What Makes Effective Formative Feedback? A Definition and 3 Ways to Use it in the Classroom

Formative feedback and accurate grading are skills every teacher must work to master. Excellent assessments go beyond the traditional grades and scores, and must not only help teachers build better curriculum and instruction, but must also enhance student learning. My formative feedback process often meets the description suggested by Dr. Reeves, but I have much more learning to do.

In one example, I deliver formative feedback through student journals. I require my students to keep a classroom journal and they add entries to it several times per week. These journal entries are written in response to a writing prompt that relates to the class material that’s being covered. Students reflect on the activities and are required to demonstrate some current knowledge or skill in the journal entry.

This formative assessment doesn’t always meet the requirements set forth by Dr. Reeves however, as this is mostly unguided writing and students frequently use their journal as a way to vent to me about other students or problems they’ve been experiencing in class or school. In this way it’s not always an accurate assessment of knowledge or skills learned in relation to standards based instruction. I read the entries and offer feedback to the students, but this often isn’t timely. So while journals help my students to build writing and expression skills, the open nature of the assessment doesn’t always result in accurate feedback.

In a second example, I give students the chance to ask questions and make comments about material in upcoming units of study. When we are moving into a new chapter or unit, I give a quick summary of the topic and allow students to skim the pages that align in the textbook or workbook provided. They are then each required to come up with a question and a personal thought about the unit. This formative assessment helps me to know the items that my students may already know and what material is new to them.

This formative feedback is friendly and encourages students to be inquisitive. It’s timely and sparks interest in new information. It may not always be directly accurate because some items we discuss have not been covered and they have not built certain required skills yet. It is fair because every student has a chance to volunteer thoughts on something they haven’t covered yet, so students aren’t as reserved about their lack of knowledge on the topic.

The list of Formative Assessments provided has many strategies that I’d like to use in the future. Three in particular stand out to me as assessments I could use to enhance teaching and student learning.

1) Cubing

I’ll use Cubing as a Formative Assessment in my classroom because I know that some of my students know the answer to questions but are too reserved to raise their hand or share out loud. This assessment adds some fun and randomness to the activities and everyone must endure the result of the dice. My students like some variety and they’ll engage more when they know that they’ll need to be prepared for any of the listed questions.

2) Think-Write-Pair-Share

I’m always trying to improve the writing skills of my students. I’ll use this formative assessment because it gives me and the student a chance to visualize the thought process behind questions and skills. This will help them see the steps they’ve taken to arrive at an answer. When they pair up they can review each other’s written answers. This will help tremendously because I know my students frequently will have the correct answer but are unsure of how to say it or are reserved in sharing their thoughts with another person. Their written thoughts will be a good guide for them when speaking to another student.

3) Portfolio Check

Portfolios would be a huge help to many of my students. Not only will it help remind them of the quality and amount of work they’ve done during the semester, but it gives them something tangible that they can call their own. I’ll use student portfolios as a formative assessment by looking for improvement over time. A portfolio is a great way to visualize improvements in scores, vocabulary, and organization as those skills are being practiced.


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