Psychology Courses / Course / Chapter

What is Formative Assessment?

Danie Cooper, Mary Firestone, Lesley Chapel
  • Author
    Danie Cooper

    Danie Cooper has taught high school English for over six years. Danie holds a master's degree in education, earned from University of Southern Maine. Danie holds a bachelor's degree in library science, earned from University of Maine at Augusta. Danie holds a Missouri 9-12 English Teaching Certification and is also certified in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the workplace.

  • Instructor
    Mary Firestone

    Mary Firestone has a Bachelor of Arts in Music and a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. Firestone has experience as an instructor for English, English Composition, Advanced Composition, Contemporary World Literature, Contemporary Literature, and Creative Writing. She has taught at a variety of schools such as Ottawa University Online, Rasmussen College, Excelsior College, and Southern New Hampshire University.

  • Expert Contributor
    Lesley Chapel

    Lesley has taught American and World History at the university level for the past seven years. She has a Master's degree in History.

Learn the formative evaluation definition and formative assessment meaning. See types of formative assessments along with examples of assessments used in the classroom. Updated: 10/11/2021

Formative Evaluation Definition

Formative assessments, or formative evaluations, are on-going assessments used by teachers during the learning process. Formative assessments assist teachers in evaluating student comprehension and progress during a lesson or unit.

Teachers use formative assessments as a way of collecting information so they can highlight student struggles or determine any learning needs. This information is then used by the teacher to refocus the learning process in a way that is tailored to their students' current understanding of the topic, lesson, or unit.

Formative assessments offer teachers a variety of ways to assist them in fine tuning their teaching. These assessments can be created by the teacher or could be provided by their school or other resources. By using the information teachers collect through these assessments, they can determine if they need to incorporate scaffolding, more supports, or if the lesson or unit is challenging enough for their students.

Teachers use a combination of formative assessments and summative assessments. Each of these assessment types are specific as to when they are used in the learning process. Formative assessments are on-going and used during the learning process to gather information, whereas summative assessments are used at the conclusion of a learning period, such as a lesson, unit, quarter, semester, or course, to determine the level of learning that has been achieved. Typically, formative assessments are not graded, but summative assessments are.

Formative Assessment Meaning

Formative means to form, or give shape. Formative assessments are assessments that gather information for the purpose of forming or shaping instructional decisions or processes. As teachers gather information from their formative assessment methods, they are better able to tailor instruction to meet the specific needs of the students in their class or under their instruction.

Definition

Formative assessments are a part of the instruction process where students are given the opportunity to demonstrate their learning. The assessments are 'formative' because the results don't determine a grade, but they do determine the direction instruction will take. Teachers may change the lesson content or any number of things after a formative assessment to help students successfully complete the unit. Summative assessments, on the other hand, are the type that show how much a student has learned by taking an exam or quiz for a grade.

Types of Formative Assessments

There are a variety of methods teachers use for formative assessments.

A simple and quick way for a teacher to check for understanding is to observe students as they work on a specific task. Another observation tool would be a turn and talk where students turn to one other student in the room and discuss the learning material in a few short minutes. The teacher can then walk around the room and observe the conversations which will allow them to gather information on what students do or do not understand, or to identify any weak points in the lesson.

Teachers also use questioning for formative assessments. A teacher can ask the class specific or open-ended questions. Once the teacher has heard answers from a portion of the class, they can quickly gauge the level of understanding of the learning material. Teachers can also ask students to answer a series of prepared questions, or have them write down the most unclear point, sometimes called "muddiest question", in the material. At the close of each lesson or learning session, teachers can have drop box where students are encouraged to submit any questions they have following a lesson or learning session.

Another form of formative assessment is reflection. One-minute essays are highly adaptable and usually consist of a focused question about the learning process that students spend a minute responding to. The one-minute essay allows for students to reflect on the material and learning process and to quickly assess their own understanding or learning. Index cards are another tool that teachers use where they ask students to reflect and write down the main idea of the lesson or learning session.

Students can be asked to complete one minute essays for formative assessment.

One-Minute Essays for Formative Assessment

Another example of reflection would be learning logs. Learning logs, or diaries where students record their on-going thoughts, ideas, and reflections on what they are learning, are also helpful tools. Teachers can also utilize index cards, where students write main ideas of a lesson on one side of the card and any questions or misunderstandings on the other side of the index card.

Formative Assessment Examples

Some other formative assessment examples include:

  • Entry and exit slips: students begin the class by answering a quick question on the material or learning process that was covered the day before. A minute or two before the class ends, students answer a question or two over the material that was covered that day.
  • Thumbs up, down, or middle: a teacher pauses in the midst of a lesson or learning process and asks students to gauge their understanding. Thumbs up means that students are understanding, thumbs down means students are struggling to understand and thumbs middle mean that students are beginning to understand but may have questions.
  • Cold calling: teacher calls on several students to answer a teacher-generated question about the lesson or material.
  • Discussions: the teacher observes the students' thought processes as they discuss the material through either teacher or student generated questions.
  • Polls: teacher generates a quick poll on the learning material to check for understanding.
  • Partner quizzes: students assess each other while the teacher moves around the room to assess the understanding and engagement. These are ungraded and student-created.

