Formative assessment refers to assessment used to inform our instruction, and formative feedback refers to the feedback we give to students to help them grow and learn. This blog post contains three strategies for formative assessment and feedback and some practical classroom-based activities to apply these strategies with your English learners.
Strategy 1: Ask Questions, Don’t Give Answers
When we give feedback on a piece of written work, it can be tempting to correct every error. We may also want to give students feedback that tells them what is wrong. Unfortunately, many of us find that we spend hours writing comments, yet it feels like those comments go ignored.
In my class, after a student writes a journal entry, I might take a quick look and write, I see four verb tense mistakes. How many can you find and fix by yourself?
Or I might write, I notice in your essay that some of your detail sentences don’t fit the topic sentence. Can you find a better place for these sentences?
I found this questioning strategy valuable because my students immediately applied my feedback rather than waiting until the next writing assignment.
Dylan Wiliam, a leader in assessment for learning, calls this idea “feedback as detective work.” The idea is that rather than telling students precisely what errors need to be fixed, we should give them the task of finding their own mistakes. His research shows that this type of feedback results in the students learning the skill you’re teaching rather than improving the specific piece of work. You can read more about his work on his website.
Strategy 2: Full Class Response
A traditional style of formative assessment involves asking questions to your class and calling on students who raise their hands to answer your questions. However, this method only allows you to assess a small percentage of your class. If you are working on using a particular structure or tense, the activity Give One, Get One may be just what you need. This activity is an engaging way to get students out of their seats and share their ideas with classmates.
Give One, Get One
- Ask each student to write something on a Post-It note. You might display a picture and ask them to write one sentence using past continuous tense.
- Ask your class to stand up and find a partner.
- Ask each student to read their sentence aloud and exchange it with their partner (give one, get one).
- Mingle and repeat. This time, students read and give the new Post-It note.
- Repeat Step 4 as many times as you would like.
- Ask all students to stick their notes on the board.
During the mingling and sharing of sentences, you can walk around and listen to students’ example sentences. You will quickly learn if your students have met your learning objective or if you need to reteach anything. In the end, you can look at their Post-It notes and use this to inform the planning of your next lesson.
There are also some great online tools available for checking student understanding. Mentimeter is an easy and free tool that allows you to type a question, and then have your students use their own devices to answer your question anonymously.
Strategy 3: Exercise Your Students’ Memories
We know that memory plays a vital role in writing instruction. We need our students to remember words, sentence structures, and paragraph and essay structure. Psychology researchers at Berkley found that testing is an effective tool in learning. This does not necessarily mean testing in the sense of a high-stakes test, but rather testing students’ memory through classroom activities.
An activity called dictogloss can help you exercise your students’ memory of academic writing skills. For a dictogloss to be effective as a tool for teaching writing, you must choose or write an appropriate model text. I usually use this activity after my students have written the first draft of a text; I look at their first drafts and decide what I need to target. I often have a problem with my students writing informally when they should be writing more academically.
- Write a model text. This should be a text that contains language that you would like your students to produce. Ideally, the text should be a paragraph or less.
- Put your students in pairs or groups of three. Tell your students that you are going to read them a short passage. Their job is to work together to reconstruct the text as close to the original as they can. Feel free to make this a competition if it suits your classroom dynamic. My students love getting competitive with this activity.
- Read the passage at a normal pace. On the first reading, your students should not make any notes.
- Reread the passage. This time, allow your students to make notes. Make sure to read quickly enough that they cannot transcribe what you have said.
- Give them time to reconstruct the text.
- Compare the student texts with the original. Point out the language structures closest to the original and correct alternatives.
These are just a few ways you might use formative assessments in your writing lessons to inform your teaching. What kinds of formative assessments do you use for teaching writing? How do you give valuable and effective formative feedback? Please share your strategies in the comment box below!