Formative assessment

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Formative tasks or assignments are types of tasks or questions can be used to help the students realize what they know or don’t know, as well as to help you determine what they have difficulty with. They are called formative, because they are not designed to evaluate the student (like a quiz), but to help them think about the materials and deepen their own understanding by working through the questions.

1 Beforehand: Warm-up questions

Before the lesson, the student is asked a question regarding the upcoming material, either to prime him/her, or to have him/her engage with the reading material before the lesson.This is like a pre-class quiz or assignment about the material. For example:

  • The professor will lecture on neutrinos in the next physics lecture. You prime them by emailing them the following question: “What do you know about neutrinos? Do you think it would be possible for some neutrinos to exceed the speed of light? How?” They are required to explain their thoughts by email in 1-2 paragraphs before your next meeting, or before their next class, and the question will be discussed in your next meeting with the students.
  • The professor will cover chapter 8 in the next lecture, and it will be helpful if the students read it beforehand. You ask your students one or a few questions about key concepts or terms in the chapter before their class, asking them to explain by email in 1-2 paragraphs before your next meeting, or before their next class, and the question will be discussed in your next meeting with the students.
  • You are helping freshman to understand the theory of evolution in their biology class. Before the next meeting, you email your students the following question: “What is a theory – what does ‘theory’ mean in science? Is it the same as ‘theory’ as the word is commonly used outside of science?” The students are required to email you a one-paragraph response at least one day before your next session. This is necessary because many college science professors fail to explain this explicitly, possibly causing confusion for your students. From their responses, you can identify and address their misunderstandings of the scientific usage of the term ‘theory.’

2 Wrap-up questions

The following questions can be given to have students think more about the professor’s lecture that they have just heard.

  1. A simple conceptual question based on the readings, lecture, or concepts discussed in class. For example: “You’ve learned today about X. But what about Y?” or “How would this apply to Y?” This challenges students to extend or transfer their knowledge by applying it to something new.
  2. Explain your understanding of X (ideas, terminology, concepts).
  3. Muddiest point: What was one point (idea, concept, term, etc.) that you did not understand in today’s lecture? What did you not understand about X?
  4. What questions do you have about this? What would you like more explanation about?
  5. What was the main idea / main ideas of today’s class / lecture?
  6. What was the most important thing you learned from my lecture today?
  7. Write a summary of the main ideas of today’s lecture / class.
  8. Have students react to a specific idea discussed in class.
  9. Graphic organizers: Construct a graph / concept map / chart / diagram / flow chart / outline to illustrate or explain the contents discussed today (or contents from the textbook chapter).
  10. Do you agree with X? Can you come up with a better explanation?
  11. How well would X (or X’s idea) apply to another case like Y?
  12. Can you provide another example of X?
  13. How would you explain X in your own words?
  14. A relatively simple problem solving activity based on the concepts learned.
  15. What would happen if Z were different?