Are formative assessments always tests or quizzes?
In the past, formative assessments have often been equated with “tests” designed to check understanding and knowledge, such as “achievement tests” or “progress tests” often in the form of objective questions. These types of checks are still often used in areas such as law, sciences, maths and languages, where there is a foundational body of basic knowledge that must be mastered in order for students to tackle higher level learning tasks. They can have their place, and they can be spiced up with gamification, badging or progress bars for student engagement. However it is now widely acknowledged that if learners are to be truly self-regulating, active learners, a wider variety of assessment models and types are required, including authentic assessments based on work tasks and projects.
If we want students to be motivated to participate in “assessment for learning,” best practice must ensure the activities are engaging and that they will provide students with real assistance to learn key concepts and help them pass their final “summative” assessments. If they do not seem relevant to high stakes summative assessments, they will not be prioritised. More recently, it has been suggested that assessments, whether summative or formative, should be authentic reflections of real work tasks (see our Coffee Course on Authentic assessment for further information).
Below we will look at just a few of the many possible forms that formative assessment can take and the range of tools and techniques used.
What specific tools and practices do you employ in formative assessment of students? It would be great to compare examples here, before reading on to find out about different approaches that have been used. Perhaps you are already at the head of the curve on formative assessment practice, or perhaps you are looking for ideas!
Advantages of applying a constructivist approach to assessment
Rust et al (2005) provide a useful discussion of how a social constructivist assessment process can overcome many of the known problems with traditional assessment models. The tacit knowledge and implicit criteria within many of the assessment processes in specific disciplines are often not recognised in traditional forms of assessment, meaning that marking can take place against a set of criteria which is not explicit to the students. (There has been quite a lot written about “hidden curricula” and tacit knowledge within disciplines, where the assessing academic is applying criteria from their years of experience in the field, or from values frameworks that are not readily articulated and not available to the student, see Semper and Blasco, 2018, referenced below, for a great discussion of this in the Higher Education context).
A constructivist approach requires a rigorous constructive alignment, as per Bigg’s notion (1999, cited in Rust et al, 2005, p. 233), of not only learning outcomes, but the teaching methods must also be aligned with assessment approaches. While it is now fairly common practice to adopt a constructivist approach to learning, this same approach is often dropped when it comes to assessment, in favour of the old transmission-oriented assessment models relying on essays and exams. A constructivist approach to assessment also must provide transparency through clearly expressed criteria, such as rubrics.
A social constructivist approach relies on the formation of a community of practice, as the way students can construct, shape and evolve their knowledge (Rust et al, 2005, p. 233), which includes social learning through collaboration and connection with other learners and also experts in the field.
Discussion: Can a class or cohort of students be a community of practice?
Do you feel that you are developing a community of practice with your students, or do you think there is a potential for this? What role can you play, as an expert in your field, or can you bring in experts or experienced practitioners, for your students to gain “proximity” to their potential roles and expectations of them in the relevant industry or profession?
Examples and ideas
Share your thoughts on any ideas or tools you found interesting or potentially useful, or any others you know about or have discovered while browsing.
Rust, C., O’Donovan, B. & Price, M., 2005, “A social constructivist assessment process model: how the research literature shows us this could be best practice” in Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, Vol 30, 2005, Issue 3. DOI: 10.1080/02602930500063819
Semper, J. V. O & Blasco, M., 2018, “Revealing the Hidden Curriculum in Higher Education” in Studies in Philosophy and Education, Issue 37, pp. 481-498 (2018)
Outstanding collection of examples and ideas. Sometimes we forget good things we have done or encountered, so this is a great reminder.
Hi Judy, thanks for that feedback. I am glad you find these useful. Usually I try to include a few things that might be interpreted as fun!