The Visible Learning Effects of Formative Assessment and Feedback

The first time I saw the above picture, it really clicked for me.  It was a long time ago, but it was an “aha” moment of sorts for me regarding the differences between formative and summative assessments.  Looking back, I used to group all of my assessments into one category in my mind….assessments I used to grade my students and they all were essentially summative in nature.   At that time, in the beginning of my teaching career, no one had truly explained the difference, as well as the true impact on student achievement and learning that  formative assessments coupled with specific feedback can have.  If you look at the soup in the above picture as a metaphor for student learning outcomes, that soup is going to taste a lot better if you check it along the way and make adjustments as needed.  Every spice you add….is a piece of descriptive feedback to students…and if you give the right amount and the right kind, the end product is a masterpiece.
Formative Assessment:  Visible Learning Effects
The purposes of formative assessments are to guide the teacher on where to take instruction next. They are checkpoints that teachers put in place to make sure their students are still on the path to the ultimate destination of learning.  While for many years, we knew that formative assessments were key to helping students reach learning targets, it wasn’t until John Hattie, synthesized over 15 years of over 800 meta-analyses on the influences on the achievement of students, that we realized the significance of formative assessment.  In fact, providing formative assessments of learning was the most effective strategy for increasing student achievement, above all other strategies.  As shown below, other related strategies to formative assessment include feedback (.73); metacognitive strategies, which are often used in formative assessments (.71), and self-verbalization, seen in self-assessment strategies (.64).  Formative assessment and feedback really work!

Formative Assessment Strategies
There are endless examples of formative assessment strategies that can be used in the classroom. Total Participation Techniques is one of my favorite books that give examples about formative assessments and engagement activities.

For more examples please check out the following resources:

Feedback:  It’s a marriage between formative assessment and feedback.
Formative assessments are only effective if they are then used to guide instruction and learning.  As noted in Chappuis and Chappuis’ (2007) article The Best Value in Formative Assessment in Educational Leadership:

“Feedback in an assessment for learning context occurs while there is still time to take action.  It functions as a global positioning system, offering descriptive information about the work, product, or performance relative to the intended learning goals.  It avoids marks or comments that judge the level of achievement or imply that the learning journey is over.  

Effective descriptive feedback focuses on the intended learning, identifies specific strengths, points to areas needing improvement, suggests a route of action students can take to close the gap between where they are now and where they need to be, takes into account the amount of corrective feedback the learner can act on at one time, and models the kind of thinking students will engage in when they self-assess.”

Moving Past “Good Job!” or “Write Neat”

In previous blog posts, I have brought up some stories about my two boys and I do so because seeing school up close through the eyes of my boys has really provided me insight into areas of education that I had not seen before.  One area is in the impact of feedback, and how a small change can make a big difference.

Example #1:  My son Connor has been tackling 4th-grade math this year and for those of you who haven’t seen your children make a shift from 3rd to 4th-grade math problems, it can be a big shift. Connor has seemed to make the adjustment pretty well in understanding the various strategies, but in a lot of his work coming home, he had a number of problems marked wrong.  When I talked to him to try to figure out what was wrong, we couldn’t figure out why he was getting them marked wrong, but then I realized all of the math was right, but the teacher couldn’t read it clear enough to see that it was the right answer.   His commas looked like ones.  His 6’s looked like zeroes.  With a combination of specific from the teacher and myself….he now understands where to fix the mistakes and how to improve.  Last week….all correct and a “Woo hoo!” comment from the teacher.  Descriptive feedback explained to him made all the difference.

Example #2:  My son Liam is in 2nd grade and of all of the members of our household, he by far has the neatest handwriting of us all.  (Thank goodness for computers for the rest of us!)  So when he started to get his work coming home with all of the content correct, but a big statement across the top that said “BE NEAT!” we decided to have a conversation with him to figure out what he needed to fix.  When I asked him if he knew why it said “be neat” on many of his papers and what he thought he needed to fix, he replied, “I don’t know. It looks pretty neat to me, don’t you think?” I asked him to ask his teacher about it and we came to find out that he wasn’t forming some of his letters correctly, such as his As.  So there you have it….a minor example, but now he knows what he needs to work on to improve. He understands the learning target and how to get there.

