formative assessment

Teachers share formative assessment strategies that work

Real-time observation and feedback tools help teachers snapshot student learning

Ed. note: Today’s students have too many tests to take—but today’s teachers still need insight into their classes’ knowledge and skills. Adding new tests every time students need to prove mastery rarely seems like the right answer. For some classrooms, the solution lies in formative assessments, which gauge their students’ understanding and personalize their lessons in real time. Here, two educators share how formative assessments are transforming their students’ learning across the board.

Dawn Nelson, school library media specialist

“Formative assessment is an essential part of teaching because it helps guide instruction. Checking for understanding of important concepts helps the teacher decide to move on or to continue instruction to ensure that crucial information is not lacking.  It can be something as simple as a thumbs up/thumbs down, exit tickets when students leave the classroom, use of digital tools, or actual quizzes. Because it does inform instruction, formative assessment should be incorporated on a regular, if not daily, basis.

The most helpful methods of formative assessment are those that are easy to implement but still provide the information a teacher needs about whether their students have met their learning targets. Verbal questions that require simple student responses are easy but may not provide enough information, especially about students who may not understand but are reluctant to respond.

Digital tools such as Plickers, Kahoot, or Socrative provide that information but require teacher time to be created and implemented well. With a tool like pivotEd, the quality questions are designed to provide the answers the teacher needs, and because they are built right into the instruction, they are easy to implement. It’s especially helpful to provide different ways for students to respond, which can draw out reluctant or hesitant students.

When I monitor student engagement in real-time, I can provide instant feedback for students so they know what they need to do to gain more understanding. Several of the activities in pivotEd let students see their responses along with their classmates in a non-competitive way that can lead to class interaction on the topics. It also gives a platform for those students who may not say anything in class but who will add their voice to this non-threatening platform.

Seeing the students’ interaction with the material and each other in real time, I can change instruction almost immediately as I identify what concepts need additional clarification or what topics we can move through—and as students themselves identify where they may need additional support. Assessment for learning can be ongoing and become an integrated part of instruction.

Here’s an example: I was recently teaching a unit that began with a question asking the students to put words into a word cloud. It became obvious that several of the students really didn’t understand a specific word in the question. Instead of moving on with the lesson, I chose to stop and review what the word meant. During the class discussion I saw responses in the word cloud change as students gained understanding. The discussion was robust and relevant, and I saw the results of that activity as the students responded differently to the material with a better grasp of the concept. It changed the entire lesson for the better.”

Ashleigh Schulz, 4th–5th grade gifted teacher      

“I use formative assessment periodically in my classroom in varying degrees. Typically, I formally assess my students every few weeks and then three times throughout the year on a progression of the skills and standards that are required for my students to be successful in my classes.

I feel that formal assessment does have a place in the classroom, but I much prefer the “pulse” I get from informally assessing my students using my Flexcat audio system. By having speaking and listening pods placed around the classroom, I am able to gain a deeper understanding of how my students think and where I can intervene to clear up any misunderstandings before they are formally assessed.

Although tests that I create and state-provided tests measure student performance, they are often a small glimpse into what a child knows. Listening in on students’ conversations while they are collaborating on a project can provide much more in terms of knowing the thought process of students. Both methods of assessment contribute to the overall formative assessment that provides a path for me to follow for each child.

This approach also helps me mold my students into strategic test-takers. After learning their weaknesses by listening to how they solve problems, I can then coach them on the correct method of answering questions. Providing immediate feedback during student work time directly translates into their work on assessments.

I feel that I have a better understanding of my students and their personal learning needs, thus helping me provide a better learning environment and learning opportunities to the students I teach. Knowing that I can immediately step in and help anyone—or just sit back and observe—gives me the ability to be the teacher I’ve always wanted to be.

With the ability to listen to my students no matter where I am in the room, I can combine formal and informal assessments to develop formative assessments based on my students’ needs. As a teacher, using formative assessment to change your lesson is just good practice! A good teacher changes, edits, and adjusts at a moment’s notice. Formalizing a prescription for each student to help improve their personal learning is key to success.”

Sign up for our K-12 newsletter

Newsletter: Innovations in K12 Education
By submitting your information, you agree to our Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy.

Want to share a great resource? Let us know at

INNOVATIONS in K-12 Education


Sign up for our K-12 newsletter

Newsletter: Innovations in K12 Education
By submitting your information, you agree to our Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy.

eSchool News uses cookies to improve your experience. Visit our Privacy Policy for more information.