Formative Assessments: How Are My Students Learning?

Written by Jori Marshall
February 4, 2020 • 2 minute read

Assessments are highly valuable tools in higher education. An important aspect of a teachers pedagogical practice is the ability to effectively gather information that will be able to speak to how and what their students are learning. Assessments are not just about how well your students perform but can give you the ability to effectively improve student performance and learning. Honing your skill to effectively assess can be vital to your students overall learning experience in your classroom and can help students effectively organize their learning. The skill of assessing also comes with the knowledge of various styles of evaluating student learning; the main two styles being formative and summative assessments. Assessment of learning corresponds to summative assessment (SA) vs assessment for learning which corresponds to formative assessment (FA). This article will discuss the importance and benefits of being able to effectively assess your students in a formative manner. 

According to a study by London Metropolitan University on enhancing learning through formative assessment, FA’s have the ability to enhance familiarity with learning materials, generate an increase in student study time, and include students in the assessment process for reflection and learning purposes. FA’s can give you the ability to estimate your students learning while simultaneously giving your students a motivator to learn. Teaching methods that are guided by FA will help your students focus on specific learning gaps and/or needs in a given subject area. FA’s can also give you an ongoing source of information about a student’s learning and the chance to develop interventions in response. 

FA’s can occur in two main forms: spontaneous vs. planned. Spontaneous FA’s are impromptu and give you real-time information. You may already practice this form in your class when you conduct Q&A sessions during a lecture or when you notice through body language that a student may not understand content and follow-up on this misunderstanding. Planned FA’s are designed before or after the introduction of new content, include homework exercises, quizzes, etc, and give you the chance to track and evaluate a student’s progress throughout your course. There are numerous ways to include FA’s in your classroom pedagogical practices and listed below are a few:

Formative assessments are valuable when they are used within a structure that you can continuously monitor with an accessible and practical feedback loop from your students. FA’s aren't usually graded and if so are not factored into your student’s final grade. The focus of FA’s should be on assessing your student’s understanding and teaching effectiveness. 

Are you or someone you know finding success with using Formative Assessments? If so, we’d love to hear from you! Email  to share your story. 

Suggested Educational Technologies:

  • PollEverywhere
  • Canvas Quizzes

To learn how to use these technologies effectively in your course, contact Instructional Design to request a consultation.

Contact Instructional Technologies & Training to schedule a training session and access self-guided training materials.


  • Enhancing Learning through Formative Assessment (Jacoby, 2014, Innovations in Education & Teaching International)
  • Formative and summative assessment in the classroom (Dixson & Worrell, 2016, Theory into Practice)