Formative? Summative? What does it all mean to you, your students, and teaching?
You need assessments — but how you get them? What kind of assessment is it? And what you do with them?
Here is how you can make sense of formative and summative assessments — without the overwhelm!
Let’s get started!
Wouldn’t it be great to live in a world that didn’t require grades? Where emojis were real currency?!
Unfortunately, we don’t live in that fantasy world, and we need to provide accurate, regular, instructional assessments for our students, their families, our administration…and ourselves!
Is it a formative or summative assessment?
In the simplest terms:
A formative assessment provides the teacher with feedback during the learning process. For example, if you are teaching students to write a personal narrative, a formative assessment might be a graphic organizer that shows you whether students understand narrowing the topic. Or, it might be an outline of the narrative, or even a first draft.
The teacher is evaluating what the student is currently learning, needs help with, or where he or she needs to be challenged.
A summative assessment provides the teacher with feedback at the end of the learning process. For example, the summative assessment for a personal narrative is the the finished narrative essay.
The teacher is assessing how far the student came to meeting the objectives of the assignment.
Where to get assessments?
Most of the time, the summative assessments are easy to find. They include:
- finished essay
- state mandated tests
You can gather formative assessments in a variety of ways:
- exit cards
- graphic organizers
- journal responses
- quick writes
- peer reviews
- question & answers
- class discussions
- group feedback
- progress reports
How to build formative assessments into your plans
As you are planning lessons, it’s easy to focus on the final product. And when teaching writing, that usually means the final draft of a paper.
But don’t forget to determine how you are going to assess how students are doing throughout the learning process. Using exit cards, journal responses, or some other type of feedback will provide you with quick formative assessments that will help you intervene when students are having trouble.
Especially with long term projects or writing workshop, formative assessments help create student accountability. When your students know that you expect feedback from them, they will know you mean business! It is harder for students to squeak out the classroom door when you are standing at it — hand outstretched for their exit ticket!
By collecting regular formative assessments, you’ll have a clear idea of how your students are doing.
You can collect a simple exit ticket each day at the end of class — simply to monitor your students’ engagement.
What to do once you’ve got ’em
Once you have collected formative assessments, what’s next? I think the easiest way to handle them is to sort ’em!
For example, let’s say your writing workshop mini lesson was on sentence structure. You collected exit cards at the end of class on which students provided you with two sample sentences they revised.
One way to sort the cards is to determine:
- students who are mastering the skill
- students who are on their way to mastery but still need a bit of help
- students who are struggling
You now have data!
You know which students are struggling, which students are “getting there,” and which students need a reteach.
Once you have the cards sorted, these groups can be your conference groups in your next workshop. Choose an activity that stretches students to improve on where they are. You can differentiate by groups. You don’t need to reteach to the entire class; you can target your instruction to meet the needs of your students.
Building formative assessments into your lessons helps prevent students from running off the rails, and it also helps them learn how to manage their time. But, best of all, it helps you become the most effective teacher you can be! It allows you to focus your efforts on your students’ individual needs.
Where do summative assessments come in?
Teaching isn’t like baking. Unlike cookies that are ready after 8 – 10 minutes (that is if you don’t eat all the batter first? ), students learn at different rates. It’s not fair to expect every student to “get” a lesson in the same amount of time.
You can use formative assessments to help you determine when your students are ready for the summative assessment.
For example, when working on a writing assignment, students benefit from a due date. But the date can be flexible so that the students who are ready (based on the formative assessments) can move ahead in the writing process. Those who aren’t ready can have a bit more time.
By creating a “window” for the due date in which some students will turn the work in earlier than others, you provide students who need it that little bit of extra time.
A side bonus? You can stagger your grading!
Experimenting with what works
The great thing about a classroom is it’s a wonderful laboratory for learning — both for students and teachers! You don’t have to use the same assessment methods with every assignment.
Give something a try and see what happens. Adapt and adopt what works for you and your students.