For Teachers

How to Properly Implement a Formative Writing Assessment Over a Year

By The Room 241 Team February 14, 2013

Formative assessment can be tricky — especially for a subject like writing — but it is an essential part of any plan to ensure student success.

Tests, or assessments in the educational vernacular, come in two major varieties:

  • Summative assessments, which evaluate a student’s progress at the end of a year or course.
  • Formative assessments, which monitor the progress of student learning throughout the year.

Though grading students via summative assessment typically receives a lot of attention from students, parents and policymakers, formative assessments are essential because they give teachers a better idea of how to adapt their instructions to meet the needs of the students. These tips offer guidance on properly implementing formative writing assessment in the classroom.

Charting Daily Progress with In-Class Formative Writing Assessments

At the beginning of the year, teachers can give students a simple diagnostic writing test to establish a baseline of students’ writing skill, both individually and as a class. 

When handing back diagnostics with comments, teachers can ask students to write for one to three minutes in response to the feedback they received. This will open up a dialogue around their writing process that will shift the focus away from summative grades and towards the process of writing, thinking about writing, and improving writing. Using this technique on all formal writing assignments can help students practice meta-cognition, which can improve their critical-thinking skills.

Exit tickets are another great way to prompt meta-cognition. These short, simple daily assignments can measure the main objective being taught on a larger level. Teachers should give the students no more than two questions, and try to keep one question concrete and allow the other question to require more explanation. Then, the teacher can tally the results of the exit tickets each day to measure class mastery and pinpoint enduring weaknesses.

 Maximizing the Benefits of Homework, Quizzes and Tests

Traditional weekly homework assignments provide a great way to measure progress because they show how students write outside the controlled environment of a classroom. Teachers should require students to go beyond simple answers in their quizzes and tests and ask open-ended questions that require thorough explanation of their thinking. Their answers will be more revealing, and give better data to inform future instruction.

Generating Student Feedback and Reflection

It always helps to require students to give you feedback on the day’s writing practice. In examining student feedback and reflection, be on the lookout for misconceptions. Here are a few approaches to that:

  • Direct refutation: Let students know their thinking is simply incorrect.
  • Provide examples that point out why the misconceptions are not reasonable.
  • Offer visual models that give students an alternative way of understanding.
  • Engage students in thinking by teaching active-learning strategies so they get out of the habit of learning passively.

The more teachers use formative writing assessment, the better equipped they’ll be to address misconceptions and understand the progress their students are making toward the goal of improving as writers, thinkers, and students.

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