Episode 26 Formative Assessment

Dan discusses the need for teachers to shift their paradigm when it comes to assessment. Key to this shift is the need to see assessment as a tool for teachers to guide future teaching for that student.

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Formative Assessment is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Produced and Transcribed by Brad Keyes at Podgee.io.


Hi and welcome to another episode of the effective teaching podcast. Today I want to talk about formative assessment and I thought I should start by talking about why formative assessment is so important when it comes to helping our students develop the skills of lifelong learning.

Firstly, formative assessment requires a change in perspective on assessment. For too long assessment has been seen as summative. A tool to tell us how much the student has learnt from a unit or year of school and that was it. Formative assessment on the other hand requires that both the teacher and the student view assessment more like a check in to see how they are progressing.

You see formative assessment has a very different goal than summative assessment. Formative assessment is looking to discover how much learning has happened, if there has been any misunderstandings, any areas that need to be re-addressed and what should happen next as the student moves towards the learning goals. So, rather than the assessment being about attaining a grade formative assessment is about checking progress with the purpose of adjusting teaching and learning activities. 

Formative assessment is the bridge between teaching and learning. In one direction it tells us whether the teaching has produced learning, how much learning, and how students are progressing. BUT, and I think MORE IMPORTANTLY, formative assessment also goes in the other direction. It tells us how we, as teachers, should adapt, adjust, and change our teaching based on student progress. It is what we should be basing our differentiation upon!

If we can make this shift in mindframe and help our students do the same it will provide them with a great skill moving forward as lifelong learners, and that skill is to be able to use assessment to monitor performance, identify areas to work on, and then find the next steps required to develop their understanding and skills to become masters of not just the new content, but of learning.

As teachers, we need to be leading by example in this area. We must see assessment of students more as an assessment on our teaching than on their learning. Of course, there are students who chose not to try and others who may never be able to “get” your content. BUT the reason why students don’t meet the learning goals is all too often because teachers either didn’t expect them to or because the student was not told what to do next to progress towards that goal from WHERE THEY ARE NOW!

We have known for a long time that differentiation is important and that all our students are different, but we have also known that differentiating learning to meet the needs of all our students is difficult if not impossible, especially with the limited amount of prep time we are given. BUT since when have teachers shied away from hard work!! And today with technology the ability to differentiate for each of your students has never been easier (please note I said easier, not easy… I know it is still not easy).

The best way to know how to differentiate your classroom is to use formative assessment to determine what you do. We need to make sure that the assessment we ask our students to do has the goal of informing what we do next as teachers. If this is the goal of assessment and students see this, then the change in mindframe can begin. Not only will they begin to see a purpose to assessment, but the type of assessment will change because the goal of the assessment is different. Suddenly assessment becomes a tool to support learning not a tool to check learning, or to rate or rank the learners.

When it comes to formative assessment just doing the basics will dramatically help improve student learning. This in turn helps our students to identify as learners as the encounter more and more success in their learning. BUT, we can do better than the basic 3-2-1 sheets at the end of the lesson (not that these are bad).

Improvements in learning from formative assessment can be doubled by adding learning intentions and success criteria. If you sit down and first work out where you are trying to take the students learning, what this looks like and how you will know that students are successful, it can have a huge impact on how you create your formative assessments and you focus on what the next steps for that student to help them progress towards the learning goals. You can actually work out what the next steps are for given scenarios before you encounter them, helping you to be better prepared in your unit and future lessons.

If you want to increase this impact again. You can get 3 times the learning from formative assessment if you combine your learning intentions and success criteria with data tracking. If you create a spreadsheet of the data that you collect from formative assessments and track student progress it better informs your teaching and enables you to be more targeted in your design of learning for your students. We should be replying on evidence to inform our decisions about what to do next in our classrooms and for each student.

