Research School Network: Formative Assessment What to consider for remote learning

Formative Assessment

What to consider for remote learning

by Sandringham Research School
on the

by Dr Caroline Creaby, Research School Director

This is a short blog explaining more about the series of Seven Research Informed Pedagogies for Remote Learning’ published recently in collaboration with the Sandringham EdTech Demonstrator School. This is a series of resources outlining recommended pedagogies and related teaching and learning strategies which are helpful for remote teaching. They can be freely downloaded here. The focus of this post is Formative Assessment (page 4).

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Formative assessment is the process whereby a teacher uses information about students’ understanding to make adjustments to improve their teaching as they go. And hence why many of us will know this as assessment for learning’ – assessment for the purposes of improving learning – or responsive teaching’. Teachers will commonly use discussions, questions and activities to elicit students’ understanding. In a classroom setting, teachers will also rely on the expressions on their students’ faces, the pace at which students work and other less tangible but nonetheless useful indicators of students’ understanding to help them respond and adapt their teaching. Through remote teaching, several of these tools are no longer at teachers’ disposal which places greater importance on the ones that are left. This short blog hopes to provide some ideas about how teachers can most effectively facilitate opportunities for formative assessment.

Teacher assessment

Designing well-chosen questions and tasks will identify where students have successfully understood new information or where they are developing misconceptions. Assessing all students’ understanding through a time efficient hinge question for example, rather than just asking few students, builds a more complete picture of understanding within a class. The information from such questions then allows a teacher to see whether they’re able to move on’ confident in the knowledge that most students have understood, or whether a topic needs to be revisited.

Hinge questions are still possible to use when teaching remotely. A colleague of mine, David Williams, our Director of Learning for MFL, has been using the chat function in Google Meet as a questioning tool when he teaches live. Initially, when David was posing a question, the fastest student would put their answer in the chat, leaving the others no thinking time of their own. To enable all students to consider the question and to write their own independent response, David now delays when students can respond. Students can begin writing an answer as soon as he poses a question, but by simply delaying their response from being posted – i.e. when the press enter’ – all students can have the thinking time necessary to produce an independent answer. When students do post, the effect for David is a cascade’ of responses which, despite appearing quickly, are easy to scan for correct or incorrect responses, as well as common mistakes.

Online question and answer platforms can also help teachers ascertain understanding from all students simultaneously. For example, Quizziz or Kahoot are commonly used by teachers to assess understanding and these can be used whether or not a lesson is live. Such platforms tend to use a multiple choice question format and provide whole class data to teachers on which areas have been understood and those that haven’t. As I’m sure most teachers have experienced, setting effective multiple choice questions is a lot harder than it looks! What we’re after is that only students with a secure understanding to get the correct answer. I would encourage all teachers to have a read of this short blog from Andy Tharby from Durrington Research School about setting multiple choice questions. Essentially, choosing the answer responses with care, and which reflect common misconceptions, is important to be able to ascertain which students have really understood a topic well. If responses are too obvious then teachers can be under the impression that students’ understanding is secure when it might not be.

My science colleague Laura Maberly has found such online assessment tools invaluable in her teaching. Due to family commitments, Laura hasn’t been able to teach live lessons, but is able to gather information about students’ understanding and plan accordingly through their responses to questions set using Educake and Edpuzzle. To read more abut Laura’s experiences of remote teaching, click here.

Peer and self assessment

Whilst teachers are central in the process of eliciting students’ understanding in order to adapt and improve learning, teachers can also draw on students themselves to improve learning. As explained by Dylan Wiliam here, peer assessment can play a powerful role in improving learning. 

What we’ve discovered is that formative peer-assessment, where students are helping each other improve their work, has benefits for the person that receives feedback but also has benefits for the person who gives the feedback. Because, in thinking through what it is that this piece of work represents and what needs to happen to improve it, the students are forced to internalise a success criteria and they're able to do it in the context of someone else’s work, which is less emotionally charged than your own.

Dylan Wiliam

My colleague and Research Lead Katie Wills has used peer assessment in this way in her A level PE teaching. Her students have been completing extended written tasks on Google Docs and having put students in pairs, Katie has tasked them with reading, commenting on and questioning their peer’s work using the comment function.


Making comments in this way enable students to consider the success criteria in relation to their peer’s work and to think through how successful they have been. Responding to the comments on their own work, students are forced to reconsider how successful their own work has been and make changes accordingly. To read more about how Katie has been tackling remote teaching, click here.

What next?

Hopefully then, this blog has provided some useful ideas about how teachers can engage in formative assessment as they teach remotely. However, to maximise the impact of formative assessment, feedback to students is the critical next step, as illustrated in the Figure below:

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My colleague and Research Lead Karen Roskilly has written a very helpful blog on feedback which you can read here.

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