Formative Assessment Techniques

Formative Assessment Techniques

Several short assessment techniques listed below can be used well for formative assessment (that is, to check how your students understand the topics you just taught). However, they can also be used as short measurements that will have some weight attached and be part of the course grade. Of course you will have to modify them a bit to facilitate grading. One approach is random grading. For example: ask the entire class to complete a short assignment and then randomly collect and grade some attempts. This practice forces all students in the class participate in the activity. Advertise your intentions beforehand in the syllabus. A matrix derived from the class roster will help ensure fair collections. Grading is more work for you, but the payoff is more students involved in classroom work.

Debates exemplify different ways of thinking about a problem and solving it. And debates demonstrate higher order thinking and problem-solving skills. Without moving seats around, divide the class into several sections (possibly as many sections as there are ways of approaching the problem). Ask the large groups to think from the different perspectives and come up with arguments to defend that way of thinking. Give students 5 minutes to discuss in pairs or proximity-seating small groups. Then call the class to regroup and ask the different parts to volunteer with examples of their way of thinking. If you use this to debate technique to explore pros and cons, consider also a third group who must not take sides, but come up with reasons for an agnostic approach.

Role-playing works well in history, literature, or biochemistry classes. Divide the class into as many sections as you need to have for role playing. Ask them to prepare their arguments or plan their behavior representing the role they play (different characters of a play, different groups in history, different enzymes that could react and form new ones). Establish the context, and ask students to discuss briefly, in pairs or small groups, how their role would react. Then ask for representative descriptions from each section. Draw attention to consequences of possibly unanticipated behaviors.

Mini-Cases can be used as a start up for a lecture or placed in between topics to change the tempo of longer lectures and help students better understand through a specific example. Ask students to pair-up or form small groups by turning around to colleagues seated in proximity. One group presents the case to the entire class then pairs or small groups work for several minutes to develop responses by directly applying the lecture content to the case example.
Think-pair-share is another useful change-up in a long lecture. After 15-20 minutes of lecturing, ask a question. Ask students to write down responses to the question, and then turn to the next neighbor and discuss their responses. Spend no more than 5 minutes. Then ask several pairs to share their responses and, before moving on, conclude the exercise with a correct response.

Minute papers are a powerful way to assess the degree to which students understand topics and concepts covered in a class period. Call for one 20 minutes into the lecture, or at the end of the class. The task should not be allowed to take more than 5 minutes of class time. If it is used in the middle of the lecture, then some questions might be: “Briefly explain the main concept discussed in this part of the lecture,” “Give an example of this concept or principle.” “How could this concept apply to [a possible next topic in the same lecture]?” “How does this idea relate to your experience with…?” When used at the end of the class period, the one-minute paper questions might be: “What are the most important things you learned in today’s lecture?” “What is the question on today’s topic that remains in your mind after this lecture?” Collect the responses. This is also a good way to take attendance if you request names. Requiring names might limit the honesty of students’ responses, however. Collected responses can be the basis of the first five minutes of the next class: you may need to revise a concept, give some examples, or clarify some topics. You may also wish to feature astute questions or share otherwise excellent examples.

Formative quizzes are quizzes that are not graded. Use them to evaluate students’ understanding of a topic. Use questions similar to the ones they will see on exams. Present the question with a PowerPoint slide or overhead. Responses could be a low-tech raising of hands, but iClickers are designed for this type of activity, and all Rensselaer students have one.