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Formative Assessment and Feedback

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Formative assessments are usually meant to measure learning in order to provide feedback. This kind of formative feedback is given throughout the duration of the course and is given in a spirit of growth and improvement. It helps students see how well they are understanding and communicating course concepts, what they might be missing, and how they can improve and deepen their learning. It is a crucial part of the learning process.

Benefits of formative feedback

Formative feedback helps students recognize gaps in their knowledge, areas to improve, what support resources they may need, and learning strategies they might change or adapt to meet the course outcomes. Without formative feedback, students may not be aware of their own misunderstandings. This can later lead to confusion and cause students to lose motivation.

Examples of formative feedback 

Synchronous in-person feedback from the instructor

Providing verbal feedback directly to a student in person or in a Zoom web conference allows you to have a conversation where you can ask and answer questions. This can make it easier to identify misunderstandings, provide motivational support, or demonstrate a strategy or content. 

However, this kind of feedback can be time-consuming, especially if it is provided individually. Moreover, some students may feel intimidated by receiving feedback in such a way. Consider combining a variety of methods for giving formative feedback that fits the needs of your students, teaching situation, and content.

Written notes from the instructor

Give students some written feedback on smaller assignments. This can be valuable, especially in environments where opportunities for informal in-person feedback are less frequent.

To avoid spending too much time responding to every minor assignment, consider creating a spreadsheet or grid with your student's names, and keeping track of when you give certain students feedback on smaller assignments. This way you can distribute feedback equitably, ensuring that all students at some point in the quarter receive some feedback on a minor assignment before receiving a grade or final feedback on a larger assignment.

Audio-based memos from the instructor

Recording an audio message can be a great way to communicate feedback you might have otherwise given in person. It can also be motivating to students to hear your voice and receive feedback in a way that might feel more informal. Be prepared to be flexible if some students need written text instead of audio.

Video feedback from the instructor

When giving feedback on a student project or assignment heavy in visuals, it might be helpful to create video feedback of you interacting with their work. This kind of feedback can include audio feedback, a screen recording, and a camera recording of the instructor.

Showing your students what you're seeing and noticing about their work can be extremely powerful. Do keep accessibility concerns in mind if you choose to leave feedback in this way, noting when students might not be able to access or engage with visuals.

Peer feedback among students

In situations where students have relevant expertise or experience, formative feedback from student peers can be valuable. Consider how you can provide an easy way for students to provide each other with feedback. For example, you might instruct students to upload their work as a shared Google Document that team members can comment on or facilitate a small group feedback activity during a class meeting. For aggregated feedback, you might use a poll or survey with a tool such as Poll Everywhere to gather feedback from a large group.

It is first important to provide clear instructions and model what kind of feedback is most helpful. Encourage students to be specific and identify discrete components of the work being commented on. Feedback ideally offers an actionable solution or suggestion to improve, leaving the person receiving feedback with a clear idea of what steps to take. Good feedback should also be kind and supportive of the individual and their improvement.