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Formative Assessments: Evidence-based development

College and university faculty have historically had little preparation for classroom teaching. They are experts in their own subject matter but they are often novices when it comes to how best to teach the subject matter. Given this fact, most of us rely on the traditional lecture and we base our decisions about what to do during any given class period on “what seemed to work” for us (or others) in the past. However, when we are a critically reflective teacher, we actively seek formative data on how well we are teaching from at least four different sources: (1) ourselves, (2) our students, (3) peers and colleagues, and (4) “experts” in educational consultation.

  • Self-Assessment: The Reflective Journal
    One obvious source of feedback is oneself. Through reflective journals, an instructor can document and detail the thoughts, feelings and behaviors that both motivated certain decisions, and that arose as a consequence of certain decisions. Reflective journals, when used after each class period, can serve as an important narrative that is able to capture some of the more subtle processes and circumstances that shape your decisions. This can be accomplished with a free-flow approach, or through targeted questions about specific techniques, behaviors, and/or activities. The following website provides a great overview of the use reflective journals in the learning process

  • Student-Assessment: Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs)
    We are all familiar with the end of course student evaluations. Unfortunately, they are not very adequate at providing us constructive feedback about our teaching methods and activities in a very timely manner. For that reason, creating your own means of collecting student feedback throughout the semester would be much more effective then relying on the end of the semester course evaluation. There are a number of classroom assessment techniques (CATs) that you can use to target specific components of your course and to gather specific information about these components. Please take a look at our list of CATs on our CAT Online Resource Guide — developed from the book, Classroom Assessment Techniques by Thomas Angelo and K. Patricia Cross.

  • Peer-Assessment: Classroom Observations
    A third source of feedback can be gathered from one’s peers and colleagues. Where students can provide information about pace, fairness, frequency of assessment and feedback, through class observations, one’s peers can provide information regarding accuracy and clarity of the subject matter delivered. They may also be able to provide information about body language and classroom dynamics. A great approach for guiding classroom observations is a model called Peer–Coaching.

  • Outside-Assessment: CTE Consultation / Observation
    A fourth source of data can be obtained from having a member of the CTE staff observe your class. Having little to no familiarity with the subject matter gives us the advantage of focusing on the classroom dynamics—between the instructor and the students, and between the students themselves. More information about classroom observation can be found here.

Each of these sources of data affords the instructor the opportunity to get a unique perspective and valuable data on their teaching that they would otherwise not have at their disposal. Collectively, all four provide what could be called 360 degree feedback—a much more comprehensive picture of one’s teaching than that obtained from either personal anecdotes or end-of-the-course student evaluations.


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Virginia Commonwealth University  |  Center for Teaching Excellence
Last updated: 06/20/2013
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