Over the years, formative assessments was another aspect that changed as I transitioned to proficiency-based instruction. Here I’ll show you a few examples that worked for me.

What is a formative assessment? What is the purpose of formative assessments?

Definition of Formative Assessment: Formative assessment refers to a wide variety of methods that teachers use to conduct in-process evaluations of student comprehension, learning needs, and academic progress during a lesson, unit, or course. Formative assessments help teachers identify concepts that students are struggling to understand, skills they are having difficulty acquiring, or learning standards they have not yet achieved so that adjustments can be made to lessons, instructional techniques, and academic support.

Definition from https://www.edglossary.org/formative-assessment/

What do formative assessments look like in my class? How have they changed?

I started with these, but they were practicing isolated skills out of context. They do not reflect real life or authentic communication. I’ve never had a conversation with what body part I use to do an activity or listed off as many body parts as possible.

Sure, these are easy to grade, and some students say they like them. Mine said they liked them because “they are easy.” They are mainly identification, translation or conjugation (lower/mid levels on Bloom’s Taxonomy) and one or two word answers (Novice Low/Mid).

More importantly, I found that they were not prepping the students for the summative assessments or real life interactions. I’m not saying to immediately throw them all out, but to think about other options.

Now, most of them are open-ended, focused on the daily learning objective, show if they can use the new “function” phrases and assessed with a proficiency rubric (how well can they do it). This helps to assess their learning when it was personalized, such as having student choice for vocabulary lists and authentic resources. The open-ended prompt let them work on achieving higher proficiency levels where I could give feedback.

This was a BIG shift for me, but I saw results that I could not ignore: the students’ performance (on assessments and on the spot) improved much faster and they were reaching higher proficiency levels than they did in the past.

If communication is the final goal, then summative assessments should reflect that, and formatives should prepare them for summatives.

Formative “Quick” Checks

This “Exit Slip Poster” where they self-assess and rate themselves is another way to get a quick check. Read more here

Here’s one where I asked a question at the end of class and they responded. While they were answering, I walked around and did a quick check to mark their sub-level. It provided time for some quick verbal feedback from me as well.

For formative assessments that are speaking, I used my stamp sheets with the objectives. Read more here.


Here’s a question I wrestled with for awhile: If formatives are to identify concepts that students are struggling with so adjustments can be made to future lessons, should they receive a grade on this that affects their overall grade?

What if they did not receive grades for formatives? I understand that schools usually have guidelines for grades, but if I were allowed to do ANYTHING, this is what I would prefer: Formative assessments would NOT factor into their grade. I would still put it in the grade book, but under a category that is worth 0%. Then I have evidence of students’ progress for parents without it affecting the grade. I know, kind of radical, but I saw success from doing this. Their final grade better reflected their language ability.

In real life, if my goal is to play well in a tennis match, I would not play a match every day. I need some practice and coaching to improve before the next match. Then I have the chance to try something (take a risk!) new before I try it in a match.

Overall, formative assessments are one way to see how they are doing before the end so they have a chance to get feedback and improve. It’s like playing a mock tennis match during practice or playing through a song before a rehearsal – where someone can give you immediate feedback. Plus it lessens their anxiety because it has been practiced.

Now you’ve read my thoughts and some of my formative assessments. I’d love hear your thoughts and examples for formatives! There’s not only one way to teach a language!




  1. Allison

    Thanks Tammy. I used extra heavy gel medium

  2. Katie

    How do you give students feedback with their formative assessments?

    In the past, I’ve always enjoyed direct translation sentences followed with an analysis of the verbs with sentences I may see on the summative assessment so I can give the whole class direct feedback as soon as they complete the formative assessment. Just curious your approach to see how I could tweak mine to make it more personal.

    • Kara Parker

      Hi Katie!
      Similar to what you mentioned – if I see that most of the class is messing up something that they need to know for the summative assessment, then I can address the whole class.
      Here’s a post that explains a little more about our philosophy of feedback:

      Once I switched to proficiency-based instruction, I just needed to focus on what was appropriate to fix for their level. For example, “perfection” was not the goal, especially for level 1 and 2. Level 3 and up I found that was the best time to start focusing on refining those basic errors (like n/adj agreement). I tried to give quick feedback every day. This post talks about warm ups (read about checking the little boxes) that could also work as an exit slip:
      Hope that helps!

  3. Sarah Giddens


    Thank you for sharing your thought process in first switching to and then refining your proficiency-based model. I think that has been the most encouraging part of your blog for me, as a new teacher (#survived1styear).

    Do you consider your experiences completion points? From your first homework stamp post, that’s what it sounded like, but in the ensuing comments, and on this post it looks like you have continued to adjust your practice.

    Thank you!

    • Kara Parker

      Hi Sarah! I’m glad to know it’s helpful. (And congratulations on making it through the first year… whoop!) I see you are in Minneapolis. Were you at the MDE proficiency workshops?

      At my last school which was standards-based, the “experiences” were considered evidence of the standards, mostly the community standard and some of the others. I really revamped what I put on there so that it was truly showing that. I did make them completion points. They had to complete the task plus a reflection. If they didn’t complete it thoroughly, they had to fix it. I didn’t take incomplete work for that. I have definitely adjusted my practice every year, little by little. Hope that helps!


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