Large Class Sizes? Formative Assessment for Learning Fits Just Fine

Large Class Sizes?  Formative Assessment for Learning Fits Just Fine

A recent article in The Guardian titled Assessment for Learning: Are you using it Effectively in Your Classroom does a nice job explaining the importance of day-to-day, minute-by-minute assessment. It shares insight into how formative assessment supports learning rather than judging knowledge, something that frequent summative assessment does and that can be damaging to underachievers and de-motivational to high-achievers.

What was interesting to me, however, were some of the comments that dismissed formative assessment as too difficult to implement, or not something that will work in their classrooms – many of which had too many students, something we hear in the States quite a lot.

The only problem is with class sizes and time. How do you quickly check within a lesson that all 25 or 30 pupils have understood your explanation/modeling? How do you check what they have all been writing for the last 10 minutes and give feedback to each individual? How do you now carry on with the lesson given that some got it, some didn’t, some got part of it, and some got a different part of it?

Certainly implementing formative assessment at the classroom level is not easy, but it does work and class size needn’t be a barrier to implementation. In fact, by its very nature formative assessment can work very well in larger classes. Many of the tactics and techniques that we’ve blogged about, in fact, work best in larger classes. Here are several that we’ve described that can take a large class, break it down into smaller groups that allow students to take a collaborative role in learning and teachers to understanding student comprehension of learning:

Corners – Each classroom corner represents a different answer or view on a different question or theory. When a question or topic is being discussed, each student goes to the corner that best represents his or her answer. Based on classroom discussion, students can move from corner to corner adjusting their answer or opinion.

Carousel Brainstorming – In his concept, the class is split up into groups of four to five students. Each group gets their own chart and colored marker. The idea is to have each group write down what they know about a sub topic or possible answers to an open-ended question. Place a time limit on each group and when the time is up, have each group pass their chart along to another group, or move to the next chart. Students must read what the other groups have recorded for answers and then add to the list. They can also circle or highlight answers that they feel hit the mark or add question marks to answers they feel missed the mark.

Think-Pair-Share – The teacher asks a question of the class. Each student is given time to write down their answer. Once they have their answers written down they pair-up with another student in the class, where they can discuss their answers. After they have had a chance to discuss their answers amongst themselves, they share their answers with a larger group or the rest of the class.

These are just three of many formative assessment strategies and tactics that can work in a class with many students; that work based on student collaboration, peer assessment, and the teacher gathering evidence of student learning. Check out a blog we wrote in July that breaks down many of the formative assessment tactics available to teachers – 22 Easy Formative Assessment Techniques for Measuring Student Learning.

If you’re a teacher in a class with many students how do you assess learning? Please share your thoughts in our comments section below.