Notes from “Embedded Formative Assessment”


I purchased this book when it came out in 2011; however I decided to re-read it over the last few weeks. This is probably the best book out there on formative assessment; it has exactly the right balance between theory and practical ideas.

My notes are as follows:

  • To be able to use assessment formatively; or to use assessment to improve learning requires five key elements:
    1. The provision of effective feedback to students.
    2. The active involvement of students in their own learning.
    3. The adjustment of teaching to take into account the results of assessment.
    4. The recognition of the profound influence assessment has on the motivation and self-esteem of students, both of which are critical influences on learning.
    5. The need for students to be able to assess themselves and understand how to improve.
  • Any assessment can be formative and that assessment functions formatively when it improves the instructional decisions that are made by teachers, learners, or their peers.
  • Assessment is the key process in instruction. Students do not learn what we teach. If they did, we would not need to keep grade books. We could simply record what we have taught. But anyone who has spent any time in a classroom knows what students learn as a result of our instruction is unpredictable
  • The teacher’s job is not to transmit knowledge, not to facilitate learning. It is to engineer effective learning environments for the students. The key features of effective learning environments is that they create student engagement and allow teachers, learners, and their peers to ensure learning is proceeding intended direction. The only way we can do this is through assessment. That is why assessment is, indeed, the bridge between teaching and learning.
  • Putting learning learning objectives and success criteria in student friendly language can have some merit. However it is also important that students understand the more subject specific language used in syllabuses or curricular
  • When a study analysed teacher questions over half the questions (57%) were managerial questions, such as “Have you got your books” or “Who has finished all the questions”, another third only required recall of previously taught information “How many legs does an insect have”, only 8% required analysis, e.g.”Why is a bird not an insect?”
  • Sharing high quality questions may be the most significant think we can do to improve the quality of student learning.
  • Whether feedback is given orally or in a written format it is not important; the most important thing is students are given time to improve their work.
  • When teachers allow students to choose whether to participate or not – for example, by allowing them to raise their hands to show they have an answer – they are actually making the achievement gap worse, because those who are participating are getting smarter, while those avoiding engagement are forgoing the opportunities to increase their ability..
  • There are five key strategies of classroom formative assessment:
    1. Clarifying, sharing, and understanding learning intentions and criteria for success.
    2. Engineering effective classroom discussions, activities, and learning tasks that elicit evidence of learning.
    3. Providing feedback that moves learning forward.
    4. Activating learners as instructional resources for one another.
    5. Activating learns as owners of their own learning.
  • Feedback functions formatively only if the information fed back to the learner is used by the learner in improving performance. If the information fed back to the learner is intended to be helpful but cannot be used by the learner in improving her performance, it is not formative.
  • A technique for structuring feedback relating to a piece of work is called “three questions”. When the teacher sees something they would like the student to reflect they place a numbered circle at that point in the text. Underneath the student’s work, the teacher writes a question relating to the first numbered circle, leaves a number of lines for the student’s response, writes a question for the second leaves space for the student’s response, writes a question for the second, leaves space for the student’s response, and then writes a third question. The first ten or fifteen minutes of the next lesson are devoted to students responding.
  • Having students work together (cooperative learning) is successful because:
    1. Motivation. Students help their peers learn because in well structured settings it is in their own best interest.
    2. Social Cohesion. Students help their peers because it is in their own best interest because they care about the group.
    3. Personalization. Students learn more because their moor able peers can engage with the particular difficulties a student is having.
    4. Cognitive Elaboration. Those who provide help in group settings are forced to think through ideas more clearly.
  • As long as group goals and individual accountability are present, cooperative learning is equally effective for students at all achievement level.
  • Students need to be taught how to self-assess, students’ first attempt at self-assessment are usually neither insightful nor useful.
  • A technique that some teachers have found useful is a learning log; get students to reflect on their own learning by responding to no more than three of the following prompts:
    • Today I learned…
    • I was surprised by…
    • The most useful think I will take from this lesson is…
    • I was interested in..
    • What I like most about this lesson was…
    • One think I’m not sure about is…
    • The main thin I want to find out more about is…
    • After this lesson, I feel…
    • I might have gotten more from this lesson if…