What is the most effective way to help our students learn?

The majority of evidence-based research over the last few decades has found formative assessment (FA, sometimes also referred to as ‘assessment for learning’) to be the most effective technique that teachers can use in the classroom to advance student learning. And the good news is, it’s simple to do!

In this post, we’ll:

  1. briefly introduce the concept of formative assessment
  2. show how effective it is and
  3. suggest how you can use Stile to run it

If you’re already familiar with the power of FA, feel free to skip through to 3.

1. What is formative assessment?

Anyone who has spent some time in the classroom knows that we can’t do the learning for our students or reliably predict what they will actually pick up from our instructions. This is what makes FA so powerful:

Formative assessment is the practice of:

  1. getting the best possible evidence about what students already know and then 
  2. using this information to decide what to do next

This process can be anything from quite involved to casually improvised. It’s also worth noting that, unlike most other types of assessment, FA best practice does away with grades and instead relies on feedback only. 

If want to find out more about why grades are detrimental to the learning process, check out this article.

2. How effective is FA?

Dylan Wiliam, the author of Embedded Formative Assessment (one of the most influential works on the topic) sees it as the single most effective measure teachers can take to advance students’ learning and his worldwide success seems to back him up. Here’s Mr Wiliam:

The research evidence available indicates that when formative assessment practices are integrated into the minute-to-minute and day-by-day classroom activities of teachers, substantial increases in student achievement—of the order of a 70 to 80 percent increase in the speed of learning—are possible.
— Dylan Wiliam, Embedded Formative Assessment, pp. 160–161

In his book, he presents numerous studies that clearly demonstrate that no other technique boosts student achievement to the same extent, along with very practical advice (including 53 classroom strategies) on how to do just that.

Wiliam suggests five key strategies for teachers, peers and students:

  • Clarifying, sharing and understanding learning intentions and success criteria
  • Engineering effective activities that elicit evidence of learning
  • Providing feedback that moves learning forward
  • Activating students as instructional resources for one another
  • Activating students as owners of their own learning

3. Formative Assessment in Stile

There are a number of ways this can be done in Stile:

  1. the student overview box is a simple and effective way to convey learning intentions
  2. live polls or Class insights make it very easy to gather evidence on what students already know about a topic on a whole-class level and make a decision about what to do next: further instruction, perhaps in a different context, or move on
  3. there are five different ways to provide real-time feedback in Stile
  4. class discussion at the bottom of each lesson is a great way for students to talk about the lesson material and help each other out 
  5. being able to access lesson materials and teacher feedback at any time, anywhere and on any device makes it super easy for students to take ownership of their learning

If you’re interested in learning more, our ongoing series on FA on the Stile Blog goes into more detail in an attempt to translate Wiliam’s key strategies into Stile activities, ready for classroom use.