Formative assessment is a teaching practice that evidence says makes a difference. In this video, Darcie Clarke explains how she uses formative assessment in her science lessons.
Watch Formative assessment in science | Australian Education Research Organisation on YouTube.

Duration: 6:08

Formative assessment is a teaching practice that evidence says makes a difference. In this video, Darcie Clarke explains how she uses formative assessment in her science lessons.

This video can also be used to facilitate a group session where teachers can reflect on their own practice


Hi, my name is Darcie. I'm a science teacher early in my career at Brighton Grammar School. I've recently enjoyed creating some lessons for Ochre Education and AERO.

I've been working on my formative assessment practice, particularly developing my knowledge of curriculum progressions and goal setting. I'm excited to share some of my reflections today, as you also develop your thinking about how to develop your content knowledge as part of your work on formative assessment.

One key to good formative assessment practice is to first know the content inside out. You have to know deeply what students need to learn and you have to know that content through the eyes of the students. That means identifying what's tricky about what you're teaching, knowing what might trip students up, what's hard to master, and seeing what the threshold concepts are. Once you know your content in that sense, you are well placed to elicit the right evidence of learning as part of your formative assessment practice. You know what you need to ask, and when, and also how often.

Over the past few months I've been focusing on developing my curriculum content knowledge, and I've also been thinking about how to craft measurable learning outcomes that help me monitor student progress across any given unit.

When I'm planning units of work, my first port of call is the curriculum, but of course, I need more than that to help me wrap my head around what I need to teach. I use resources like textbooks and curriculum progressions to help me know what learning in an area looks like and the likely causes of student misunderstanding. I also talk to other teachers in my school and my professional networks. I can use their experience and knowledge to help me deepen my understanding of a topic, so that I can better plan my lessons.

In a unit I taught recently on the digestive system, for example, I needed to really understand how students conceptualised what an adaptation is, and the significance of adaptations in the digestive system. Knowing this allowed me to craft careful learning intentions that I could then centre my questioning on. I included common adaptations students had prior knowledge of, such as camouflage, but then also address the misconception that adaptations can only happen on an organism level, not to other levels of organisation, such as tissues.

So, you can see that I've tried to break a concept into small chunks that are clear to students, but also measurable. For me to know whether my students have learned what it is they need to learn, there must be something that they can make, say, write, or do to demonstrate that knowledge.

To demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of the digestive system, students need to know the function and structure of it, the role diffusion plays in its function, and why it has the particular adaptations that it does. I think the key aspect of a good learning intention is that it identifies the key learning of the lesson. What is it that you really want students to come away knowing and understanding as a priority?

You could conceivably write a dozen learning intentions for a single lesson, but I make sure that I'm focusing on the three to five things that I really want my students to know. Then, I need to make sure that they are clear and measurable. For example, in this lesson, I've chosen only three learning objectives, which reflect the critical concepts to understand concerning the digestive system. The last of these objectives is to explain the purpose of adaptations in the digestive system. Students will know they've met this when they achieve the corresponding success criteria, explain the consequences of lacking key adaptations in the digestive system, which they can demonstrate through completing tasks embedded in the lesson. I know that I can then ask a range of formative assessment questions related to these ideas to check at multiple points in time whether the key ideas in the lesson have been learned. These include checks for understanding, for example, asking students to identify the role of villi on the rate of diffusion, but can also include less structured checks through asking questions to students to gauge understanding during explicit instruction.

Planning lessons by first asking yourself the question what do I want students to know at the end of this lesson, ensures every learning task and sequence of ideas is linked to a clear purpose. Setting learning goals first, helps in planning a lesson that is well structured and specific. I'm still refining how I ensure students are using learning goals to reflect on and regulate their own learning. I aim to start and end the lesson with explicit links to the learning objectives. I'm working on how I can use this to help students assess their own level of achievement in a lesson, and identify the next steps for their learning.

To learn more about formative assessment practices, download the Formative assessment guide from the AERO website and good luck as you explore this element of your own teaching.

Keywords: practice implementation, student progress, student learning