Formative assessments can be as simple as posing questions to the class and gathering information from multiple students

Questions as formative assessments

Types and Examples of Formative Assessments

Formative assessments are a discovery process that may involve direct questioning or reflection on the part of the student. Below are some of the ways you might choose to do a formative assessment:

Questioning

Muddiest Point Questions

Ask the whole class if they have a 'muddiest point'--the one thing that seems to keep them from understanding and learning--and write their responses down on a whiteboard or chalkboard. One by one, walk through their 'muddiest', explaining and checking for understanding as you go along. Or, ask them to jot them down. Collect them and write them down on the board for class participation and explanation.

Prepared and Emerging Questions

During the lesson, ask questions that invite critical thinking. Prepare questions ahead of time and also expand on questions that emerge during the lesson. This will help you discover what students have learned and also invite deeper engagement.

Question Box

Provide a drop-box where students can anonymously submit questions they have about the lesson. This is especially helpful to students who struggle with speaking up during class or admitting they don't understand something.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account

Additional Info

Definition

Formative assessments are a part of the instruction process where students are given the opportunity to demonstrate their learning. The assessments are 'formative' because the results don't determine a grade, but they do determine the direction instruction will take. Teachers may change the lesson content or any number of things after a formative assessment to help students successfully complete the unit. Summative assessments, on the other hand, are the type that show how much a student has learned by taking an exam or quiz for a grade.

Types and Examples of Formative Assessments

Formative assessments are a discovery process that may involve direct questioning or reflection on the part of the student. Below are some of the ways you might choose to do a formative assessment:

Questioning

Muddiest Point Questions

Ask the whole class if they have a 'muddiest point'--the one thing that seems to keep them from understanding and learning--and write their responses down on a whiteboard or chalkboard. One by one, walk through their 'muddiest', explaining and checking for understanding as you go along. Or, ask them to jot them down. Collect them and write them down on the board for class participation and explanation.

Prepared and Emerging Questions

During the lesson, ask questions that invite critical thinking. Prepare questions ahead of time and also expand on questions that emerge during the lesson. This will help you discover what students have learned and also invite deeper engagement.

Question Box

Provide a drop-box where students can anonymously submit questions they have about the lesson. This is especially helpful to students who struggle with speaking up during class or admitting they don't understand something.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account

  • Activities
  • FAQs

Prompts About Formative Assessments:

Graphic Organizer Prompt 1:

Create a poster, chart, or some other type of graphic organizer that compares and contrasts formative assessments and summative assessments.

Example: You could have a graphic organizer with two columns: one for formative assessments and one for summative assessments.

Graphic Organizer Prompt 2:

Make a poster, chart, or some other type of graphic organizer that presents the steps of the formative assessment type of reflection process during and after a lesson.

Example: You could provide an illustration of an index card and explain that you can use it to gauge student comprehension by seeing one thing about the lesson they understand and one thing that they still have questions about or difficulty understanding.

Essay Prompt:

Write an essay of one to two pages that describes the importance of questioning in formative assessments, as well as the techniques teachers can use to elicit questions from students.

Example: While teaching the lesson, ask questions that get students to use critical thinking skills.

Lesson Plan Prompt:

Devise a lesson plan that utilizes formative assessments. Choose a specific topic that you will be teaching, and then provide examples of how you plan to incorporate formative assessments in the learning process.

Example: You are teaching about the Civil War, and you have quite a few students who struggle with speaking in class, so you provide a question box for students to anonymously submit any questions they have about the Civil War.

What are the types of formative assessment?

Types of formative assessment:

  • Teacher observation where the teacher observes how students are understanding the material through their work or conversations.
  • Questioning where the teacher uses questions to assess students' understanding
  • Writing and reflecting where the teacher asks students to reflect and write about their understanding

What are three examples of formative assessments?

Three examples of formative assessments:

  • Turn and talk while the teacher observes the students' conversations
  • Cold calling where the teacher calls on select students to gauge the level of understanding
  • Thumbs up, down, or middle where the teacher asks the students their level of understanding on the material

What is formative evaluation?

A formative evaluation is also known as a formative assessment. These are assessments that are on-going during a lesson, unit, or other learning process. They provide the teacher with real-time information on how to proceed based on student understanding.

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use Study.com

Become a Study.com member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back

Resources created by teachers for teachers

Over 30,000 video lessons & teaching resources‐all in one place.
Video lessons
Quizzes & Worksheets
Classroom Integration
Lesson Plans

I would definitely recommend Study.com to my colleagues. It’s like a teacher waved a magic wand and did the work for me. I feel like it’s a lifeline.

Jennifer B.
Teacher
Jennifer B.
Create an account to start this course today
Used by over 30 million students worldwide
Create an account