Does Formative Assessment and Descriptive Feedback work with Adult Learners?

I spent much more time giving feedback for this group of adult students then I did in any other course – EVER.   My own knowledge and comfort level using this strategy (assessment FOR and OF learning) was limited but very much supported through the Growing Success resource by the Ministry of Education, Ontario. In staying true to the nature of my course, I wanted to demonstrate a 21st century model of learning/assessment and to use a resource common to the districts most familiar to my Teacher Candidates.

This strategy could be used (adapted) in a K-12 setting (and I will try). A guided, week-by-week discussion sheet (with very general questions) could certainly work and be used when teaching specific skills and content areas.

I used Assessment For Learning in order to guide my instruction from week to week. Each week, students were asked to communicate with me where they were in the course, how they felt, what they needed.  Using “stickies” and by responding to their blog posts and twitter feeds, I gained information about their progress, their comfort and their next steps and ultimately, I could direct my teaching to help them meet their needs at a more individual basis.

Assessment for learning
“Assessment for learning is the
Process of seeking and interpreting
Evidence for use by learners and their
teachers to decide where the learners
are in their learning, where they need
to go, and how best to get there.”
(In Growing Success, 2010 -Assessment Reform Group, 2002, p. 2)

I used Assessment AS Learning explicitly through a “week by week” communication sheet where students were charged with monitoring their own learning, communicating their needs, and assessing their own progress. Ultimately, this strategy made them accountable for their own learning and encouraged them to seek out what was needed to give them success.

Assessment as learning
“Assessment as learning focuses on
the explicit fostering of students’
capacity over time to be their own
best assessors, but teacher’s need
to start by presenting and modelling
external, structured opportunities
for students to assess themselves.”
( In Growing Success, 2010, Western and Northern Canadian
Protocol, p. 42)


  • The students were given TWO copies of this “WEEK BY WEEK”  communication/information sheet. One to keep for themselves, and one to keep in the classroom file folder bin that would be used as a weekly feedback form between the both of us (for me to keep and look at after each class).
  • Each class, students would remove their sheet from the bin, keep it with them throughout the class, mark it up, ask questions and finally return it.
  • Students were in charge of giving themselves marks (self assessments) each class and for each assignment (this was not easy for many of them).
  • After each class, I would spend approximately ONE hour going through  the communication sheets to provide feedback about their blogs, their use of twitter, or even about their participation during class. At times,  I would suggest they take certain comment out of their blog, or ask them questions about audience or perspective. I would challenge them to use more “voice” and to be less academic and more authentic. Other times, I would comment on specific posts, or statements they’ve made about our class content and praise them for their risk.
  • In the end (week 10) I would meet with each student where we would – together- determine a final mark that reflects the comments, discussions, and progress throughout the course.

I’ve never found assessment or evaluation easy. But when there is on-going feedback,  accountable talk, and regular communication about learning, assessment seems to make so much more sense.

I hope to hear from a few of my students on how this process worked for them.


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13 Replies to “Does Formative Assessment and Descriptive Feedback work with Adult Learners?”

  1. I loved the week by week system of assessment! It was nice to be able to see the overview of the course, keep track of my assessments and receive feecback along the way. I will be using something similar to this for my Grade 8 class next block because I think it will be beneficial for them to have accountability for their own learning!

  2. Your method of assessment during this course definitely was for our benefit as a student! Providing weekly feedback meant that there were no mysteries or misconceptions on where we were at. You welcomed questions, you welcomed ongoing conversation, and you enabled that online communication and collaboration as well by establishing Google+ and our Twitter list (go #yummytea)!

    By having us responsible for our own marks made us both accountable for our assignments, but you made sure that it was an ongoing process and provided more time for us if we needed it. Though there was quite the list, going through it on a weekly basis made it seem less daunting. Thank you for being willing to switch up your assessment methods for us!

  3. I really like your assessment/communication form. It was very useful for me since I could assess it in google docs and finish at home whatever I did not manage to do in class. And I could follow the expectations and my achievements!

  4. Zoe’s method of assessment through our course was great! It gave us instant feedback and you knew exactly where you are and where you should be. A great strategy that I’ll most definitely utilize in the future!

