Formative Assessment of Students

Formative assessment is useful for instructors to communicate their expectations to students, and it's also a way to help faculty recognize when things aren't clear or there is a gap in the progress of their performance. 

Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs)

CATs are tools for instructors to ascertain how students are learning during the course.  Unlike traditional ways of assessing learning (pop-quizzes, exams, final papers, projects), CATs are not evaluative.  Rather, they are ungraded ways to check students' learning.  They are a scaffold for success in achieving your learning outcome goals. 

CATs fall under one of three broad categories:

  • Assessing course-related knowledge and skills
  • Assessing learner attitudes, values, and self-awareness
  • Assessing learner reactions to instruction

The different classifications can help you utilize CATs to better understand how well your students are learning the specific course details, how confident they feel about the material, and your students' level of engagement.  Some examples of CATs are listed below:

Background Knowledge Probe

Short, simple questionnaires prepared by instructors for use at the beginning of a course, at the start of a new unit or lesson, or prior to introducing an important new topic.  Used to help teachers determine the most effective starting point for a given lesson and the most appropriate level at which to begin new instruction.

Diagnostic Learning Logs

Students keep records of each class or assignment and write one list of the main points covered that they understood and a second list of points that were unclear.  Faculty are provided with information and insight into their students' awareness of, and skill at, identifying their own strengths and weaknesses as learners.

Muddiest Point

Ask students at the end of class to briefly write and turn in a response to, "What was the most unclear part of today's class?"  This will give you a solid idea of which concepts need further explanation.  We recommend that you post your responses to the most common questions on Blackboard and begin the next class with a brief clarification of these questions as you build on course material.  Also, encourage students whose questions were not common to contact you during your office hours for specific answers.

CATs are intended to provide instructors with a better understanding of learning, and there are well over 50 different techniques.  Each is nuanced and provides a specific type of information.  As you consider which CATs to use, also think about when during the class it would be most effective.  Familiarizing yourself with different CATs will give you the flexibility to gather feedback on your students when and how you want it.  See the resources below for more examples and give them a try!

Additional Resources:

Classroom Assessment Techniques by Danielle Mihram, Director University of Southern California Center for Excellence in Teaching, addresses frequently asked questions about classroom assessment techniques, outlines the used of several techniques, and provided additional references.

43 Effective Classroom Assessment Techniques briefly explains 43 different CATs.  It can be used to familiarize yourself with the wide range of CATs that have been widely used.