Tuesday, 2 December 2014

using formative assessments to focus teaching

This is a good blog post discussing the role that formative, rather than summative assessments can play in students' learning and in facilitating instructor's ability to tailor their teaching to their students needs. But as I responded on the Faculty Focus forum, there are two difficulties I have in implementing this practice:

1. It is not easy to design a formative assessment that will truly provide instructors with a window to students understanding of the material. For myself, I need to overcome the habit of producing objective tests that as a result tend to examine at the lower end of Bloom's taxonomy. I know Eric Mazur makes a good argument for constructing such assessments, and I agree that this is the way to go. All I am saying is that it is not easy.

2. Once a good formative assessment is in place, the next problem is that instructors must be granted the time to respond to the data and adjust their classroom activities for the day in order to respond to and meet the learning needs of their students. This is a good thing to do. However, I don't think I am an atypical academic who finds himself running from one meeting to another and finds that he only has a couple of minutes to think about what is happening in the next class - thank goodness I prepared this class last week (last year?). Formative assessment demands that instructors are given the time (make the time) to respond to the information provided about students' understanding of the assigned material and quickly tailor their class activities to what students immediately need for learning to occur.... that day. This is basically what Just-in-Time-Teaching facilitates.

Both of my points are not criticisms of using formative assessments. Please don't misunderstand me. All I am saying is that implementing formative assessment takes work and time and a change in our habits and academic culture.


Dreon, O. (2014). Formative assessment: The secret sauce of blended success. Faculty Focus, July 23. 

Marrs, K. A., R. Blake, and A. Gavrin. (2003). Use of warm up exercises in Just in Time Teaching: Determining students’ prior knowledge and misconceptions in biology, chemistry, and physics. Journal of College Science Teaching 33 (1): 42–47.