Now, I thought I should mention a few ways that technology can help us to implement and respond to formative assessment. Firstly, there are now lots of tools such as Google forms, Kahoot, Quizziz etc that allow you to create a self-marking quiz. Now these are not necessarily the best types of formative assessment, but they are easy to administer, self mark and once set up can be used over and over to check for LOWER LEVELS or SHALLOW LEARNING!

Personally I love to leverage video in my classrooms to help free me up to spend more time with my students, but also to enable my students to provide me with feedback about how they are going. SO, for example, I flip my classroom. The use of video to provide basic content knowledge is a great way to allow yourself more time to spend with each of your students. Talking with them, looking at the work they are producing, or interviewing them are great ways to do formative assessments. To check in and find out what they understand, what they are struggling with, what skills they lack or how these can be refined further to improve their ability to learn through collaboration, critical thinking, problem solving etc.

I also really enjoy leveraging tools such as FlipGrid and Seesaw to help make student thinking visible for me. FlipGrid is a simple website where students can respond to prompts by recording a short video. This then allows me to see more of what is going on in their head. For example, I might ask them to quickly explain how the different components of health are related to each other by providing an example. Based on their responses I will know if they have understood this concept or whether I need to provide them with more learning in this area. Seesaw is a much broader tool and can function more as a LMS, but is still highly visual and allows me to see what is happening in my students heads so that I can then identify what they need next.

The trick with formative assessment though is to make sure that your focus and that of your students is on learning progress. Where they were, where they are and what they need to do next to get to where they are going. Don’t allow yourself to start providing students with scores. This is not the focus, the focus is on whether they have learnt something that you have tried to teach them. If not it needs to be retaught in a different way. If they have understood it, then what is next as they progress towards success. This is where your success criteria is key. Once you have shown your students what success looks like and and helped them to be able to describe it, that is when the next steps in learning are most clear.

SO, what should you do this week? I recommend that you start by focusing on one lesson. What are you hoping your students will learn? What does that look like? Create success criteria and a learning goal based on this and share it with your students. Then create at least 2 or 3 assessments that will be done in the lesson to check students’ learning as they progress towards the goal. You are essentially thinking here of how the students can show evidence of their learning. As a challenge try NOT to use a test or quiz, try and identify some type of performance the student could do in the lesson to demonstrate their learning.

Finally, make sure you change what you do based on the feedback you get from the summative assessments. This will require you to think about the different feedback from students that you might get. Some may have grasped one bit, but not another. Others may have misunderstood a foundational concept. What are you going to do when this happens. You are essentially creating an algorithm for your lesson that helps ensure all students end up reaching the goal, even if some take longer than others.

It is time to shift our mindset towards assessment. Its purpose is first and foremost to inform our teaching practice and secondly to help us and our students track their learning.


  1. Jessica Stojkovski

    HI Dan,
    Really enjoyed listening to your podcast on formative assessment. Explains it well and then provides some practical examples that teachers can take into their classroom and try to implement. Well done.

  2. Idel Leibowitz

    Hello Dan,
    I will be using your Podcast Episode 26 Formative Assessments for a Socratic Seminar on the benefits of Standard Based grading and would like to know if you have a transcript for it. I want to use it for a close reading strategy to prepare my group for our seminar. If it is available, please email it to me. Thank you so much, great Podcast!!!

    1. Daniel Jackson Post author

      Hi Idel. Thanks for listening to the podcast. I’m so sorry I do not have a transcript for this episode. I hope your Socratic seminar goes well.

  3. Stephanie Richardson

    Hey dan I listened to your formative AST podcast it was fantastic
    Do you think schools need to move away from making a whole unit of work / booklets at the start of a term to make room for using formative AST?

    1. Daniel Jackson Post author

      Hi Stephanie. Yes I do. We need to make sure that we have space built into our units and resources to ensure that we are differentiating and adapting what we do based on our formative assessment data.

      1. Stephanie Richardson

        Yes! I love this. Going to try introduce this. I’m working with some people reluctant to change but I want to work this way. am working through your podcasts and loving them thank you!!!

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