Show them what success looks like! and they will also feel better about themselves – using formative assessment

“Informative assessment isn’t an end in itself, but the beginning of better instruction.” —Carol Ann Tomlinson

For your students to learn and grow, formative assessment should be considered. There are several ways in which an educator could use Formative assessment such as evaluating student comprehension, academic progress and learning needs.

The opposite of a formative assessment is a “summative assessment” that measures the sum of a student’s learning at the end of a unit or year. Where formative assessments are used to measure progress, summative assessments measure the end point—thereby revealing more about outcomes instead of where to go in the future.

I have witnessed many of my collegues are skillfull in classroom management through my occasional “learning walk” and they seem to be most effective. While summative assessments (like unit tests or yearly examinations) are familiar curricular tools, it is imperative that teachers properly employ formative assessments to most powerfully impact their students’ learning. It is through formative assessment that we are able to diffentiate instruction to target students’ weaknesses and bring them to a place where they should be.

Some of my favourites are:

  • Mini-whiteboards Each student, or groups of students, has a mini-whiteboard. As they work through problems, they can share them either with you as a class, or you can walk around the classroom and see their work
  • Exit slip You hand out a short quiz or a few simple questions, and students give them to you as they leave your class. Allow students to revise and reflect on formative assessments.
  • Google Forms “Comments/questions/suggestions about the lesson?” Students who normally would not participate in class will participate virtually

Formative assessment results must be examined by students as well. Students ought to be part of the reflection process, recognising how they performed to properly outline a strategy to improve their performance.


Show students what success looks like!. Students can see their own performance, but a formative assessment is also an opportunity for students to see what success at that particular task should look like.The standard can then be compared to their own skill level. The use of effective success criteria is, in my opinion, the best way that you can scaffold for your students to understand how they can achieve; the criteria act as a map for students through the learning journey.

The many students I have taught over the years seem to want something concrete to measure against some sort of criteria. Gone are the days when a question mark is inscribed next to an incorrect response on a paper (somehow I feel the student didn’t understand in the first place so a question mark isn’t really helping). A success criteria helps the student to see what satisfactory actually is and what the next steps the student could make.

An effective success criterion should: • Be directly linked to the learning taking place at that time • Be transferable beyond the lesson (based on skills, not content) • Build on previous learning • Be accessible and understood by students • Be visible • Be embedded in the teaching and learning. Whilst the students get used to using success criteria, the teacher will need to provide them and model writing them with the class. As they become more familiar, students will be able to generate their own success criteria, thereby giving more ownership over the learning process.

Recently i had led staff professional development in implementing learning intentions and sucess criteria. Some teachers were sceptical as success criteria means showing students what success looks like before they complete a learning task in the classroom. But imaging travelling overseas and sending a bunch of children into an AFL game without ever seeing it or playing it. The game is so random that unless you outline some structure or steps to play the game, we can never expect those students to be successful.

Hattie and Donoghue write,

“Knowing the success criteria. A prediction from the model of learning is that when students learn how to gain an overall picture of what is to be learnt, have an understanding of the success criteria for the lessons to come and are somewhat clear at the outset about what it means to master the lessons, then their subsequent learning is maximized. The overall effect across the 31 meta-analyses is 0.54, with the greatest effects relating to providing students with success criteria, planning and prediction, having intentions to implement goals, setting standards for self-judgements and the difficulty of goals.”

This enables students to go from surface level to deep. Some stratgeies teachers could use from going from surface to deep include going from note taking, underlining, test taking to concept mapping, self-monitoring, peer tutoring and collaboration.

Teaching students these strategies, and how to use them, will all help lead to transfer learning, which is the ultimate goal for us as teachers. Using SOLO taxonomy strategies could also assist teachers in achieveing this outcome.

Ultimately, these strategies will strengthen learning and lead to a higher level of student engagement. Isn’t that the goal?

Hattie & Donoghue (2015) Learning strategies: a synthesis and conceptual model


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