Feedback:  7 Things to Remember

Assessment FOR learning

In the spirit of growth mindset, I have taken a risk and had to go through numerous iterations to put together a series of short  screencasts on assessment.  In doing so, I learned how to create a playlist in YouTube to group the assessment videos together for your convenience.  If this task were an assessment…it likely would be considered a performance task for sure!

Think about it…using the UbD model for developing a performance task we use the GRASPS acronym.

  • Goal--provides a statement of the task.  Establishes a goal, problem, challenge.
  • Role–defines the role of the students in the task.
  • Audience–identify the target audience within the context of the scenario
  • Situation–set the context of the scenario, explain the situation
  • Products/Performance–clarify what the students will create and why they will create it.
  • Standards–provide students with a clear picture of success

My real-life scenario turned into a GRASPS performance task design:

  • Goal:  provide our educators with some background information on assessment literacy
  • Role:  curriculum director for a school district
  • Audience:  teachers in the district 
  • Situation:  you have been requested to provide additional information and resources about assessment in support of the strategic plan in advance of an upcoming professional development day
  • Product:  share the information in a format that can be accessed by educators in advance, during, and after the upcoming professional development day.  Options could include blogs, videos, webcasts, packets, meeting presentations, or workshops
  • Standards:  alignment to the district strategic plan actions

Take a moment to think about the types of performance tasks that are embedded within your own lives at home or work.  Think about when we design performance tasks for our students, are they grounded in the reality of today’s world?

Assessment is one of those things that most of us as educators didn’t probably get into education for. We didn’t go to school to become a teacher shouting enthusiastically, “I want to be a teacher because I want to create a quality assessment!”

In most cases, teachers say they wanted to become a teacher because they love working with children and helping them learn or they say they love the content and helping students love it as well.  It is in the in-between state between inspiring children and helping them learn content that assessments can actually play an extremely significant role.

Assessments become powerful tools in student achievement when they are aligned, frequent, formative, and provide feedback about learning during the process of learning.

Assessments are also not one event that happens in time, but rather a variety of pieces of evidence that tell a story about our students’ progress in learning.  Assessments should be more like a scrapbook of learning, rather than a single snapshot of a moment.  A unit could and should have a wide variety of assessments including self-assessments, peer assessments, formative assessments, performance assessments, constructed response assessments, or portfolios.

Assessments are best developed, refined, and analyzed collaboratively to ensure consistency in standards of learning for our students.  The development of common assessments will be key to our continued progress for improving student achievement and growth.  Working collaboratively with peers will allow you to dive deeper into the standards, share strategies for differentiation, and provide data that can immediately support student learning.  Developing common assessments pushes us to make stronger linkages between our targeted standards and tracking our students’ learning progress.

Please take a moment to check out the following Assessment Series videos.  Each video is approximately 10 minutes each.  The first three focus on:
1.  Assessment Literacy
2.  Common Formative Assessments
3.  Assessments in Atlas

Checking for Understanding

How do we know that our students are getting it?  There are numerous quick strategies to check for student understanding in class.  How many of these techniques are you using in the classroom?  What kinds of informal and formal formative assessments are taking place? Do you employ a wide variety of strategies to help engage students?  Here are a few new ideas to help you get started…

  • Hand Signals:  Students make gestures with hands to signal an answer.
  • Roll the Dice:  students are in groups of six and are designated a number 1-6.  When their number is rolled on the dice they share their information or answer.
  • Response Boards:  students use mini whiteboards/chalkboards or laminated construction paper to write ideas and answers.  They hold them up for the teacher to see when prompted.
  • Think-Pair Share:  all students receive individual time to formulate an answer, pair up with a partner to discuss and then share out to the class