As educators we are always searching for new and specific ways to gauge student learning and formative assessments fit that bill.  These strategies from are some of the best I've come across. Check them out. The quote from Easley & Zwoyer is right on in the sense of not making judgments but finding out what students are thinking which is part of the essence of great teaching and powerful learning experiences. It also addresses how we need to get away from being disseminators of information which is something we have been championing here for years.


"If you can both listen to children and accept their answers not as things to just be judged right or wrong but as pieces of information which may reveal what the child is thinking, you will have taken a giant step toward becoming a master teacher, rather than merely a disseminator of information." -Easley & Zwoyer, 1975

Proof Points

Black and William (1998), two leading authorities on the importance of teachers maintaining a practice of on-going formative assessment, defined it as, “all those activities undertaken by teachers, and by the students in assessing themselves, which provide information to be used as feedback to modify the teaching and learning activities in which they are engaged.”
Formative assessment encompasses a variety of strategies to determine student progress toward achieving specified learning goals.  As Menken (2000) pointed out, “for assessments to be effective and useful for educators in instructional practice, they must be deeply entwined with the classroom teaching and learning driven by the standards.”  Timely teacher feedback is an essential ingredient of this process.   The habit of embedding formative assessments at key points during instruction yields information that teachers can use to identify and respond to problem learning areas.
The strategies for investigating student learning identified below provide different types of data from and about students.  Many of these approaches are also suitable to use as homework assignments.  It is appropriate to include the work generated through formative assessments in the comprehensive assessment system used to evaluate student performance.


3-2-1 Reflection
Serves as a post-instructional activity that helps students to focus their ideas and synthesize large amounts of information.
As I See It
Sentence stems that elicit opinions or understandings about key issues associated with a topic.
Prompts students to reflect upon a matter that is “out there,” and which, at first glance, appears to have little or no affect on them.   Binoculars challenges learners to recognize how seemingly unconnected issues may influence them.
Changes In The Wind
Assesses the impact of reading, listening, viewing, etc.
Definitions Are Us
Prompts students to develop their complete understanding of a term by creating their own definition.
Directed Paraphrasing
Builds personal definitions or explanations of concepts presented in class.
Exit Ticket
Prompts students to answer a question targeting the big idea of the lesson.
Examines a piece of text in terms of identifying factual information, eliciting questions, and generating personal reactions.
How Do I Know What I Know?
Uses a tightly focused question set to determine a student’s level of understanding about key ideas or concepts.
Is That a Fact?
Prompts students to examine the difference between a factual statement and an opinion-based statement.
Let’s Compare Notes
Provides the opportunity to build note-taking skills, characterize information, synthesize data, and assess student understanding.
Make It a Priority
Prompts students to generate and rank order alternative strategies to address an issue, solve a problem, or meet a need.
The Microscope
Asks to students reflect upon a specific experience, article, task, etc. and make generalized statements and connections to their personal, social, and academic lives.
The Mirror
Allows students to reflect upon themselves, their experiences, their knowledge, etc.
What’s Still Confusing Me...
Provides students with the opportunity to express to the teacher what they identify as the least understood aspect of the lesson.
One Last Question
Uses a final question to facilitate critical thinking about a specific concept covered in a lesson.
One Sentence Summary
Uses tightly framed answers to a number of questions to summarize the big idea about a topic in a single sentence.
Personal evaluation of a piece of text, object, picture in terms of its positive, negative, and interesting aspects.
Sequencing Events
Employs different visual forms: timeline, flowchart, etc to aide students in ordering things.
Thinking Diagram
Compares and contrasts two objects or events in terms of their key attributes.
Venn Diagram
Compares and contrasts two different objects, ideas, or events.
Wait a Minute
Reveals reactions to course materials, activities, and assignments.


  • Angelo, T. A. & Cross, P. K. (1993).  Classroom Assessment Techniques (2nd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  • Black, P. and William, D. (1998, March). Assessment and classroom learning. Assessment in Education, pp. 7-74.
  • Boyd, Barry L. (2001). Formative Classroom Assessment: Learner Focused. The Agricultural Education Magazine, 73, 5.
  • De Bono, E. (1999). Six thinking hats. Boston: Little Brown.
  • Hanson, H. F., Strong, R. J., Schwartz, R. W., & Silver, P. B. (1996). Learning styles and strategies. Woodbridge, NJ: Thoughtful Education Press.
  • Hyerle, D. (1996). Visual tools for constructing knowledge. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
  • Keely, P., Eberle, F. & Farrin, L. (2006). Uncovering student ideas in science. Arlington, VA: NSTA Press
  • ohnson, D. W.; Johnson, R.T.; and Houlbec, E. J. (1993). Circles of learning. London: Routledge Press.
  • Lawler, J. C., Neuber, G. A., and Stover, L.T. (1993). Creating interactive environments in secondary school. Washington:National Education Association.


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