The Sunday Panel

We asked our collaborating teachers, “How do you motivate students to treat formative assessments seriously if they are not for marks that contribute to a final grade?”   Scroll down to see what they have to say:

Getting students to take formative assessment seriously starts on day one.  Explain that it’s beneficial for you and them to see where they are in the learning process; and that if they get help after the formative assessment, their quiz and test scores will be much better!  The important part is to emphasize that formative assessments help everyone, they’re not just an assignment to put grades in the book.

Brandon Bowyer  Brandon Bowyer is a new social studies teacher in Virginia.

I motivate students a few different ways, depending on the type of formative assessment.  I usually preface an assessment with some sort of comment like “I want you to really focus.  Special right triangles are very important because we will be using them for the rest of the year, so I need to know if you don’t understand.”  I try to remind students of the big picture.  This usually works with little assessments (exit tickets, clickers, etc.).  However, if I can tell the kids are going to have trouble focusing (ex. Friday before a long weekend) I let them earn small privileges.  My student’s favorites include listening to music, lining up by the door before the bell rings, sitting with a partner, and sitting on the floor to do homework.

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Mrs E Teaches Math  is a math teacher in Texas.  She has taught classes from algebra to statistics.  You can find her blog at


I focus a lot on learning as a process, and that formative assessment is a really important part of that process.  I make it clear that even though a particular assignment may not be “worth marks”, ultimately it really is, because the feedback I give them will help them improve and, therefore, they will do better on their summative assessments.  Once the students buy in and see the value of getting feedback before it “counts”, they actually start asking for it.  Formative assignments allow them to take risks and try new things without the fear of a potential bad mark that may affect their averages.  It takes a bit of time to build that culture in your classroom, especially if formative assessment is new to the students, but it is definitely worth the time and effort.

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Jackie Cutcliffe (Room 213) teaches high school English in Prince Edward Island, Canada.


I find that if students don’t know they are being assessed, they won’t ask if they’re getting points or a grade for it.  I incorporate response cards into my teaching which only I know are being used for assessment purposes.  Here’s how they work:  I make sets of cards with statements on them such as “true”, “false”, “true if”, “true when”, or multiple choice answer letters like “A”, “B”, “C”, and “D”  I make sure the word on the card is printed in a large font so that I can see it from the front of the room.  Each student gets a set of cards.  (I keep them in zip lock bags so they’re easy to distribute and collect.)

During instruction, I will pause and will give students advance warning that I’m about to ask a question to which every student must respond by holding up one of their cards.  I ask or project the question on the board.  Students have 30 seconds (or sometimes less) to determine their answer.  On my signal, every student holds up their card in unison.  It’s easy to spot the students who lag or look around before raising their card.  It’s easy to see who held up the wrong answer.  I keep track with a check mark on a class roster, of which students are struggling.  I clarify with students who were slow to answer or who held up the wrong card.  They soon learn that if they’re not responding, they’ll be the one to be called on.  They don’t know I’m doing a formative assessment and they never asked for points.  It’s an expectation. 

UtahRoots  Jill Christenson (Utah Roots) is an instructional coach and a professional development trainer in Utah.


​I think there are several ways to have students treat formative assessment seriously. They need to see value in it. I like to mix it up, but here are some strategies that I use. Sometimes I have an honest conversation with students about the reasons for the formative assessment. I will also sometimes check for completion, but not grade for correct or incorrect answers. Finally, I try to have students see their progress, either by tying it back to our earlier goals or objectives, by writing a response on their answer, or charting their progress so they can see growth.

profile pic2Tara Spitzer-List (Science in the City) Tara is a science teacher from upstate NY.



Prior to administering such a formative assessment, I give a class pep talk to address lack of effort or possible cheating.  Because I buy into the expectancy-value theory of motivation (Motivation=Value x Expectancy), I try to sell students on the value of doing their best.  Since I usually use formative assessment results to later form small pull-out groups for remediation, this is an easy sale.  Remediation means extra work.  Avoid remediation by succeeding on the formative assessment.  However, I find this pressure has to be tempered with the reminder that if they don’t know, using their neighbor’s correct answer is not the solution. Giving the teacher a false positive helps no one.  “It’s better that I know now that you don’t know the material than to find out on the 200 point unit test. I need to know where the holes are in your learning so that I can work on fixing it.


Dawn Roberts is a secondary Algebra teacher in Maryland with a B.S. in Secondary Mathematics Education and a Masters in Information Science and Learning Technologies (Focus: Technology in Schools).

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