  5. What a great way to assess student learning! Being a part of the process was highly beneficial for me both in the role of a student and future teacher candidate as it helped me monitor my progress in the course while mirrored the notion of “backward design” that has been emphasized throughout my five years in education. The week-to-week outline Zoe constructed allowed me to see “where I was headed” each week (how I was going to be assessed FOR learning), but it also enabled me to engage in authentic assessment AS learning for I was consistently going back to the outline, reviewing what I had completed, what I needed to complete etc. Engaging in this metacognative process was highly beneficial as it prompted me to stay on track with my learning, ensuring each week that I was prepared and ready to tackle the next tech tool coming my way!

    In addition to this Zoe had us conference with her about what we thought our mark should be – a process all students should have the opportunity to participate in. Through this conference assessment FOR and AS learning were considered concurrently to in order to complete assessment OF learning, thus my final mark was not objectively decided by the teacher, but decided with my thoughts and input as well as Zoe’s about my overall achievement in the course.

    In my view, this assessment practice is authentic as it provides the student with the opportunity to be aware of and complete the required tasks (through the outline), reflect on learning (through the outline) and justify their understanding (through conferencing). In sum, using assessment FOR and AS learning to guide assessment OF learning appears to be a valid, “sound” and accountable form of assessment as it gives both the student and teacher a “voice” in learning, and isn’t this what we want?

  6. I really liked this form of assessment. Not only was it easy to follow and helped you figure out exactly where you were and where you needed to go but I can see it being a fantastic tool for assessing as and for learning. Very unique and interesting.

  7. Hi Zoe and company!
    Can I be a bit of a devil’s advocate?
    Was there any moments in which the instructor and the student differed on their opinion of the final grade/mark? How was that handled? It sounds like a lot of work (Zoe, how large was your class and was it one hour per week that you did the reading/commenting?) but it sounds like it was fruitful. I have a newish teacher at my school who is eager to use frequent evaluation but may be using less-than-ideal tools (content pop quizzes every other class) – how could someone advocate for this type of assessment practice you describe in this post when a traditional method is being employed?

  8. Zoe,
    Having the week by week communication sheet was an excellent strategy to have every student aware of course content and expectations. The most beneficial feature to the sheet was that we were made accountable for our own work. Each week when we went to the bin to pick up our sheet, you had given us feedback so there was always motivation and advice on how to grow as a teacher and learner.
    I understand some people may think that this method of ongoing evaluation is time consuming, however, allowing student self-evaluation along the way is worth the extra time put in, I would imagine.
    Maybe you could comment, Zoe, on the most challenging part of this process as the instructor?

  9. I absolutely loved this method of tracking and assessment. I was able to stay on-task throughout the entire course, pre-plan my weekly workload for the course, and have a play-by-play of how the course was going to play out. I’ve never had this before, and as a person who works well with To-Do lists, this was perfect for me. I also greatly appreciated the self-assessment practices as it forced me to reflect on my learning and what I was producing as a result of my learning.

    Will definitely consider using this tool in the future!

  10. I liked the week by week assessment but the sheet needs to be organized better. It may be helpful to list the assignments and their due dates in one area.

  11. Zoe,
    I really liked the idea of an assessment communication form, however, at times I felt that it was difficult to communicate using the form and thought that it would be easier to meet in person and discuss.
    Having a checklist of upcoming assignments on a Google Doc was extremely useful, as I could work work on my assignments not matter where I was as long as there was an internet connection.
    Thanks for a great year, I learned so much and now have many tools to use in the classroom.

  12. Zoe,
    I loved your way of communicating with us through the sheet of paper we picked up each week. It was a great way of hitting all three forms of assessment: as, of, and for. We were able to reflect on our growth throughout the term and see where improvement was still needed. I always looked forward to receiving feedback from you on my sheet. I hope to incorporate a similar way of communication in my future class! Thank you for all the great ideas Zoe!

  13. Hi Zoe,
    I found this method to be a great form of assessment and of differentiated instruction. It outlined the whole class and course expectations. By attaching the links we were able to sail through the course at our own pace. I know for myself, if it was more directed teaching I would have been very uninterested very quickly. This sheet allowed me to move ahead without bothering anyone, or asking the teacher (Zoe) what should I do next.
    As for assessment, it was a great tool in providing feedback. You knew exactly where you were each week and how well you were doing. It alleviated any focus or stress on marks and allowed you to learn the technology. Everything was clearly outlined and expectations for each week were explicitly described. As a student who experienced this method you always knew what you had to do, how to do it and what grade level you were at. Feedback was almost instantaneous and very much appreciated.
    Thanks Zoe!

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