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Did you know that 74% of teachers do not feel confident with formative assessment teaching methodologies?

As we begin the new school year, this survey conducted by Rahoo Training in 2020 and its findings should be at the forefront of a teacher’s mind with embedding formative assessment methods in their classrooms firmly on their to-do list.


It’s hard to argue the benefits of formative assessment without mentioning Professor Dylan Wiliams, a leading assessment researcher whose work has inspired and informed countless teachers. Williams argues that it allows teachers to reflect on their practice and make small steps in improving that practice in a powerful way. The feedback acquired in formative assessment methods provides teachers and students with the crucial next steps in learning.

What is the impact on learning?

Feedback studies show very high effects on learning, as summarised in the Education Endowment Foundation, with an average effect of +3 to +8 months. The benefits of embedding formative assessment methods include that they are:

  • Low cost to embed
  • Low level of workload and commitment
  • High impact in terms of academic achievement, student confidence, classroom culture, teacher assessment and planning.

In short, we know that formative assessment is a high-impact teaching and learning strategy with low investment and workload.

What exactly is Formative Assessment, also known as Assessment for Learning?

Assessment for Learning is *live* and usually happens in the lesson or during the learning. It can be self, peer & teacher-led. The assessment happens and the teacher can immediately or quickly use the feedback to plan an intervention or address a lack of understanding. The assessment format tends to be informal (such as Q & A, mini-whiteboards, traffic lights) but can also be formal (such as multiple-choice quizzes).

This is as opposed to Summative Assessment (also known as Assessment of Learning) which usually takes place at the end of learning. This is teacher-led. The assessment happens, and the teacher uses the information to summarise the learning and record student results. Tends to be formal (for example, end-of-unit test).

What are the 3 Formative Assessment strategies that teachers could use?

Three formative assessment strategies that teachers can easily incorporate into their everyday classroom practice are success criteria, effective questioning, and progress checks.

Success Criteria

By using success criteria, teachers are setting overall goals and steps to support students to reach it. Teachers can work out the learning objective and success criteria in student-friendly language at the planning stage. It is important to display the learning objective and success criteria, refer back to it during the lesson and review it at the end of the lesson.

Teachers and students can then use success criteria as a focus for self/ peer assessment and teacher feedback. Student learning is clearly guided and supported. Success criteria can be as simple as a learning objective and a checklist.

Effective Questioning

Tweaking classroom questioning practices to ensure they achieve maximum impact by incorporating formative assessment techniques. You can do this by:

•    Planning your questions in advance (and save them!).

•   Use success criteria as a focus for questioning- what do you actually want them to know? Are your questions purposeful?

•    Remember to give wait time. (Over 7 seconds please!)

•  No hands up! By having a “Hands Down” approach, the teacher then chooses students to answer, therefore gaining information on whether everyone is learning – not just the students who self-select to answer!

By introducing these small interventions in questions, the whole-class feedback received by the teacher produces better evidence to inform the next phase of learning.

Checking Progress

Checking progress is a vital part of Assessment for Learning which links strongly with success criteria and questioning. It is an opportunity for students to revisit what they have learnt and to consider the next steps. This is an opportunity for teachers to check understanding and to consider how to move on with the lesson by responding appropriately to the feedback received. It is important that teachers take the time to assess and make a judgment about what to do next regularly within a lesson.

For example, what would you do if…

1.  100% of the class do not understand the learning?

2.  50% of the class do not understand the learning?

3.  7 students do not understand the learning?

4.  1-2 students do not understand the learning?

Each scenario should create different outcomes for next steps.

In scenario 1, the teacher may need to find an alternative teaching strategy as 100% of the students do not understand the learning. The teacher might ask follow-up questions to gauge where the gap is and build from there.

In scenario 2, the teacher could open up the options, including splitting the class into pairs or groups where students teach each other; the teacher could ask one student to create a mini-lesson – the options are endless!

In scenarios 3 and 4, the teacher might undertake the actions already mentioned in scenarios 1 and 2 and apply them or take the small cohort of students to re-teach whilst the rest of the class is busy with a task.

What’s not to love about that?!

There is no doubt that formative assessment methods, when embedded within a lesson framework, revolutionise classroom practice. Assessment for Learning enables the teacher to have a better understanding of their students and meet their learning needs. When the pedagogy is practised and harnessed over time, it aids adaptability and creativity in teaching and learning, thus, producing a more enjoyable and engaging classroom experience for teachers and students!

As stated by Professor Dylan Wiliams (2018), “The best formative assessment (AfL) leaves no written record whatsoever. It just helps teachers to make smarter decisions”.

What’s not to love about that?!

Keep scrolling to find out how Nadine Lyons, Maths Lead Practitioner at South View School Dubai, uses formative assessment to enhance teaching and learning in maths.

Ciara McGuane B.A.MA. P.G.C.E. is the CPD Director and Lead Trainer at Rahoo. She has worked as a teacher, school leader (in-house teacher CPD), mentor, teacher trainer with SSAT, UK and initial teacher training tutor with TES Institute, UK prior to working with Rahoo. Ciara is passionate about teacher and student potential – and believes accessible, informal and enjoyable CPD is one of the best ways teachers can develop.

Who are Rahoo?

Rahoo has supported over 13,000 teachers by providing online CPD, training events, blogs and face-to-face courses. Rahoo is a member of international accreditation provider CPD-UK. At Rahoo, we believe that a teacher is the most important person in the classroom. Our name comes from the Irish word ‘rathú’ which means ‘to thrive’. After socio-economic factors, research has shown that a teacher has the greatest impact on student achievement (OECD, 2016).

