's Taxonomy, see if they can apply, analyze, or evaluate information from the lesson. These types of questions are appropriate for warm-ups, discussion questions, or quick writing prompts.
Self-Assessment and Office Hours
By secondary school, students are often the best judges of their own learning and performance. Hand out rubrics for students to assess their own learning, project progress, or skill development. Meet individually or form peer groups for students to talk about the difficulties they are having with a concept or requirement. Teachers can also create office hours before, during, or after school to meet with students.
More Assessment Resources
If you'd like more ideas about assessment in the classroom, check out our article on unique formative examples. You can also work toward summative assessments with these ideas for getting past tests and final papers.