With our students readjusting to (relative) classroom normality post-COVID, teachers are now trying to find out just how much students learned during their time away from school.
But with many of our students on shaky ground – emotionally and academically – slapping a high-stakes assessment in front of them in their first weeks back is anything but productive.
Instead, we need student-friendly, low-stakes formative assessments to get a sense of student progress.
We’ve compiled 6 strategies here that will give you the insights you need, without causing anxiety or setting students up for failure.
Entry tickets and exit slips
Give students an opportunity to demonstrate their learning at the beginning and end of each lesson via this brief reflective activity.
At the beginning of the lesson, have your students fill out an entry ticket. This can be used to check their understanding of the content that has already been covered. Try using the following prompts:
- Identify 3 points you remember from yesterday’s lesson
- The thing that has interested me most about this topic so far is__
- Right now I’m feeling __ about this lesson because I ___
At the end of the lesson, students can follow this up with an exit slip. This should assess their understanding of the lesson content and identify any gaps in understanding that remain. You might use such prompts as:
- What 3 points you are taking away from today’s lesson?
- What are 3 things you are still uncertain about?
- What are you hoping to learn in our next lesson?
Student answers don’t have to take a written form either. Your students might prefer rating themselves on a scale or assigning themselves an emoji such as or ☹ depending on their confidence.
After they’ve all been collected, use the slips to assess student progress – both over the course of the lesson and overall.
Peers can deliver assessment feedback in a student-friendly language that’s hard for teachers to fake, and they don’t come with the risk of a poor report or a phone call home. With this in mind, feedback sometimes sounds better coming from a peer instead of a teacher.
Peer assessment can be done using a rubric or take the form of comments (e.g. ‘2 things done well, 2 things that need some work’). Include a written comment in any case, as student feedback tends to be more considered when committed to words.
Let students work with a trusted friend to ensure assessment is meaningful and considerate. It’s also a good idea to model the process so students can see first-hand what constructive and detailed feedback looks like.
Collect student work once it has been assessed and use it to make your own judgments on student progress.
Note: you can use peer feedback to gauge the progress of the assessor too. If they struggle to articulate their thoughts or identify significant aspects of a peer’s work, then they are likely to have their own gaps in understanding.
Self-assessment reveals a student’s level of understanding and locates the areas that need intervention. Give students a copy of the rubric you ordinarily use for assessment, but this time ask them to fill it out.
Make sure you model the process first if your students have never done this before. Talk through the assessment criteria and highlight the self-questioning and reflective language that can be used for each.
Self-assessment can also take the form of a simple questionnaire or survey for younger students. Just make sure you tie the questions you ask back to the assessment criteria in student-friendly language.
Note: if you discover your rubrics are too complex for students to use for self-assessment, this is a sign they need to change. The most effective rubrics should be transparent enough for teacher and student use.
Besides being private and pressure-free, self-assessment is also a prime means of developing students’ metacognitive abilities. With repeated practice, they’ll be able to instinctively reflect on their learning as a matter of course.
Quizzes are a quick and easy way to assess student progress, and online platforms such as Kahoot and Quizlet can make it an engaging whole class activity.
If you’re going to create your own quiz it’s worth including a scoring system. The inclusion of points incentivizes student effort even if it doesn’t have any impact on an overall grade.
Quizzes can serve as learning opportunities as well as assessments. Try the following strategies:
- Stick to one concept but sequence the questions so they become steadily more challenging. Students will see how simple processes and understandings can be applied to more complex questions.
- Provide meaningful answers. Explain why an answer is correct and how it can be reached.
- Team it with a reflective activity such as an exit slip (above). After a quiz, students will have a clearer idea of their own strengths and weaknesses.
Gamified learning programs that measure student progress
The friendliest formative assessments will put the accent on fun and engagement. Gamified learning programs do this by providing feedback on students’ progress as they move through interactive virtual worlds.
As an example, our own Mathletics and Readiwriter Spelling programs are built around gamified learning challenges designed to promote engagement in mathematics and literacy. For students, they’re fun (and slightly addictive) games to play, but on the teacher’s end, they deliver real-time data on student progress. You’ll be relieved to know there’s no marking required either – it’s automatic.
The best part? While you get assessment data, students get all the bright-eyed, high-fiving moments that come with gamified learning. They’ll get big joy out of the little moments, like seeing their name on the Mathletics leaderboard or receiving a certificate when they achieve 1000+ in-game points. It ensures formative assessment does more than just measure learning – it celebrates it too. And at a time when we all need a bit of a confidence boost, that’s never been more important.