As learning environments evolve to incorporate online and remote learning, so too has the need for different approaches that provide flexibility in assessing students in-class, online or in blended learning environments. The following examples of formative assessment techniques can not only help you share more regular, reliable and useful feedback on student progress, they can also help you get started in thinking of other formative assessment strategies to incorporate into your lesson plans.

1) Assessing course-related skills and knowledge

These formative assessment examples help evaluate learning of a given subject’s content by assessing student understanding and information recall from previous courses. Assessing this knowledge is especially important for instructors at the beginning of the term, in order to provide a clearer understanding of how to proceed with course material.

  • Exit tickets/exit slips: Students answer one or more questions at the close of a class period or online course module to demonstrate how well they’ve absorbed that particular lesson. Each question should focus on a single concept or skill taught in that lesson.
  • One-minute paper: Students are prompted to write a short response answering two questions related to a given week’s course content. These can also be posted in online discussion forums to spur conversation between students. Questions can be as simple as: What was the most valuable, important or useful thing you learned in the lesson? What key questions, problems or issues remain unresolved?

2) Developing critical thinking and analysis skills

Consider structuring formative assessment examples around the development of higher-order thinking skills that rely on metacognition. Various modes of analysis, including the ability to break down information, problems and questions help develop students’ critical thinking skills. Students who think critically become instinctual problem solvers in class, engineering creative solutions to solve complex real-world case studies.

  • Think-pair-share: Students work together in pairs or small groups to answer a question or solve a problem related to an assigned reading. These groups can use dedicated chat channels built-in to active learning platforms to communicate and discuss their ideas. First, the instructor asks a question regarding the text for students to think about. Next, students pair up with one or more fellow students to discuss the question and their thoughts on the possible answers. Finally, each pair or group shares their conclusions with the rest of the class.
  • Defining features matrix: Students categorize concepts based on whether or not they contain certain defining features. This is particularly useful for assessing how fully students understand certain factors distinguishing various concepts from one another and how well they can analyze whether a particular concept fits a certain category.

3) Encouraging students to think creatively

These formative assessment examples assess student abilities to synthesize information students have learned. By instructing students to express themselves creatively, students have the opportunity to think outside the box.

  • Word journal: This assessment is conducted in two parts. In the first part, the student summarizes an entire lesson in a single word. In the second part, the student composes a short statement of one or two paragraphs explaining why they chose that particular word to summarize the lesson. These can then be submitted to the instructor for feedback directly through content delivery platforms or your learning management system (LMS).
  • Invented dialogue: This strategy is particularly useful for demonstrating how well students have synthesized various historical or literary personalities, settings or themes. In this assessment, students compose a fictional dialogue between two real or fictitious personalities that demonstrate the students’ understanding of the topic. Teachers can opt to instruct students to incorporate actual quotes from primary sources into the dialogue or to simply invent plausible quotes of their own based on their comprehension of the context.

4) Enhancing problem-solving skills

These formative assessment examples assess students’ problem-solving abilities, including their ability to recognize the various types of problems and any causes and appropriate techniques to solve them. Learners can also use the time to draw similarities between various features of different problems, reflect upon them and adjust strategies for solving them accordingly.

  • Documented problem solutions: Similar to a show-and-tell exercise or a how-to article, students write down each step they went through in solving a particular problem. This helps instructors understand how a student goes about thinking through problems and may highlight student obstacles when efficiently solving different types of problems. A variation of this is to document the student’s problem-solving process through an audio-video recording of the student demonstrating their process.
  • Problem-and-solution type recognition: Effectively solving any problem requires the ability to identify the type of problem and, subsequently, the most appropriate methods of solving it. Students are given a problem and must identify its type, such as routine or non-routine, well-defined or ill-defined, and the most likely type of solution to apply to it, such as algorithm, heuristics or trial and error. Students can answer these problems through a short-answer question and the results can be shown to the class using a word cloud display.

5) Assessing student performance and application abilities

These formative assessment examples assess students’ understanding of how to apply the knowledge they’ve learned to specific situations. These examples can stand alone as “temperature checks” or can be a part of a longer assessment, such as a scheduled test or quiz.

  • Directed paraphrasing: Students take a lesson and paraphrase it with a particular audience in mind. This not only helps to assess a student’s understanding of the topic, it also helps to assess their ability to reframe it in a way that people in a different context and setting can likewise understand and apply it.
  • Student-generated test questions: As a form of role-reversal, students devise test questions and sample appropriate answers that demonstrate their ability to comprehend concepts that underlie assigned readings. Rather than simply require students to recall what they’ve read, it requires them to hone in on the key elements that would indicate to them another person’s full comprehension of the concepts.

6) Understanding student self-awareness, attitudes and values

These formative assessment examples engage students and motivate them to develop their own attitudes, values, opinions and self-awareness through course-related activities. This can be used as an exercise to generate discussion amongst students and ensure learning continues once class is over.

  • Opinion polls: Students indicate how much they agree or disagree with a particular prompt or statement. This can help educators see how comfortable students are with regard to key objectives of learning activities and with specific course content in particular.
  • Profiles of admirable individuals: As part of a classroom assessment strategy, students write a brief biography of a real person involved in a field relevant to the course that highlights the admirable characteristics making them a role model. Instructors can use polling features for students to vote on which expert in the field they would like to research.
  • Everyday ethical dilemma: Students answer how they would go about solving a common everyday ethical dilemma related to the course or related discipline.

7) Activities that help develop individual awareness of self as a learner

These formative assessment examples help students clarify and express their self-concept and personal goals in ways that connect to the course content.

  • Focused autobiographical sketch: Students write a brief memoir-style essay describing a moment or episode of their lives during the course in which they felt like they successfully reached a learning outcome.
  • Goal-ranking: Students list three to five goals of their own for learning goals of the course, then rank them in order of priority for them. Then, at the end of the course, instructors can go back to this exercise and have students evaluate their rankings and/or assess how well they did at achieving each goal they set. Using the heat map question type, instructors can show how the class performed as a group.

8) Understanding student learning behaviors, strategies and skills

These formative assessment examples help instructors assess students’ learning habits. They can help create a more tailored learning experience.

  • Productive study-time log: Students keep a log of all the time they spent learning and studying for a given course and, alongside each entry, the quality of that time. This acts as a form of self-assessment because it helps both students and educators see how effectively students are making use of their study time.
  • Punctuated lectures: After listening to a lecture, students reflect in writing on how well they were concentrating on the material and, by contrast, how often they became distracted. They may also note how they brought their attention back to the material, if at all, so they can arm themselves with these tools in future lectures. They can even add how the lecture met their expectations and how they connected the lecture to knowledge they already possess. This can be submitted through the class’s live chat while lectures are occurring, so students are able to view their peers’ thoughts and opinions.

9) Assessing student reactions to learning

These formative assessment examples help instructors assess how well students can identify the key points and learning outcomes of a given lesson.

  • Feedback forms: There are several ways to solicit feedback from students after a lesson. Educators can pose a series of questions, or even a single question, about the lesson’s effectiveness. These can be multiple-choice, true/false, yes/no or open-ended questions.
  • RSQC2: Students compose a brief statement regarding a particular lesson written in the following format: Recall, Summarize, Question, Connect, Comment. This can also take place in a discussion forum, so students can comment on each other’s questions and ideas.


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