Formative Assessment: Assessment for learning

Embedded formative assessment

In 1998 researchers Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam published Inside the black box: Raising standards through classroom assessment, a significant research review that showed that the practice of formative assessment is the key to educational improvement. The black box in the title is the classroom, and the authors argue that rather than being a silver bullet, formative assessment is an integral part of instruction that is affected by the complexities of politics and policies, including teacher training. Ultimately, the authors conclude that "there is a body of firm evidence that formative assessment is an essential component of classroom work and that its development can raise standards of achievement. We know of no other way of raising standards for which such a strong prima facie case can be made." In 2009, John Hattie published a meta-meta-analysis of education research called Visible Learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. In that study, Hattie found that formative assessment, when done correctly, had the highest effect size on student learning compared with other classroom strategies.

What is formative assessment

In Embedded Formative Assessment, Dylan Wiliam (2011) makes the case that the term formative assessment is a misnomer for the practice of ongoing assessment in classrooms. Rather than a tool - a particular "disruptive" assessment - formative assessment is a process for informing both the teacher and the learner so that the teacher changes what he or she is doing AND the student understands where he or she is in relation to the learning goal. That is, the assessment provides information that changes what the teacher and learner are doing. Wiliam notes that the UK Assessment Reform Group has lain out five requirements for assessment to improve learning:
  1. The provision of effective feedback to students.
  2. The active involvement of students in their own learning.
  3. The adjustment of teaching to take into account the results of the assessment.
  4. The recognition of the profound influence assessment has on the motivation and self-esteem of students, both of which are crucial influences on learning.
  5. The need for students to be able to assess themselves and understand how to improve.

The presentation at right highlights some research on formative assessment. The clip below is from a Shirley Clarke dvd. Shirley Clarke is often described as the foremost expert on practical applications of assessment for learning (formative assessment). An associate of the Institute of Education, University of London, Shirley Clarke's books regularly feature in the university's "best sellers " list.

Web 2.0 tools and formative assessment

Effective feedback for learning is timely and it informs the teaching practice of the teacher and the learning tactic of the student. There are multiple ways to get and give effective feedback - and the new web 2.0 technologies are particularly useful. Some ideas for giving feedback are below.


Wordle is a word cloud generator that shows the preponderance of certain words in a clipping of text by differentiating the size of the font. Below is an example created from responses by my classmates to the question "what is formative assessment?"
Wordle could be used to aggregate responses from students about a particular topic and would show quickly if students had the correct terminology when answering. Wordles could be collected weekly in response to the essential question of the unit, and could be displayed next to each other to show changes in learning and ideas over time.


Wallwisher describes itself as an online notice board maker - or it might be called a social learning site. The creator of the wallwisher can post a question, and students can interact with the question and each other by posting "sticky notes" that can contain text, pictures, videos and links. In using Wallwisher for formative assessment, teachers can post questions related to current learning goals to gauge where the students are and to make plans or changes to upcoming learning opportunities. Students can monitor their own development by seeing what others are thinking and learning, and can explore resources provided by classmates in order to strengthen their own learning.

Google Docs

Google Docs provide an opportunity for a constructed and connected learning environment in which the teacher and the student can monitor learning. Teachers can post poems or other readings and students can "chat" with each other as they read through the assignment, building upon each other's knowledge, and visibly demonstrating how they are coming to understand what they are reading. Teachers can make suggestions and give feedback on drafts in the process of writing rather than after, and students can experience the motivation created by writing for a larger audience when posting their work for other students to find.

Google Forms

Google forms are easy to create and they provide immediate and specific information to students and teachers about progress toward learning goals. A teacher can easily post a form with questions about the learning goal go ascertain what information and skills students will bring to the class, and can make groupings and adjustments based on the information they receive. The information is collected in an easy-to-sort spreadsheet, and can be organized and shared in a number of ways.

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