One of the best things you can do to help your students learn is provide them with feedback, early and often, through formative (as opposed to summative) assessments. Formative assessment is sometimes referred to assessment FOR learning while summative assessment tends to be assessment OF learning. Essentially, formative assessment solicit information from students about what and whether they are learning which you (and the students) can then use to adjust your practice. This does not mean you have to spend hours grading; formative assessments are often not graded, or graded only on a participation/effort basis (i.e., check, plus, minus).

  • Be clear about the purpose and expectations for formative assessments. Will they be turned in for credit or can they be anonymous? What do you intend to do with the information you gather? Being transparent about why you are asking students to do something that is not graded, and pointing out to them changes you make in response to the information gathered, will help prevent perceptions that this is just ‘busywork’.
  • Technology can be a great tool for formative assessment. Clickers can be used to conduct frequent quizzes about content (to maximize the benefits, make sure to follow clicker questions with peer instruction) while Blackboard surveys, quizzes and discussion boards can be used to collect student responses to pre-class preparatory assignments (readings, videos) or to have students post reflections after class.
  • Formative assessment can also be considered a tool for assessing your own teaching – after all, if students are not learning what you want them to learn, there is a good chance that your teaching is not as effective as it could be. It can also be useful to ask students for more direct feedback about your teaching through mid-semester surveys or periodic minute papers that ask students to identify what is and isn’t working for them about the class.

See the following links and resources for additional guidance: