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The Teaching Space Podcast

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Feb 8, 2020

Episode 82 of The Teaching Space Podcast explores four methods for formative assessment.


It’s another back to basics episode today. We’re exploring a few of my favourite formative assessment methods.

Formative Versus Summative Assessment

As a little ‘revision’ let’s distinguish between formative and summative assessment.

Formative assessment is known as ‘assessment for learning'. It is consists of informal assessment methods, usually devised by the teacher or trainer, to check learning is happening during the teaching session. It is designed to generate feedback on progress and ultimately is a way to check that learners are ready for their summative assessment. We will be exploring some formative assessment methods in this episode.

Summative assessment is known as ‘assessment of learning'. It is generally formal and often created by an awarding organisation, but not always. It occurs at the end of a course or unit of learning to check whether sufficient learning has happened to award a qualification, certificate or credits. The assessment is measured against set assessment criteria. Summative assessment methods include exams, assignments, practical activities and professional discussions.

Methods Versus Tools

I believe there is a distinction to be made between ‘methods' and 'tools' when it comes to assessment. Think about methods first. A method is a general approach to assessing such as observation of practice. A tool is something supporting that method such as recording something you observe on your mobile device. Questioning is a method, question cards are a tool.

Focus on methods before tools to ensure you are picking the right approach.

This episode is ‘method’ focussed but I will also share some tools for you to explore.

Four Formative Assessment Methods

Discussion and Questioning

I work with adult learners and they love discussion. It's a great way, particularly when combined with effective questioning, to check for learning. However, one of the downsides to using discussion for formative assessment is that some learners might not get a look in. Discussions can be dominated by just a few learners.

One way you can use questioning to involve more learners in discussion is the ‘pose, pause, pounce, bounce’ method. You can create smaller groups for discussions, then ask learners to number themselves and pick a number at random to decide who reports back to the group. Think > Pair > Share is another more inclusive method for questioning and discussion.

The app Equity Maps is an interesting approach to tracking (and recording if needed) your group’s participation in discussion.


A quiz is a lower-stakes version of a test. I tend to use quizzes to check what people have remembered from a previous session. My sessions are usually a week apart and often a week is long enough for learners to have forgotten certain details. I’m therefore using a quiz as a form of retrieval practice.

I’ve tried lots of different quiz tools with my learners. Because they are trainee teachers I make a point of testing tools with them and getting feedback. They teach a wide range of learners so I can try out things that are not always age appropriate for them, but might be for their learners.

In terms of tech tools, up until recently, I used Kahoot, conscious that it divided opinion. I always added the timer to questions and the ‘fastest finger first’ approach always led to an interesting discussion about whether it was an accurate formative assessment tool or not. More recently, I have discovered Quizizz. Quizizz solves a lot of Kahoot’s problems (for my learners). For starters, you can participate without having to read quiz questions off the main board/screen. Also, questions can be mixed up for each learner.

A non-tech alternative quiz tool would be a set of mini-whiteboards. If you don’t have a budget then consider making your own.

A low-tech alternative, requiring only one device, is Plickers.

Peer Assessment

Peer assessment is a fantastic formative assessment method, although there are a few things it is important to remember before you introduce it to your group:

  • Learners should be giving each other feedback as opposed to grading each other’s work.
  • Learners must be taught how to give constructive feedback - don't just assume they know what to do. The ladder of feedback can be a useful way to approach peer feedback.
  • Learners will need an understanding of any criteria to consider or what 'good looks like’. A model answer or rubric can be helpful here.
  • You might need to pair learners strategically.

A peer assessment roundabout can work well - this is where learners are in groups of four and pass each other’s work around to check. Also, consider introducing a self-assessment stage before you get to peer assessment.

Coded Feedback

I’m exploring coded feedback this year because I spend an unsustainable amount of time writing formative feedback on assignments. I give learners formative feedback on their written work via comments in Google Classroom. Using codes is a new approach for me so I cannot report on its effectiveness yet - this might be something I dedicate a whole episode to in the future!

I have created a simple code by analysing feedback I have frequently given on previous assignments. I have distinguished between comments that require action and comments that do not, in my coding.

I’ll report back on progress.

Incidentally, if this is not for you and you already use Google Classroom, there is a comment bank facility built in. I find too many clicks are required for this to be time-efficient.

Wrap Up

I hope today’s episode has been helpful. If you'd like more of these ‘back to basics’ episodes then please let me know. Equally, if it is not your thing, it would be good to hear from you. I want to create the episodes you want to hear.

Support the Show

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Questions? Comments?

If you have any questions about this episode or thoughts you’d like to share please join The Teaching Space Community: At the time of recording, the community is free to join. It’s just launched so I’m very keen to get some members in there to test it out and give me some feedback.

The show notes for this episode include any links I’ve mentioned; you can find them at

Thanks for listening and I hope you’ll join me for the next episode.