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Service Learning

5 quick steps to conduct a formative assessment

By May 6, 2020June 25th, 2020No Comments

Over the years, various types of assessments have been used to track teaching and learning progress. Traditionally, students have been tested on what they have learnt in the classroom through summative assessments geared to test their knowledge on a subject. In recent years there has been a move to include many different types of learning assessments in the classroom, known as formative assessments. This specifically looks at students’ understanding about what they are learning and if they can apply this understanding in various ways. This form of assessment has been effectively used in measuring non-traditional teaching pedagogies like service-learning.

The ins and outs of formative and summative assessments

Michael Scriven proposed the terms formative and summative assessment in 1967 to explain two distinct roles that evaluation could play in evaluating curriculum. In years to come Benjamin Bloom and colleagues (1969; 1971) suggested applying the same distinction to the evaluation of student learning [1]

Formative and summative assessments are both used to evaluate different aspects of a student’s education, the learning process and student understanding.

Formative assessment is defined as an assessment used to monitor students learning to provide ongoing feedback that can be used by educators to improve their teaching and by students to improve their learning[2]. While summative assessments are defined as an assessment used to evaluate students learning at the end of an instructional unit by comparing it against some set standard or benchmark[3].

Another way to look at this is that formative assessments are as students are learning and Summatives are for learning.  Formatives are designed for teachers and students to know how someone is learning material throughout a course. In contrast, summative assessments are performance tasks and products such as a project, essay,   or tests that evaluate how much someone has learned at the end of the course[4].

Both of these learning also use different methods[5]:

  • Formative assessments: uses methods like observations, questioning, graphic organizers, diagnostic survey, visible thinking, quizzes, games, peer feedback, self assessment, exit slips, , group work, journaling, reflection etc.
  • Summative assessments: uses methods that include performance tasks and products such as; demonstration, test, presentation, composition, exam, report, research paper, individual or group projects etc.

In the case of service-learning, formative assessments can measure important aspects of learning that do not necessarily fall within the structure of the actual course work. This includes the student’s ability to think critically, problem-solve, communicate effectively, work in a team as well as exercise responsibility, citizenship and take ownership of their learning for learner agency.  Students set goals based on their learning progression- from where they currently are at, to where they want to be. They self assess their learning journey in a variety of ways in their portfolio.

The importance of Learning Progressions in today’s education system 

Learning progressions define the pathway along which students are expected to progress in a domain. They identify the enabling knowledge, concepts, and skills students’ need to reach the learning goal as well as provide a map for future learning opportunities. Heritage, Kim, Vendlinski and Herman (2009) explain that learning progressions are important to the development of progressive sophistication in skills within a domain. When learning progressions are shared with students they will understand the continuum of learning, accounting for different rates of learning (DeMeester & Jones, 2009) [6].

formative assessment model

Margaret Heritage’s “formative Assessment Model” (2010) [7]

Why students need Learning Goals and Success Criteria for every lesson

The first step of the whole assessment for the learning process is the establishment of student learning goals (Wiggins & McTighe, 2000). What is worth learning and required to understand. These are derived from Standards and Benchmarks for learning. A transfer goal refers to the ultimate desired accomplishment: what in the end should students be able to do with ‘content’ on their own.

Success criteria are the indications that teachers and students use as checks on learning. They should be communicated clearly to students to minimize potentially debilitating discrepancies among what students believe to be worth learning (Wiliam, 2007).[8]

Learning Intentions and success criteria need to be clearly communicated with students. Students should set goals and revise their work using success criteria from criteria based formative assessments. Students should be provided with evidence based feedback based on success criteria provided for learning. Students should also use both self and peer assessment as a source of feedback in all units of conceptual inquiry.

Why have formative assessments become so important?

Formative assessments can improve students’ understanding and learning which ultimately improves their performance. Well-designed formative assessments can provide students with essential feedback and inform teachers about the quality of their teaching by identifying concepts that students have and haven’t mastered[9]. This has proven to be beneficial to both students and teachers and their performance by closing the gap.

Formative assessment consists of lots of feedback and opportunities to use that feedback, in order to enhance performance and achievement[10]. Continuous feedback is one of the most critical aspects of formative assessments. In their research, Bloom, Hastings, & Madaus explain that in order to improve student learning, the regular progress checks must provide feedback (identifying students’ individual learning difficulties) and be followed up with correctives (specific remediation strategies)[11].

