Using digital tools for formative assessment
Help your students learn better
Why formative assessment?
Assessing students’ learning can feel like an extra task disconnected from learning. However, assessment during learning can help you adjust your teaching and guide students in their learning. Click the headings below to find out more.
To assess students formatively is to adapt your teaching to support their progress. Ultimately, it can help you improve your teaching.
What is digital formative assessment?
Formative assessment is using information on students’ understanding and progress to make decisions: for teachers about teaching and for students about learning. The goal is for you to collect information that helps you to make decisions on adjusting teaching according to students’ learning needs. The purpose is not to simply monitor progress or check whether students learnt the material. Assessment is formative only if you or your students act upon the information obtained from assessment by, for instance, adjusting the planning of the next lesson. Digital formative assessment (DFA) is simply any formative assessment activity that is enriched and facilitated with digital tools.
Some examples of formative assessment
Teachers routinely, maybe unconsciously, use formative assessment, noting evidence of learning (or not learning) and then use it to plan or adjust their next lesson. So, which of the examples below is not an example of formative assessment? Take a guess!
In example 2 however, the teacher did not use the online quiz data to adapt his teaching. Although the online quiz helped students reflect on what they had learned and to correct their mistakes, the teacher carried on with the activities initially planned.
A new relationship
Implementing digital formative assessment effectively may well change your teaching repertoire and your relationship with students. Do you feel comfortable listening to feedback from students about how they like to learn or how they would like you to teach? The feedback received can help students start reflecting on how they learn best: alone and/or in a group, using digital tools or something else? Modifying teaching so that it meets different students' needs and interests could include, for example, more group work, or tasks that students work on independently - and less time spent talking to the whole class. How do you feel about that idea? How would you like to change your own role?
Summative and formative assessment – A comparison
Even if you make formative assessment a more important element of your teaching, summative assessment remains important. This video shows how teachers and experts consider that they complement each other.
Benefits of digital formative assessment
Digital tools can enhance formative assessment. They can be used to support autonomous learning as well as collaboration among students in classrooms and beyond (e.g. through mobile or remote learning), Students may engage in self- and peer-assessment on different platforms. Classroom studies (e.g. in English: Bhagat & Spector, 2017; Faber, Luyten & Visscher, 2017; Wall et al. 2006) suggest that DFA may have a positive impact on student achievement when effectively planned and implemented.
Tools and practices for DFA
DFA encompasses a broad range of practices and tools such as the examples below. In this interview, teachers describe tools they use and how and when they use them to collect evidence of learning to inform their teaching.
Some digital tools for formative assessment
Below are some digital tools categorised by the type of practices they enable. The Assess@Learning project collected inspiring examples termed ‘teaching scenarios’ of these different practices.
Online quizzes and classroom polling
Use a simple online quiz to quickly collect evidence of student learning or poll students to ask for their thoughts and opinions (e.g. Mentimeter), and then use this information in lesson planning. See an example scenario here.
Dashboards, monitoring tools
Students learn new material or actively work on tasks set up on a learning platform. They can work individually or collaboratively (e.g. Khan Academy, Milage Learn+, LAMS, ClassDojo). See an example scenario here.
E-portfolios and learning diaries provide a way to create a rich collection of a student’s ways of learning and working. They are a useful means for teachers to better understand students’ learning, and for students to continuously reflect on their own learning (e.g. KidBlog, OneNote, Mahara). See an example scenario here.
Mobile learning allows students to learn ‘anytime, anywhere’. Students have ready access to resources you provide them, to engage with peers, and take quizzes that provide automated feedback. Mobile learning apps are often used for mathematics, where self-paced learning may be particularly useful (e.g., Math4Mobile, Milage+). See an example scenario here.
Communication software may be used to facilitate group work and classroom discussions. Teachers can track student activity and provide support and feedback (e.g. MS Teams). See an example scenario here.
Students can do exercises embedded in video games that give corrective feedback and adapt to their level of knowledge. Students can practise independently, while you can see where students are experiencing difficulties. Students also stay engaged (e.g. Argubot, ViLLE). See an example scenario here.
A concept map is a visual representation of concepts and their relation to each other. They help students reflect on abstract ideas and remember them better. They also provide you with a simple but rich impression of the students’ understanding (e.g., MindMeister, Lucidchart). See an example scenario here.
Collaborative software allows you and your students to save documents online, and to brainstorm and work on the same content simultaneously and collaboratively. Working with students as well as teachers of other subjects, you collectively build an online rubric to track how well students are fulfilling criteria for quality learning outcomes (e.g., Google Docs, Padlet). See an example scenario here.
Feedback is a key component of formative assessment. Students who receive feedback about their learning and guidance on next steps know what to do next to improve. What makes good feedback? How best to give and receive feedback? Ideally, feedback provides guidance that students can act on. Feedback is more than “You need to improve X”; it should give the student a clear idea on how to improve, what they should do.
Receiving feedback – Student voice
It is important to set rules to ensure a safe classroom environment for giving feedback. This is a key part of establishing a classroom culture where it is acceptable to make mistakes and learn from each other. You can further support this culture by showing that you value your students’ opinions and their experience with learning. Providing students with opportunities to give and respond to feedback will also make them reflect more on their learning and continue on the path towards becoming autonomous learners.
You could ask students how they like to learn, what they liked or did not like about your last lesson. Are you ready to receive such feedback on your teaching? In this video students explain how they like to learn, and what makes a good teacher in their opinion.
Getting started - Finding support
Trying something new offers opportunities for professional learning and collaboration with colleagues. If DFA is a completely new practice in your school, open a dialogue with the school leaders and colleagues, as well as parents to get them on board.
Choosing a tool for DFA
If digital formative assessment is new for you, start simple and try different practices step by step. If you are already make use of DFA, seek out other examples and ideas to inspire you further.
In this toolkit, you’ll find all you need to start with DFA, taking easy steps inspired by examples from teachers in seven countries in the teaching scenario gallery.
What the Assess@Learning toolkit offers
Now that you know more about digital formative assessment, you can explore how it is actually implemented in practice’. The Assess@Learning toolkit offers many ideas and examples to get started with DFA. There are also pages for school heads, students, parents and policy makers to explore and understand their role in DFA.
Learning from peers is the best way to discover and try out new practices. Browse the selection of teaching scenarios by teachers and experts from Estonia, Finland, Greece, Portugal, Spain and the Netherlands.See the scenario gallery
The concepts, methods and tools in DFA are defined in the Assess@Learning glossary.See the glossary
Digital tools glossary
There are many tools to support DFA, but not all may be available in your language. This glossary aims to help you find other tools you could use instead.See the glossary
Case studies explain how teachers are supported by their school and/or education ministry to adopt DFA practices. Although mainly intended for school heads and policy makers, the case studies show how to initiate dialogue with your school management.See the case study gallery
While some tools are available in multiple languages, others are not. The [digital tool overview] page describes the various features and languages of some of these applications.
Even with paid tools, you may not have full ownership of your data and it is not always cl ear from a user’s point of view how a supplier stores and uses your data. Someone responsible for ICT in your school or region can help you check if a particular tool is safe. The school head can help in planning a whole-school strategy for choosing digital tools. Check whether there is already a list of tools that are safe to use.
To find out more about data privacy, this video and case study explain some key issues things to keep in mind.