Formative Assessment Principles

Supporting the assessment process

When used well, formative assessment supports student learning and enables students to: monitor their progress, identify their own strengths and weaknesses, and to make action plans for development. The following pointers are intended to help students make the most of formative assessment opportunities:

Be clear with your students how the formative activity will support their learning

Identify the knowledge, skills or abilities that the activity is designed to support and make these clear to your students. Think through how you present the formative activity to your students - an opportunity to ‘have a go at this quiz if you like’ or ‘send in a draft plan of the essay if you want to’ is unlikely to be taken up. Be specific about what exactly students will gain from the formative activity.

Ensure the formative activity has explicit connections to the summative assessment

One role of formative activity is to practice the skills required in the summative assessment. These skills could be additional to the module content, for example, familiarising students with: exam paper format, administration of a multiple choice test or operation of presentation equipment. Matching formative and summative activity is clearly important in these cases.

With an in-class formative activity which tests knowledge, there is more scope for variation. Games such as Bingo, Countdown or Who wants to be a Millionaire? are unlikely to re-appear as summative assessments but the question content, level and complexity should be appropriate.

Consider the timing of the formative activity

Students will need time to reflect on the outcomes of the formative activity before preparing for the summative assessment. Reviewing formative and summative assessment points across your students’ programme using a scheduling tool such as a shared Outlook calendar is helpful in ensuring adequate time between assessments.

It might also be possible to schedule the feedback return with a Personal Tutor meeting so that your students have a ready-made opportunity to discuss their progress.

Decide whether you will award marks for the formative activity

Many people associate formative activity with zero marks but by making the activity ‘low stakes’ and awarding a small proportion of marks, your students may be motivated to undertake the task without fear of compromising their overall module mark.

Plan how feedback will be provided

Feedback on the formative activity needs to clearly articulate what students need to do to improve their performance. If feedback is written, it may be helpful to amend the feedback sheet in some way so that students are prompted to make an action plan to address each of your points in turn. Using a technique such as ‘3 things to do next time to increase your grade’ or ‘stop (doing this), start (doing this), continue (doing this)’ may help students engage with your feedback.

Link your feedback to the learning you are intending. So if the formative activity is designed to support development of students’ writing ability – focus your feedback on this particular skill.

Feedback could also be delivered in class, via audio or video. Providing feedback on common areas for development might feel like repetitive work but, by creating a 5 minute video at your desk, you could potentially save time and use the video on a number of occasions. Alternatively, you could edit a recorded lecture where you discuss the formative activity and re-use this clip.

Remember that for some formative activities, you do not have to generate the feedback. Feedback can be self-generated (completing a self-check list against specific assessment criteria, comparing own work with a previously annotated/graded model), computer generated (built into a Blackboard quiz) or peer generated (marking work against clearly defined criteria, group discussion or ‘crits’ of drafts and work in progress).

However delivered, feedback is likely to be enhanced if accompanied with reflection, discussion and action planning.

Think about your own workload

A reasonable concern is that offering a formative activity will bring additional marking. Apart from the ideas above (feedback that focusses on a specific skill, using self/peer/computer feedback), consider reducing the size of the summative assessment to make space for a formative activity. So, you could ask your students to produce: a plan of an essay, a literature review for an assignment, an annotated bibliography to show their thinking on a topic or a curated montage of images to demonstrate the design process and award marks for this element. You would then reduce the summative assignment by a corresponding amount so that you are not marking the same work twice.

Alternatively, you might add a criterion to the summative assignment such as ‘uses outcome of feedback to modify own work’ and award a marks for the actions that students have taken in response to the formative activity. Students who do not submit the formative activity are therefore unable to obtain full marks.

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