In the age of instant information, formative assessment, which takes place within a unit of study rather than at the end of it, fits right in. Done strategically, formative assessments can provide both teachers and students important information they can immediately use to inform teaching and learning. Such real-time data helps teachers ensure that students master concepts and are well-prepared for end-of-unit summative assessments.
Formative assessments are important because they help teachers determine lesson plans and identify reteaching needs. They also limit surprises. With formative assessments, teachers have a good sense of how students are going to do on summative assessments, since they have been monitoring their concept mastery all along. On the other hand, formative assessments also offer useful information for students. When students understand the value of these assessments, and are included in analyzing the results, they are empowered to monitor their own progress and take action to guide their own learning. This can be very motivational.
Before any formative assessment is designed, however, it is critical for both teachers and students to understand and buy in to the value of these assessments. Luckily, cultivating this buy-in can be accomplished with just a few real-world analogies that illustrate its value. Many products and activities in our daily lives reflect the practice of formative assessments- i.e. making next-step decisions based on current information. Framing formative assessment in the minds of the students using these analogies can help convey their importance and relevance in concrete terms.
One common example of formative assessment in students’ daily lives is video games. Video games are designed to provide instant feedback. Through increasing and decreasing scores, earning and losing lives and opening new levels, players know how they are doing every step of the way and can adjust their strategy accordingly.
Activity trackers are another great example. These products are designed to allow the user to monitor their daily activities. Everything from physical activity, to food intake and sleep habits can be captured using these devices. Users check the collected data throughout the day and make adjustments accordingly to ensure they reach their goals.
For students who play sports, a game analogy will help get the point across just as well. Coaches do not wait until the end of the game to share their opinions, make strategic decisions, or substitute players. It would be ineffective for them to try to alter the game after it has already finished. Instead, a great coach is continually analyzing the game and making real-time decisions that give his/her players the best chance to win.
Chefs also utilize formative assessments. While cooking, a chef will frequently taste components of their dish to make sure that it tastes “right.” By tasting the dish throughout the cooking process, the chef makes sure that the final dish meets the consumers’ expectations. This is a much more efficient and reliable approach than hoping that the dish doesn’t get sent back from the table.
Each of these examples express the value of feedback that is collected during the activity. Formative Assessment data is most effectively collected while students are practicing, rather than as a separate exam that is taken outside of the learning context on a periodical basis. Real-time data can be gathered through observations, discussions, white boards, as well as through technology-based solutions.
Do you have other analogies you might use to help students understand the importance of leveraging formative assessments in their learning? We’d love to hear them. Tweet us at @Knowre with your ideas!