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Formative Assessment: Student ownership of their learning journey

A key recommendation from Gonski 2.0 is the move from summative assessments measured against year level outcomes to more regular formative assessments that acknowledge learning progressions (Australian Department of Education and Training, 2018). Of particular importance is the role that formative assessments can have to help students become active partners in their learning journey. While teaching, I found that regular formative assessments that provided timely and specific feedback to students had an enormous impact on their engagement, motivation and desire to succeed in school as it clarified to students how to improve. ​

Assessment of, as and for Learning

Assessment can be classified into three categories: assessment of learning; assessment as learning; and assessment for learning (Hume, 2009). Assessment of learning is usually a traditional summative assessment that is used for formal grades and reports. Formative assessment can be considered assessment for learning and assessment as learning. This is usually characterised by regular assessments that are used to diagnose what students do and don’t know, with the aim of using what they don’t know to create an action plan to fill these gaps. This can be in the form of a pre test, revision test, or just a weekly check-in, informing both the teacher (assessment for learning) and the student (assessment as learning).

Source: TES Teach

A pretest is often completed before beginning a unit to understand what students do and don’t know. This can be incredibly valuable, as it informs you, as the teacher, of their general understanding and where to begin. For example, in mathematics, the content builds year-to-year, and being able to have a clear understanding of what knowledge and understanding the class has retained from the previous year can make learning much more effective.

A revision test can be used to assess what students do and don’t know as the revision for an assessment begins. Providing information to students about their strengths and weaknesses can promote learning skills such as prioritisation and revision strategy development. This can also be used to inform the teacher not only of individual strengths and weaknesses (so that meetings and actions plans can be made to reinforce the teacher student relationship), but also to inform the teacher of the class’s strengths and weaknesses, assisting them in prioritising how best to support the class.

Effective Feedback

A number of teachers have recently spoken to me about how effective weekly assessment check-ins can be. These assess what has been covered over the past week, or number of weeks, and informs students how they are tracking as they progress through the term. One component that makes formative assessment so powerful is the feedback that is provided to students. Feedback is most effective when it is timely and specific (Black et. al, 2006). It can be incredibly difficult for a teacher to mark and review every student’s responses, efficiencies can be gained through an automatic marking and analysis tool to accelerate the feedback provided to students. This in turn frees up teacher time to further target specific areas to follow up with students.

An aspect of Hattie’s research focuses on the need for all students to have clear goals (Hattie, 2007). These goals need to be realistic and achievable and, ideally, there should be an understanding of what they do know, what they don’t know and how they are going to bridge that gap. I experienced the power of formative assessment first hand with my students and it was incredible to see the influence it had on their motivation, self-efficacy and desire to learn. Formative assessments that provide clear analysis and timely, specific feedback can be extremely beneficial for student learning – they empower students, handing them control of their own learning journey.

Gonski,D (2018). Report of the Review to Achieve Educational Excellence in Australian Schools, Commonwealth of Australia
Hume, A & Coll, R (2009). Assessment of learning, for learning, and as learning: New Zealand case studies, Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice, Melbourne, Taylor & Francis
Black, P & William, D. (2006), Assessment and Classroom Learning, Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice, Melbourne, Taylor & Francis ​
TES Teach – Online, Accessed 22 August 2018
Hattie, J & Timperley, H. (2007). The Power of Feedback, Auckland: Review of Educational Research