Practical Advice for Adapting Formative Assessment Practices to Remote Learning Contexts

Feb 09, 2021

Combining Good Pedagogy and Technology to Conduct Assessment Informs Future Instruction

In a previous post, we discussed what is the same and what is different about the formative assessment process in a remote or hybrid learning environment in comparison to in-person learning. We concluded that conceptually formative assessment remains the same. Yet, practically there are key differences in how formative assessment is applied in remote contexts because of differences in instructional, student, and environmental characteristics. I offer practical advice below to help teachers adapt their formative assessment practices to remote learning contexts.

Start with Good Pedagogy and Strategies for Effective Formative Assessment

Dylan Wiliam (2018) identified five strategies that support the implementation of effective formative assessment, an essential component of good pedagogy. These five strategies (listed below) reflect where the learner is going, where the learner is now, and/or how to get there based upon teacher, peer, and learner involvement in the process. 

  1. Clarifying, sharing, and understanding learning intentions and success criteria
  2. Engineering effective discussions, tasks, and activities that elicit evidence of learning
  3. Providing feedback that moves learning forward
  4. Activating students as learning resources for one another
  5. Activating students as owners of their own learning

Starting with this foundation, I created a formative assessment strategy tool (older students | younger students) to illustrate how teachers can design, select, or adapt formative assessment processes for a remote (synchronous or asynchronous) learning environment. The tool begins with Dylan Wiliam’s framework and I add the following:

  1. aligned key questions to define what the strategies mean; 
  2. examples of in-person formative assessment processes that represent best practices for each embedded strategy; and 
  3. examples of how to adapt the in-person best practices using technology tools and resources. These technology tools can be used to collect and/or report the same type of formative assessment information, but in a remote context (synchronous or asynchronous).

Using Technology Tools to Apply Formative Assessment Processes in a Remote Setting

For example, consider the second embedded formative assessment strategy: Engineering effective discussions, tasks, and activities that elicit evidence of learning. A teacher could ask: How will I use strategic questions, readiness pre-assessments, and/or other formative assessment techniques to identify student learning strengths/needs before, during, and/or after instruction? The goal, of course, is to use the formative information gathered to adjust and monitor future instruction. 

Ambitious teaching practices would suggest at least the following teacher-driven formative assessment processes:

  • Prior to the start of the unit or particular lessons, the teacher considers whether a readiness pre-assessment on critical precursor knowledge and skills is needed to ensure students have the necessary background knowledge and skills to be successful in the unit/lesson of instruction.
  • The teacher uses observation and checks for understanding throughout the lesson to probe the understanding of individual students.
  • After a lesson, the teacher tries to ascertain what students have learned and identifies unanswered student questions to inform future instruction and flexible grouping.

During in-person learning, teachers use a variety of techniques and strategies to accomplish their instructional goals, which are inseparably linked with formative assessment processes. In transferring those goals to a remote context, teachers can search for technology tools that allow them to collect responses in real-time (for synchronous remote) or at certain points in the recording (for asynchronous remote) to elicit evidence of student learning and thinking. For example, in synchronous remote (live) contexts, teachers can collect responses in real-time using tools/apps that simulate in-person activities:

In an asynchronous remote (pre-recorded) context, teachers can ask students to pause the recording and submit responses at certain points in time. Those responses can be collected using similar tools/apps to those previously mentioned, or also adding in instructional strategies that mimic live questions/answers or discussions such as:

Teachers can then evaluate the information received back from these technology tools to differentiate and inform future instruction. In this way, good pedagogy around formative assessment best practices drives the selection of technology tools/resources and steers teachers toward the information they should elicit about student learning to adjust/monitor future instruction.

The key premise of this post is that technology (e.g., online tool or app; computer; etc.) can never be the driver of whole-system reform because technology is pedagogically vapid. Instead, good pedagogy is a driver of whole system reform and must always come first. Technology should be employed thoughtfully and appropriately to support high-quality pedagogy. 

The tools/apps mentioned in this post are offered as examples only of the types available; no endorsement of the use of these tools or any specific app is implied.