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How Do You Know They Really Got It? Formative Assessment And Pupil Learning

Updated: Apr 10, 2021

After assessing student attainment, you might need to modify your lesson at the drop of a hat – but isn’t that what good teaching is all about?

Continuous feedback from teacher to pupil

Imagine this: you’ve just planned and delivered an excellent introduction to a new topic and have given pupils a task to show their understanding.

Do you put your feet up until the end of the lesson while the children are busy with their task?

Checking whether the pupils really understood any of what you’ve just taught them shouldn’t have to wait until the last minute.

What is assessment for learning?

Formative assessment, or ongoing feedback, are techniques and procedures conducted to pinpoint when and where students may be struggling.

They assess for learning.

This means teachers and tutors can quickly modify their lessons according to the needs of the pupils. In fact, formative assessment is key to understanding whether you’ll need to quickly clarify misunderstandings or go over a concept all over again.

Why is ongoing feedback important?

Simply put, formative assessment is when teachers and tutors check up on student learning. This is meant to be a snapshot rather than the final picture of a student’s progress (the latter, by contrast, is known as summative assessment).

Formative assessment shows a student's academic attainment, and most importantly their current learning needs. Without this snapshot, teachers would just blindly teach a lesson for the sake of teaching it.

Joe Hytner, the Founding Director of Titanium Tutors, has previously covered the importance of assessment and the assumptions we must avoid in more detail.

It is imperative to understand where a pupil struggles or succeeds in a lesson so that you can better plan and teach lessons which cater to their needs.

Diagnostic evaluation at Titanium Tutors

During a potential tutor’s interview lesson, we look at how tutors employ detailed questioning to ‘check in’ on student learning and, if necessary, how the tutor adjusts the lesson to reflect this.

As a tutor at Titanium Tutors, your reports will reflect the tutee’s progress and keep parents in the loop as well – formative assessments will help you make these informed judgements. Keeping a good record means you can track and stay on top of your student’s progress.

Teaching and formative assessments

There are many different approaches to formative assessments, and which to use depends on the preference of the teacher and tutor. As such, it is easy to put your own personal spin to any of these methods.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it gives an indication of assessments you may have already used or would like to in future.

1. Detailed questioning

Questions can require a short or a longer, more detailed answer. For example, a tutor can ask

students to provide an example derived from their own experiences in relation to the material covered in lesson so that they can better retain what has been learned.

High quality questioning helps teachers and tutors identify misconceptions or areas of difficulty so they can address these problems immediately.

2. Exit and Admit slips

Exit slips are written feedback students write in response to a question posed by the tutor or teacher at the end of a lesson. They highlight a student’s understanding of the topic and target areas that they might need to work on.

3. Visual representation

Visual representations like concept maps or Venn diagrams can summarise the key points of a lesson in a more abstract way. This helps students reflect on their learning and gives you a picture of their understanding so far.

4. Short quizzes

These short quizzes can be teacher-generated or student-generated and come in a variety of forms from true or false to multiple-choice answers. For instance, to switch roles, the tutor can ask the student to form questions to ask to consolidate learning.

5. Journals

At the end of a lesson, students can submit one or two sentences identifying the main points of what has been taught. This helps student self-assess their own understanding and gives you a measure of their understanding.

Formative assessment, whether a formal or informal process, ensures that student learning is tracked, that teachers and tutors are better prepared to teach lessons to come, and that students are actually learning.

After all, teaching should be a dialogue, not a monologue!


Blog Post Crafted by Cheryl

Cheryl works on our Admin Team, and is a qualified teacher with 5 years' experience in schools across England and Canada.

Cheryl graduated from McMaster University with an Honours Bachelor of Commerce and a Minor in English, and from University of Toronto with a Bachelor of Education, with a specialisation in Aboriginal Studies. She tutored secondary school students in English for over nine years in Canada.

Cheryl speaks Cantonese, English and French, and in her spare time, she can be found illustrating and reading children’s books for inspiration.



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