Formative Assessment Isn't What You Think

When planning for a Standards-Based classroom you follow a clear series of steps:

1. Pick your priority standards and rewrite them in student-friendly learning objectives.
2. Unpack those standards to really understand what they are asking students to know and do.
3. Build rubrics or proficiency scales to help make the learning objective accessible for students and to create a clear understanding of how mastery will be measured.
4. Build your assessments using those rubrics.
5. Create your learning path from introducing the learning objective to assessing the standard that includes a lot of feedback and formative assessment.
6. Make a plan for intervention and support.

One of the most daunting elements of a Standards-Based classroom is the idea that feedback needs to happen consistently for students to be able to improve on the learning objective. We know a grade on its own is not enough to help students learn from their mistakes or to understand where they need to improve but the task of consistently giving goal-referenced feedback to 190 students seems impossible until you really look at the research on what effective feedback is.

The research we see from Hattie and Temperly states that feedback must address at least one of three main questions for the learner to be effective: Where am I going? (What are the goals?) How am I going? (What progress is being made towards the goals?), and Where to next? (What activities need to be undertaken to make better progress?).

Additionally, when we look at what we know about how learning works we see the importance of feedback being timely, tangible, and actionable. Feedback becomes more effective when it is goal-referenced so a quiz score on its own is not feedback, but a quiz score with an explanation of how that quiz relates to the overall learning goal could be actionable and timely feedback for a student.

In the Formative Assessment Action plan by Fisher and Frey, the book argues that the research on best practices suggests that feedback is most effective in a "feed-forward" system. "The teacher needed to establish learning goals, check for understanding, provide feedback, and then align future instruction with the students’ performance. She needed an instructional framework that allowed her to feed-forward, not just provide feedback." (Fisher and Frey)

Based on what we know about feedback here are some of my tips for managing feedback in the classroom.

Automated Feedback

Sometimes students just need to know certain vocabulary or facts as part of the learning process. Before a student can explain or apply the knowledge they often just need to learn what the words and terms mean. This is where automated feedback is most useful for everyone. If you make a clear connection between the learning goal and the vocabulary or facts a student needs to know then a Quizizz can provide quick, automated feedback for the student and a clear snapshot for the teacher of what students know and still need to learn.

Quizizz gives you a ton of data to help you see where reteaching and interventions are required. 

Students can see what they got right and wrong as they go through the quiz, it can provide them with the correct answer as they take the quiz and when they are done it will review the answers with them. When using Quizizz, it is important to teach your students how and why to use all the tools it offers them. If you want the feedback to address "where will I go next?" you'll need to show students that they can review their answers when done and show them the ways they can study solo if needed using the flashcard feature or the solo quiz feature.

There are a lot of education apps similar to Quizizz, right now Quizizz is the most powerful and has the most features. It also has a huge question data bank for you to pull from making it easy to build assessments.

Go Over The Answers With Them

This one is going to sound obvious but if you are doing work in class, review the answers with them. Show examples of correct responses. Again, this works best and is most effective if students understand how the work connects to their overall learning goal. If you explain how the graphic organizer you did that day aligns with the objective they will be assessed on and then review the correct answers for them then this feedback becomes more powerful for them. Reviewing the answers without giving students a context our purpose for those answers is a waste of time.

Show Exemplars 

Often times in my class the objective we are working on is a writing skill. It's hard to automate that process but it is easy to review a few student samples with the whole class and talk about how and where the student work aligns with the objective and what the work needs to improve on to hit the learning objective. You can't grade 150+ essays every week but if you focus on one or two skills per writing task, you can offer clear, goal aligned feedback consistently.

At a certain point in the year, the trust in my classroom is high enough that students put their names on the padlet boards. 

For example, we will write a full essay in class and when they are done I'll ask students to anonymously write their thesis statements on a Padlet board. Using a Padlet board allows me to very quickly read through and find examples that meet the objective or are very close to meeting the objective. Then we talk through those few examples as a class. There are no names associated with the work and the focus is always on what they did well first. I often start by showing the thesis and the rubric for a thesis and asking the class to discuss with a partner if they think it meets the objective, this helps me prepare my students for peer assessments as well.

Peer Assessments

Once students know and understand what they are looking for it becomes easier for them to help their peers through peer assessment. This is another area where I believe it works best if the students are giving feedback on one or two components within the work. Have the students focus their feedback on one or two objectives with clear rubrics to help them provide the feedback. As much as we might want to throw rubrics out when they are clear and straightforward and students are taught how to use them it can make the process of Peer Assessments less daunting for students.

Self Assessment 

Students can learn a lot by reflecting on the work they have done. If we remember that feedback is most effective when it is aligned with a clear measurable goal or purpose it becomes clear that for self-assessment to be powerful, students need to know what they are focusing in on. Self-assessment works well when there are exemplars students can refer to. Self-assessment is a process that needs to be taught, it is a skill set that most students are not familiar with but a skill set that can benefit them and can empower learners.

Like all the feedback systems above, the work should focus on a learning goal that is clear and measurable and students should figure out where they are and where they need to go next from the process of self-assessment. I like the single point rubric for student self-assessment when they need to look at more than one learning goal at a time.

Focus on One Skill At a Time 

The biggest shift you can make to increase how much feedback you give your students is a shift in how you assess and grade. If you can focus on one skill or objective at a time with your feedback, your feedback will become more focused and clear and the work will become faster. Research also shows that the feedback and scoring will have greater reliability (Guskey)  if you focus on one question or component for all your students before moving on to score the next one.

This year I plan to have students writing essays every two weeks but I know I can't properly assess those essays for all the components the College Board requires fo their LEQ's and DBQ's. Instead, I'll give feedback on just one element and I'll ask students to try and identify and reflect on where they did this work prior to my giving feedback on it.

For example, writing with evidence is a huge part of AP World History so I'll ask students to highlight two places in their essay where they feel they did this work the best. They'll compare that writing to the provided rubric and then I'll assess just that component of the larger essay.

I wish I could give powerful and meaningful feedback over every component of the essays they turn in, but the truth is that work would probably go against the research on feedback. My comments on every aspect of a students essay won't deliver for them actionable feedback that is timely and goal referenced, it will just give them a list of suggestions.


"Without a clear purpose, students are not motivated and do not see the relevance of the content they’re expected to master." Fisher and Frey 

No matter what feedback systems you use in your classroom, feedback is only valuable when students understand how the work they do in class aligns with some kind of learning goal or objective. Even if your classroom is not Standards-Based you can still shift your practices to ensure more effective and powerful feedback for students by aligning the work to learning objectives that are clear and measurable for the students. 

How do you give feedback in your classroom? Tell us in the comments. 


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