Learn more about Rahoo’s supports for teachers including our range of CPD courses for teachers:

Use the code TEACHMIDDLEEAST for 20% reduction on sign-up!

How to Enhance the Teaching & Learning of Maths with Formative Assessment

Nadine Lyons, Maths Lead Practitioner at South View School Dubai, is not surprised by the high percentage of teachers who are unsure of how to use formative assessment methods: “There is so much information about Assessment for Learning everywhere. It’s easy to find information. But still so many teachers don’t know what to do with it or why they are doing it”.

Effective assessment for learning is a dynamic journey that requires personalised exploration. Nadine Lyons, a Math Lead Practitioner, emphasises the challenge many teachers face in effectively using formative assessment. She shares insights into harnessing AfL techniques, emphasising the importance of finding what resonates uniquely in your context:

My main educational passion revolves around assessment for learning. I’m dedicated to utilising effective strategies to elevate classroom learning and teaching efficacy. Through years of experimentation, I’ve explored diverse AfL techniques—succeeding and learning from failures. It’s a journey of exploration, discovering what clicks and works uniquely for each of us.

1. Pre and post-topic assessments.

    Maths is unique to other curriculum subjects in that each topic should be treated individually in terms of children’s abilities. I am sure we have all met a child who is competent in telling the time but may find it difficult to multiply or divide. Completing a diagnostic assessment before a topic not only allows children to have an idea of the types of key sums they will meet in a topic and to use prerequisite knowledge and critical thinking skills to attempt to answer them, but most importantly, gives the teacher a general idea of common misconceptions, who will need more intensive small group support in fluency and scaffolding in challenge, and what children have a solid, and often extended abstract understanding of the topic, and who will need to be challenged throughout each lesson. Completing a post-topic assessment on the same paper allows the teacher to gauge progress and reflect on the learning that happened and the quality of teaching for that topic, and take action for the next topic or amend the curriculum to allow for revision later in the term.

    2. AfL Techniques

    A wide array of AfL techniques exists, tailored to context and learners. What suits one class might not for another, as efficacy varies. My favourites include Exit Tickets—evaluating, personalizing, and informing instruction. “No hands up” cultivates inclusivity. “I used to think… Now I know…” contrasts prior beliefs with present understanding, boosting metacognition. Concept mapping visually connects ideas, aiding assessment and feedback. Learning reflections include the “Plus Minus Interesting” technique for comprehensive feedback. “Guess the Learning Objective” prompts learners to deduce goals from visuals. Partner questions foster interaction. “4 Corners” strategically places questions, promoting critical thinking. Remember, experimentation helps determine what works best in your setting.

    3. AfL questions at the beginning of the lesson should assess prior learning and readiness for advanced learning tasks.

    Exploring the Solo Taxonomy model by John B. Biggs and Kevin F. Collis is highly recommended. It offers a comprehensive framework for gauging complexity levels within Math lessons. At lesson outset, I craft three purposeful questions. The initial question taps into prior knowledge, inviting application or showcasing initial thoughts. The second queries fluency, assessing existing grasp before explicit teaching. The third, designed to unearth deep understanding, delves into intricate connections, real-world applicability, and problem-solving. This trio of questions aids in pinpointing learners’ diverse starting points, consequently shaping tailored lesson progression and individualised instruction.

    An example of these questions for a given year 4 Maths lesson to add two 4-digit numbers with one exchange, may be:

    1. 2,455 + 3,324 (assesses previous associated learning from year 4)
    2. What is regrouping? Apply regrouping to 5,684 + 3,927. Show your work step by step. (Requires students to apply their knowledge of regrouping in a specific addition problem and demonstrate their step-by-step process, assessing their ability to apply the skill.)
    3. Nadine adds a 4-digit number to a 2-digit number. “The answer is 9,090”. What could Nadine’s numbers be?

    4. Pit stops

    In the course of a lesson, incorporating checkpoints for essential concepts enables students to showcase their comprehension. These strategic breaks empower you as an educator to enable independent advancement, replacing passive instruction with active engagement. This approach empowers students to explore and challenge themselves, fostering a dynamic learning environment tailored to their Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD).

    5. Effective Questioning

    Effective questioning in math fuels critical thinking, unveils misconceptions, and propels deeper understanding. It guides students to explain, reason, and apply concepts, fostering meaningful engagement and skill development. In a lesson about coin recognition, initial inquiries like “Is this a 2p coin?” unveil surface understanding. When a student responds “no,” it marks an opportunity to delve deeper. Employing Bloom’s Taxonomy verbs, such as “How do you know?” or prompting for proof and justification, elevates the dialogue. This shift nurtures critical thinking, exploration, and metacognition, propelling students to substantiate their responses and unlocking insights for both teachers and learners. Children need to be given opportunities to show what they know. Otherwise, it is hard for us to unveil their highest potential as teachers.

    To conclude, pre and post-topic assessments, utilising AfL techniques regularly, Solo Taxonomy, pit stops for key concepts, and effective questioning are all essential components of a robust AfL classroom strategy. This empowers teachers to gauge student progress, adapt instruction, and create a dynamic learning environment.

    As educational leaders, remember that effective AfL isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. The variety of techniques allows for customisation to meet the needs of your learners. By embracing these strategies, you empower teachers to uncover students’ potential, foster critical thinking, and promote holistic learning experiences.

    Join Nadine and Rahoo on Wednesday, 8th November, at 7 pm GST for a free CPD webinar, “How to Enhance the Teaching & Learning of Mathematics with Formative Assessment”. Learn more: