Check for Understanding

This section provides ideas on how to plan, monitor, and use the feedback you elicit from learners. (See the Teach Self-Regulated Strategy Development section for related discussion.)

Formative assessment is the process of using information about students’ learning throughout instruction to make decisions for improving that learning. Students’ self-regulated strategies play an important role in formative assessment, as students learn to monitor their own learning processes and make adjustments, as needed. Formative assessment is assessment for learning, as opposed to diagnostic assessment, which is assessment conducted prior to beginning instruction, or to summative assessment, which is assessment of learning and usually is administered at the end of a learning unit or course of study. Formative assessment is a process of informal, interactive, ongoing assessment, instructional adjustments, and feedback. Formative assessment occurs when the teacher observes learners’ work and provides feedback about specific qualities of their work and about how to improve (See Figure 6).

Figure 6. Assessment Process This figure illustrates the assessment process with diagnostic assessment conducted prior to beginning instruction, summative assessment conducted at the conclusion of a learning unit, and formative assessment conducted throughout the teaching/learning process.

Figure 7 illustrates how self-regulation, formative assessment, and constructive feedback build on one another to help learners meet shared learning goals. Although the graphic is linear, the process is iterative. The process begins with the learner providing some assessment of how he/she felt about his/her performance on a task (self-regulation). This student assessment is coupled with constructive feedback from the teacher (formative assessment), who uses effective questioning to encourage the learner to reflect on what he/she has learned and still needs to learn. Then, the teacher and learner together develop or refine the learning goals.

Figure 7. Meeting Shared Learning Goals This figure illustrates how Learner Self-Evaluation, Constructive Feedback, and Effective Questioning build on one another to help learners meet shared learning goals.

When teachers know how learners are progressing and where they are having trouble, instructional adjustments can be made. Effective teacher feedback leads to learners’ engagement in self-reflection. It is widely and empirically argued that formative assessment has the greatest impact on learning and achievement.

“Sometimes, I’ll stop and say, ‘So, why does this matter?’ Sometimes, the confusion is because the ‘big picture’ is getting bogged down in details, and taking a minute to remember the original purpose can help. And, sometimes I’ve forgotten to explain the reason we’re doing this, or my explanation has gotten too abstract. Taking a more explicit problem-solving approach can help in breaking things down step-by-step and making each step seem more relevant...”

Hillary Major, Virginia TEAL Team

This process of formative assessment and using the collected information happens iteratively through the following:

  • Rich conversations between teachers and learners that continually build and go deeper
  • The provision of constructive, timely feedback to enable learners to advance their learning
  • Teachers modifying instructional approaches to respond to shared learning goals or outcomes

Formative assessment is a critical component of all the pedagogical concepts introduced by the TEAL Center; it is how you will make decisions about grouping learners, calibrate your expectations for performance, and personalize instruction. In assessing student writing, it is important to assess both the product and the process. Assessment of the product can use rubrics and checklists and informal evaluation. Students can learn to evaluate their own writing as well as provide peer review of other students’ writing, using such tools.

Assessment of the process involves determining whether students are using the strategies they are learning. In strategy instruction, it is critical for teachers to assess and give feedback on students’ use of strategies, and it is equally important for students to monitor the processes they are using and reflect on whether the strategies are working.

Refer to Rose and Gravel (2009), and consider the analogy of the GPS unit to curriculum. If you don’t know where you and your learners are going or even where you are now, how can you close the gap?

Here are some ways to create that roadmap with learners:

  • Where Am I Going? Have a clear vision of the ultimate learning goal and the progression of learning subgoals to get there. Learners need to see examples of both strong and weak work and use these examples to develop criteria for quality.
  • Where Am I Now? Learners need to receive and give regular descriptive feedback.
  • How Can I Close The Gap? Focus on one learning target at a time to engage learners in self-reflection and monitoring.

Implications for Classroom Practice

For more information, see the TEAL Center Fact Sheet on Formative Assessment at the end of this section.

  • Share learning goals with learners.
  • Involve learners in self-assessment.
  • Provide feedback that helps learners recognize next steps and how to take them.
  • Adjust instruction to reflect class learning.
  • Most importantly, be confident that every learner can improve.



Rose, D., & Gravel, J. (2009). Getting from here to there: UDL, global positioning systems, and lessons for improving education. Wakefield, MA: National Center on Universal Design for Learning. Retrieved December 27, 2011, from