Formative Assessments in the Secondary Classroom

How to Choose Assessment Strategies that Maximize Results 


We must not equate assessment to testing. Assessment is an ongoing process. It is indeed the way we do business–constantly monitoring student development and the outcomes of our educational activity.

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Formative assessments offer multiple benefits, but the number and variety of assessments can be overwhelming. Assessment strategies vary in their effect on learning, so to gain the most from them, it is important to focus primarily on those that directly improve student achievement ( Marshall,  2016 p. 104). 

Assessment Breakdown

Image result for formative vs summative assessments

Formative: activities that assess and provide feedback during the learning process 

Summative: using grades (or data) to demonstrate learner growth after instruction 

How do we understand what students have learned without giving them all too common and monotonous assessment strategies?

Don’t get me wrong, I have used these all to common assessments from time to time (it takes effort to think creatively), but how do we get students to make solid connections to learning without losing them in the process? 

But wait, what if I am NOT creative? 

Don’t worry–just understand that creativity within structuring meaningful assessments takes time and practice; be patient with the process. 

Self-reflection should be first in the process of determining effective and creative ways to informally assess students. Whether your formative assessments are in the form of visual models, verbal/written summaries, peer activities, self-assessments, lists, charts, or graphic organizers– formative assessments should  ultimately require students to make connections, derive personal meaning from learning experiences, become more aware of their own strengths and weaknesses, take responsibility in their learning,  demonstrate their ability to make decisions, clarify processes, and help solve problems. 

To begin, start by answering these questions: 

  1. How well do my assessments measure and support student learning? 
  2. What do formative assessments tell me about student progress relative to lesson/unit goals? 


The Daunting Task…

Teaching Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare 

This nine week’s I am overcoming the difficult task of teaching Shakespeare to my 9th graders. This is always a stressful time of year for me–especially since I am teaching my students terms and concepts that have never learned before. Not only do they have to know the term, I encourage students to apply that knowledge into what we are reading–Elizabethan English!

Iambic pentameter, sonnets, soliloquy’s, monologue’s, dramatic irony, asides, and so many other dramatic terms are implemented within the last nine weeks of the first semester!

How do I assess my students to truly measure and support their learning?  

First, I provide my students with a list of items to annotate throughout each act. This stimulates students to become active readers as they must integrate the knowledge they have accrued (dramatic terms) and apply it to identify literary devices throughout the text. My students take pride in this process–it is most certainly difficult to begin with, however, they eventually love the procedure of discovering these devices as it brings deeper and more critical thinking out of reading a difficult text. 

Students use colors to distinguish what they are highlighting (see below). They are also encouraged to look up specific words that they are unfamiliar with–to increase understanding of the text and its implications. 

My students are also given guided practice questions to answer along with the text to help with comprehension. I typically call on students randomly to answer these questions and sometimes I provide extra scaffolding to help them work towards the correct answer– always asking them to find coordinating textual evidence to support their response. 

Once the each act is read, I use SPIRAL–a collaborative suite of tools for the classroom as a formative assessment measure. Spiral is used as a measurable tool in various ways: 

  1. Quickfire- Use Quickfire as a formative assessment tool to see what the whole class is thinking. 
  2. Discuss- Allows the teacher to creative interactive presentations to spark creativity in class. 
  3. Team Up- Teams of students can create and share collaborative presentations from linked devices. 
  4. Clip- Turn any public video into a live chat with questions and quizzes. 

What do formative assessments tell me about student progress relative to my lesson/unit goals? 

I love using Spiral after reading– as it allows my students to become excited to share their knowledge about what they have learned throughout each act. This forum allows my students to use their creativity (through technology), while sharing their knowledge of the content. If at any point there are questions or concepts that are being missed by my students, I cover any part of the instruction that students need readdressed. I can also determine which students are mastering the content, which helps for grouping students according to their mastery levels (for any group work activity). My ultimate goal in using formative assessments from Spiral is to figure out where my students are with understanding the content. 

Debriefing a lesson is imperative.

Creating an environment in which students are excited to display their knowledge is extremely powerful. Aside from student enthusiasm, formative assessment forums like Spiral, gives teachers the knowledge and capability to determine and improve student achievement. “Once students acknowledge what they know and don’t know, they become more engaged, question more, and study harder” (Marshall,  2016 p. 105). 

Whether using formative assessment forums such as Spiral or through other creative alternatives, it is beneficial for teachers to provide an opportunity for students to think about their learning metacognitively. Provide moments to motivate your students and grant them with occasions at the end of your instruction that allows them to explore and debrief what was taught. 

That’s a Wrap!

Ultimately, knowing forums like Spiral, and becoming confident by implementing creative ways to use formative assessment, gives me the assurance to share my knowledge with other teachers around me. 

I have had the blessing of having great instructional coaches in my teaching experience, and I can only hope I can provide other teachers with the same helpful and effective resources that were given to me. 

Until next time, 

Angie Wilson 

The Gadabouter 


Marhsall, J. C. (2016). The highly effective teacher: 7 classroom-tested practices that foster student success. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Published by Angie T Wilson

Don’t mind me–I am just gadabouting through the short and precious thing we call life. My name is Angie Wilson. I am a God loving wife, mother, teacher, traveler, and lover of all things that bring me joy. My goal of this blog is to share that joy with the world.

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