Learning is enhanced when evaluation is used to learn from it.

  • How does your way of evaluating become instructive for learners?
  • How does your way of evaluating become fair and reliable?
  • How do you ensure that your teaching provides feedback that gives learners insight into what is expected of them, what they can do and which steps they can take to reach a higher level of performance?
  • How do you quickly gather information that allows you to tailor your instruction to what learners need?
  • How do you activate learners to determine a personal learning route?

… by evaluating during your teaching through gathering information on students’ learning in order to learn from it again

What does it mean and why is it important?

Assessments can have a summative function, aimed at providing a final judgment or making a decision, but also a formative function, aimed at improving the learning process. For both functions of assessment, it is important that the learning objectives, lesson content, and assessment fit together seamlessly (‘constructive alignment’, Biggs, 1996). It is also important for both functions that the evaluation is fair and reliable. Formative evaluation can be formal in nature, for instance when external criteria and standards and standardised tests are used at set times with a view to improving learning. Formative assessment can also have a more informal character, such as when information is collected during the learning process to support learning by providing customised help [link to adaptive] or to encourage learners to increasingly direct their own learning [link to self-regulated].

In formative assessment, typically, information is elicited and used to optimise learning processes and generate feedback that provides learners insight into what is expected of them, where they are now and what they can do to develop further. In classroom assessment the teacher uses short-term interventions during the lesson to prompt learners to reflect and gain insight into learning outcomes. Formative assessment can also extend over a longer period and include, for example, several lessons or professional development meetings. Summative evaluation, too, can be used formatively: for example, when learners receive feedback in response to summative evaluation.

Here we provide an example of feed-up, feedback, and feed-forward (Hattie & Timperley, 2007) around a speaking assignment:

An English teacher discusses with the whole class the success criteria for a speaking assignment: “Grammatical correctness is not the most important thing while speaking, it’s about successfully carrying out the conversation with the resources you have.” Based on the explanation of success criteria, students create their own assessment criteria for a speaking task. The task is subsequently carried out in groups of three, with  one student who gives peer feedback on the two speakers. Meanwhile, the teacher walks around, listens to conversations and asks about the peer feedback. At the end of the lesson, the teacher discusses some frequently-occurring difficulties in class. In the lessons that follow, the teacher gives extra attention to these aspects.

Practical implications

Here are some practical tools for designing and delivering teaching and training in which formative practice and assessment for learning are central. These tools are suitable for multiple teaching units: from lessons to curricula.

Supervising teacher learning

Formative assessment and teacher professional learning (book)


On internal consistency in an assessment: Do you use Cronbach’s alpha to check internal consistency?

Research projects

Scholarly publications

In the past decade, several authors have advocated that formative assessment programmes have an impact on teachers’ knowledge. Consequently, various requirements have been proposed in the literature for the design of these programmes. Only few studies, however, have focused on a direct comparison between programmes with respect to differences observed in their effect on teachers’ knowledge. Therefore in this study we explored the impact of three formative assessment programmes on teachers’ knowledge about supporting students’ reflection. Our study was carried out in the domain of vocational nursing education. Teachers were assigned to an expertise-based assessment programme, a self-assessment combined with collegial feedback programme, or a negotiated assessment programme. We scored the verbal transcriptions of teachers’ responses to video vignette interviews in order to measure their knowledge in a pre- and post-test. Multilevel regression analyses were performed to investigate differences in teachers’ knowledge between the three programmes on the post-test; potential moderating effects of pre-test scores, contextual and individual factors were controlled for. The knowledge of teachers participating in the expertise-based assessment programme was significantly higher than that of teachers participating in the self-assessment combined with collegial feedback programme. Furthermore, the findings indicate that for professional learning, not only the approach to formative assessment is an important variable, but also the extent to which (a) teachers are intrinsically motivated and (b) they experience a high degree of collegiality at their school.

Opportunities for negotiation in formative assessment may benefit teachers’ professional development. Detailed analysis of nine assessment dialogues involving pairs of nursing teachers in secondary vocational education showed that the amount of negotiation was limited. Assessment dialogues provided ample opportunities for negotiation (based on expressed disagreement), but more than half of these opportunities were neglected and hence not used to negotiate learning implications. Participants found it difficult to confront a colleague. Possible reasons for this, also methodological, are discussed with a view to future training, formative assessment and research.

Teachers’ agency has an effect on their own learning process at the workplace. In this study we explored the extent to which teachers participating in a formative teacher assessment procedure developed a sense of agency. We investigated not only whether teachers participating in a such an assessment procedure experienced agency and thus felt in control of the learning process and able to pursue their learning objectives, but also whether agency was visible, by looking at decision-making in real time: did teachers take an active role in their own assessment, especially regarding the learning objectives to be pursued, during the assessment meetings? We found that teachers experienced a high level of agency while participating in the assessment procedure, but did not consistently show this during the assessment procedure.

In order to inform the redesign of L1-oral language education in secondary schools, international literature was analyzed to deduce key elements, effective and practical ingredients, of good quality L1-oral language lessons. Thirteen articles were selected based on a systematic database search and analyzed with Van den Akker’s curricular spiderweb (Thijs & Van den Akker, 2009). From the most frequently mentioned codes we could extract five, empirical based, key elements which support student oral language learning in the classroom: 1) a clear oral language skills framework with criteria; 2) the exploration of students’ speaking potential by analysis and assessment of oracy skills; 3) self-, peer-and teacher-feedback on speaking; 4) observations of and discussions about videotaped speakers; and 5) regular practice with various speaking tasks. In addition, L1-oral language curriculum should give students the chance to develop their oral language competence throughout the school year because this helps them 1. to build on their speaking experiences and 2. to let their confidence grow when speaking in public.

Contact person for this principle
Dineke Tigelaar