Use formative assessments to put students first.
Assessment comes in many forms, but some approaches may spark student success better than others.
In our recent webinar, “The Science of Assessment: Research-Backed Approaches to Formative Assessment,” our Chief Scientist and Founder, Dr. Steve Ritter, and Manager of Professional Learning, Kyla Gibbons, discussed the research behind formative assessment and developed a roadmap to guide educators when using them. Here’s a quick recap of webinar highlights.
Don’t Cram; Space It Out!
Cramming tells your students’ brains, "I need to know this information soon, and then never again," and that's how their brains store it. In contrast, spacing out study sessions—say 20 minutes a night leading up to the test—reinforces a brain's ability to recall information in the future.
Incorporating spaced practice by intentionally folding earlier content into current content can improve your students' long-term retention. Spaced practice isn’t just for studying; it can also be exercised in assessments. A test is a snapshot of a student's knowledge at a particular point in time. However, because students learn at their own pace, the timing of a test matters. Dr. Ritter suggests that it’s time to replace the monthly benchmark exam that forces students to learn in a specific time frame with smaller assessments spaced out over time to meet diverse learning needs.
Incorporate Memory Retrieval in Every Lesson
Memory retrieval happens when students pull from their reserve of stored knowledge and apply the information to answer questions and learn more.
After discussing the effectiveness and importance of memory retrieval, the question arises, “When and how do we let students practice memory retrieval?” Memory retrieval should be baked into the core of every lesson, not tacked on as an afterthought. Gibbons suggests that memory retrieval doesn’t need to involve a formal assessment; it could be as simple as allowing students to discuss what they’ve learned. Actively reflecting on new knowledge will help students retain information.
Feedback Isn’t One-and-Done
All educators know that feedback is an integral part of the learning process but are sometimes uncertain about how to make it meaningful to students while also getting the best return on their time. Gibbons suggests that meaningful feedback should meet students where they are in their learning journey and bridge gaps for them to move forward. She further emphasizes that feedback isn’t a one-time procedure; it’s an ongoing and iterative process.
When to give feedback is the crucial piece of the puzzle. Research shows that immediate feedback is more effective to help students learn. Dr. Ritter explains that when a student is told at the end of a multi-step problem that they’re incorrect, they’ll begin to wonder, “Well, where did I make the mistake?” Immediate feedback, on the other hand, provides students with a clear indication of where they went wrong, as the mistake happens, which helps them learn faster.
Think Beyond Assessment Standardization
Students succeed with differentiated assessments. And as students progress, assessments should adapt to meet their needs. This is already becoming standard practice in instruction. However, adaptation can also be incorporated into formative assessments.
An example of this type of assessment could be a project where students can take on a primary role that plays to their strengths and a secondary role that allows them to improve on skills they aren’t yet comfortable using. This would allow students to show what they already know with a bonus challenge to learn something new. Educators can then use the results from differentiated assessments to further tailor their lesson plans, which allows them to further tweak their assessments to support students at the appropriate level.
It’s About Learning; Not Getting it Right
Dr. Ritter stresses how encouraging feedback switches students’ thinking from “This is something I can’t change” to “This is something I can improve on.” By building a growth mindset, students have the opportunity to learn from their mistakes. Evaluation through formative assessments provides a unique opportunity to give students the much needed specific feedback that will help them grow.
Looking for More?
Watch the full webinar to get all of Dr. Ritter and Kyla Gibbons’ insights on how to best approach formative assessments. Enjoy!
Megan is a fourth year university student pursuing a degree in commerce with a concentration in marketing. She has always had a strong passion for education and has spent extensive amounts of time volunteering in schools and working in the education industry. Her interests include the French language, art of all kinds, and spending time with family.Explore more related to this author