How can Formative Testing Improve Student Motivation?

Featured image of teacher engaging with student in the classroom using computer-based formative assessment tools

Effective educators are experts in using formative assessment tools throughout the learning process to get a clear picture of how students are progressing and to guide instruction. Unlike summative testing models where students are only assessed after the lesson has occurred, formative instruction models allow for education to be personalized and transparent by checking student learning frequently. 

Well-planned formative assessments can help students to stay engaged and motivated by making learning an ongoing process where each student is actively involved.  

What Does Student Morale and Motivation Look Like in K-12 and Higher Education? 

There is no doubt that the pandemic had an enormous impact on student morale and motivation. When compared with pre-pandemic levels, students across the board feel less motivated and less hopeful about the future. However, it is important to understand that, in many ways, the pandemic simply magnified issues with student motivation and morale that already existed. 

Some of these issues include:

  • Lack of mental health resources almost 20% of students struggle with at least one mental health disorder, and countless others experience personal mental health issues daily. Many schools do not have the resources to meet all of these needs, which can leave these students feeling disconnected from school. 
  • A disconnect between the curriculum and student goals – many students feel that their learning is compartmentalized and does not provide them with the skills that they need to achieve their goals post-graduation. This feeling can create apathy towards education, as students simply don’t always see the benefit of learning in the classroom.  
  • Some students do not believe they can be successful – for students that struggle to find success in school, failure can become a habit. These students may learn and grow, but still aren’t able to pass the test. Feeling like no matter what they do will result will still be a failure, they give up and become unmotivated. 
  • Lack of support from home – not every student comes from a home that supports education. For students who lack support at home, school can feel like a waste of time, which translates to students’ feeling unmotivated.

What Evidence is There that Links Formative Assessment to Improved Engagement and Motivation?

Although there are many root causes for the lack of motivation in schools, creating engaging and relevant lessons remains at the heart of keeping student morale and engagement high. A key element of any engaging lesson is creating regular formative assessments that provide students with valuable feedback on their learning. 

Many teachers report that using short-term formative assessment and feedback cycles boosts student engagement, which, in turn, boosts student achievement. This makes sense because formative assessments let students know exactly what they did right and where they need to grow before the end of a unit. When compared with an end-of-unit test where students study, take a test, and move on to the next learning module, the formative assessment allows students to continually grow. 

All of this serves to keep students engaged and motivated because the learning never stops. It is ok if a student doesn’t know a concept today because they can grow and gain that learning later on. When this is transparent it is easier for students to self-regulate and monitor their progress. 

Types of Formative Assessment

One of the benefits of formative assessment is that there are many different types of assessments that teachers can use to best meet the needs of their students. Unlike traditional testing where students sit and work independently, formative assessments allow for more variety, and because the stakes are low, greater student engagement.

There are countless examples of formative assessment available. Some of the most popular options include:

  • Entry and exit slips (virtual or paper-based) – by posing a quick question at the beginning or end of class teachers can get an overview of who understood a concept and who did not. 
  • Self-assessments – these allow students to look over their work and assess it based on a rubric, giving them a chance to discover areas where they may need to focus before final submission. 
  • Short quizzes (low stakes) – giving a short quiz or clicker test can offer a quick view of how well the room understood a lesson 
  • Student discussion – having small groups discuss a topic while the teacher circulates and listens can give students another opportunity to demonstrate what they’ve learned in a way that is different from a traditional written assignment or test. 
  • Quick scales – allowing the class to rate their understanding of a concept from 1-10 gives teachers a snapshot of their students’ confidence on any given topic. 
  • Journaling – this allows students to explain ideas from different perspectives, without a “right answer” and can show learning that would otherwise be hidden. 

With any type of formative assessment, the key is to make evaluation quick and easy for the teacher, while giving students feedback to move forward. Testing tools that support automatic scoring can relieve a significant burden off the shoulders of educators. They may also want to consider assessment software platforms that will even allow students to see how they are performing as they answer individual questions while moving through a test. 

As with all techniques in education, not all strategies will work for all students. Teachers may need to mix and match or use a variety of formative assessment tools to assist in measuring learning progress. 

How Can Formative Testing Tools be Used to Help Improve Student Motivation?

Having so many different techniques for formative assessment allows teachers to be flexible and provide unique opportunities for students to show what they know. However, these formative assessment tools do more than assess, they also improve student motivation. 

Each formative assessment gives a student in-the-moment feedback that can be acted on before any summative or final assessment is given.  This gives students autonomy over their learning and provides a transparent way for teachers to correct mistakes or misconceptions before they become fossilized in students’ minds. Some formative assessment techniques can be used specifically to boost student motivation and engagement, they include: 

  • Pretesting as a strategy for exposing concepts to students before a lesson – pretesting can provide anticipation for the upcoming lesson and give students background knowledge that helps them to get started during the lesson. 
  • Personalizing assessment – by using an adaptive testing platform teachers can personalize tests to meet the level of the learner no matter what their skill level, allowing all students to stay engaged and find success. 
  • Using technology and AI-enhanced assessments to mimic real-world scenarios – AI and virtual reality technology allow students to interact in situations as if they were there. For example, students can now participate in learning like cadaver dissection or run population ecology simulations without ever having to leave the classroom. Leveraging an assessment platform that supports Portable Custom Interactions (PCIs) also makes it possible to impart game-like simulations into exams to engage students in skills like critical thinking, creativity, and collaboration. 

Formative assessment is a powerful tool for battling the decrease in student motivation we have seen in the last couple of years. By giving students timely feedback before the end of a unit students stay on track with their learning and are afforded the chance to grow at their own pace. All of this leads to an increase in student engagement and motivation. 

With so many different formative assessment options it can seem overwhelming to document student progress using these methods. However, there are a variety of technology-based solutions designed to help teachers utilize formative assessment tools without working harder or putting in more hours than they already are. To learn more about how technology-enhanced formative assessment can improve student learning in your school,  contact us today!  


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