This assessment process can identify challenges that students are having with the course work and help problem-solve these issues. Teachers are then able to adapt their lessons or the way in which they are teaching to address these problems or issues, enhancing the overall learning experience for their students.

Educators and students could use the Ladder of Feedback as a way to provide feedback to students with easy steps to remember; Clarify, Value, Concerns, Suggestions. See the example from Project Zero below.

ladder of feedback

Project Zero Harvard Education 2003. [12]

The process of formative assessments also helps teachers identify what teaching methods are the most effective for their students, leading to formative assessments being aptly described as a learning tool for both teaching and learning.


5 Steps to conduct formative assessments

There is no doubt that this assessment method is valuable as it can make a difference in the way students learn, improve student understanding and how teachers teach, especially where service-learning is concerned. But how do you start implementing them in the classroom? Using research on the subject by Carol Ann Tomlinson, we have created 5 steps to follow as your starting point [13].


  • Define KUD’s and help students understand the importance of formative assessments – You need to explain to students why you are doing these assessments and the importance of them. This will help students to KNOW, UNDERSTAND and be able to DO the learning activities.
  • Be flexible in your approachstudents all learn and understand concepts in different ways. You will need to be flexible and adapt your instructional approach and lesson plans to ensure that students know what the expected outcomes are, understand the concept/s and are able to apply this experience to their course work.
  • Ensure feedback is instructive and easy to understandfeedback should be constructive. It should aim to encourage learners to do better or try again, it needs to motivate them to continuously improve.
  • Identify opportunities for formative assessment on a day to day basisyou will be able to gain insight into student understanding by listening to cues and conversations in the classroom and during activities. This insight will provide you with opportunities to address any issues or problems. When this opportunity presents itself, engage with the students, open the discussion and get them actively involved.
  • Look for patterns and then learn and adaptformative assessments will often enable you to identify patterns in learning and understanding. This allows you to spot issues and opportunities early and address them in order to enhance student achievement. Through this insight, you will be able to adapt learning to your students’ understanding and abilities.


Formative assessments are the best way  to effectively enhance teaching and learning. Not only do they help in identifying strengths and weaknesses, but they provide insight into student understanding and the learning process. This ultimately will allow you to become a better teacher and your students to become better learners.

[1,6,7,8 ] Iowa CORE Assessment for Learning ( Formative Assessment). 2017. Viewed on: 20 April 2020.

[2] Reinart, L. 2017. The differences between formative and summative assessment – Infographic. Bookwidgets interactive learning. Viewed on: 3 April 2020.

[3] Reinart, L. 2017. The differences between formative and summative assessment – Infographic. Bookwidgets interactive learning. Viewed on: 3 April 2020.

[4] Zook,C. 2017. Formative vs. Summative Assessments: What’s the Difference?. Applied Educational Systems. Viewed on: 3 April 2020.

[5] Zook,C. 2017. Formative vs. Summative Assessments: What’s the Difference?. Applied Educational Systems. Viewed on: 3 April 2020.

[9] Gunsky, T. 2007. Educational Leadership: Informative Assessment. Ceesa.Org. Viewed on 4 April 2020.

[10] Scherer,M.2016. Formative Essentials: Readings from Educational Leadership. ASCD.Org. Viewed on: 4 April 2020.

[11] Bloom, B. S., Hastings, J. T., & Madaus, G. F. (1971). Handbook on formative and

summative evaluation of student learning. New York: McGraw-Hill.

[12] Ladder of Feedback Project Zero. Harvard University. 2003. Viewed on: 20 April 2020.[8]

[13] Tomlinson, CA. 2014. The Bridge Between Today’s Lesson and Tomorrow’s. Educational Leadership. Volume 71 | Number 6. Viewed on: 16 April 2020.’s-Lesson-and-Tomorrow’s.aspx

The Center for Teaching and Learning. Creative Methods of Assessment in Online Learning. Viewed on: 20 April 2020.


Global Online Academy. 24 Digital Tools for Formative Assessment. Viewed on: 20 April 2020.

Tara Barton

Tara brings passion and a deep understanding of service learning, rooted in years of experience, to her training. Her training builds bridges from theory to implementation while generously sharing her resources and knowledge to ensure our success. Tara works with the whole school (administration, teachers, students, and SL leaders) to build a sustainable program that is embedded in the curriculum and tied to the mission. She energized a faculty on a Friday afternoon, no easy feat, leaving them with a desire to learn more about SL and to become more involved. I cannot recommend Tara highly enough.

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