Formative Evaluation Techniques

Evaluating Students’ Work

Formative or as it is sometimes referred to informal student evaluation is an integral and ongoing part of the learning process and needs to be a part of one’s daily classroom routine in order to provide students with valuable feedback on their learning. Some of the evaluation techniques presented in this section can be carried out on a daily basis (ongoing evaluation techniques) whereas others will have to be specifically planned for when unit/educational project plans are being made. Various techniques will be described and suggestions as to how they can be carried out and when it is appropriate to use them will also be provided. Figure 9 provides an overview of these different techniques and how they relate to different steps in the instructional process.


Observation is an important formative evaluation technique, since it gives students direct access to information regarding their learning and language development. This technique involves teachers in playing the role of facilitator by freely providing individual guidance and error correction as the students interact in both communicative and experiential/communicative activities. This type of technique can be easily integrated into daily teaching practices as it can be applied immediately to any situation to provide students with information on their progress on a continual basis.

Observations can be done informally or formally, depending on what kind of data the teacher wishes to gather. Informal observations do not involve a recording process; rather, students are given immediate feedback on their learning, either in the form of praise, encouragement or error correction. Informal observation practices allow teachers to evaluate both the learning activity and the students’ performance by ascertaining whether or not the designated activity is unfolding as it should and whether or not the students have the sufficient linguistic elements required to carry out the task. This is done by listening to individual or group language samples to determine if students are on track. If sufficient numbers of students are experiencing difficulty then adjustments can be made to the activity or the task. Teachers can also focus their attention on individual students by supplying these students with the help they require in order to carry out the activity. Another important aspect of this technique involves providing students with language correction to ensure that students are using the language they have learned as accurately as possible. When students are being observed using the language it is important to know when it is appropriate to provide students with linguistic corrections which will foster their language use and not discourage them to take risks. In essence, this technique, when used informally, allows teachers to encourage students to tolerate ambiguity and to take risks, by praising them for their efforts and giving them constructive feedback on their language knowledge in an environment which is positive and where errors are considered a part of learning.

Observations can also be carried out in more formal ways. Checklists or observation charts, which are based on either general or specific learner objectives, are used as a means of formally providing students with information on their learning. These checklists can be maintained and carried out periodically in order to monitor students’ language development over the course of the year. This observation data can be used by teachers to inform parents and administrators of how the students are progressing. Or, for reporting purposes, this data can provide teachers with additional information which can be used in the writing up of students’ language proficiency profiles.

Record-keeping can be done when students are working in pairs or as they are working in small groups such as in a cooperative learning activity. It is not necessary to evaluate every student all at once; rather, one group can be done in one class period and others in different classes, providing that the checklist provides that kind of flexibility. An observation checklist or chart is developed, based on what kind of information is to be shared with the learners. Thus, an observation checklist can be very general in nature, if the information is pertaining to a student’s overall performance for a given level (as shown in Figure 10) or more specific, if the type of information is dealing with a student’s ability to perform a given task (Figure 11), or it can be tied to specific language learning strategies (Figure 12), which will be observed during the entire course of the year. The checklists should be written up in such a way that both students and parents can easily understand what has been observed. Therefore, it is important to leave a section for writing comments which can be used to provide more precise information relating to the student’s knowledge, abilities and attitudes.

Formal observations play an important role in language development in that they can be used for diagnosing students’ strengths and their weaknesses. This information can then be shared with each student or their parents as a basis for a discussion on the student’s language performance. Further, these observations can become the basis for anecdotal reporting if required. This data gathering process can also assist teachers in making instructional decisions as to whether the students are ready to continue on or whether they require more work on a specific linguistic element or language task. Therefore, this form of evaluation is a powerful means of gathering data for both instructional and evaluative purposes and is one which is easily incorporated both formally and informally.

Error Correction

This technique is an important part of ensuring that students will be able to use the language with precision. Yet, teachers face the dilemma of deciding between promoting spontaneity in communicative growth and encouraging accuracy of expression. In this light, the resulting question becomes, if errors are totally ignored, then, will they become fossilized; i.e., will the grammatical rules and language structures that are stored incorrectly in memory remain that way (see Selinker, 1972 for more information on this process)? However, the other side of the coin becomes, when I decide to correct what should the role of error correction be in the classroom? The answers to these two questions are not easy ones and will depend largely on the nature of the task and the learning situation. Nevertheless, the decision to correct students’ errors should not be taken lightly; rather, teachers need to be aware of the consequences of too much correction or too little and to develop their own personal philosophy which coincides with good instructional practices and the objectives of the program of studies.

Consequently, in the context of a multidimensional curriculum, teachers need to be aware that error correction is no longer limited to linguistic code corrections, but includes more subtle and indirect methods such as providing students with language learning strategies which will assist them in improving their ability to understand and communicate in French. Error correction also involves finding ways in which to encourage students to develop their language skills while at the same time applying their linguistic, cultural and strategic knowledge in as precise a manner as possible.

When students are working on communicative or experiential/communicative activities, teachers will need to find helpful and unobtrusive ways to guide students in accurately clarifying their communicative intents. In these situations, error correction should not be primarily focused on pronunciation and accuracy of specific linguistic elements, as this can become disruptive and threatening for students as they are attempting to convey personal meaning while at the same time trying to sustain the communication. In these instances, teachers need to be judicious when correcting students and should resort to techniques such as providing the student with the correct word or linguistic form if the comprehension of the message is being impeded by these factors. Or, teachers can verify students’ intent by paraphrasing or repeating what they have said or by questioning them in much the same way as would be done in natural discourse in order to facilitate the comprehension of the message.

Further, before students are asked to understand or produce something, they might be given checklists to use along with the activity or task, in order to encourage them to reflect upon the way in which they are going to plan for learning or to use reference materials, such as their notes or dictionaries which will assist them in achieving this precision. In addition, students can be given certain language formulae which they can use for asking for assistance. In all these cases, students are given the opportunity to learn and to develop the language in a non-threatening manner. As such, the teacher’s role is that of facilitator and coach whose primary task is to encourage students to use their language knowledge to understand and express themselves to the best of their ability.

However, error correction can also occur in a more controlled fashion. In this case, teachers will need to pay particular attention to the way in which students are using the language both orally and in written form. In these situations, students are more than likely working on contextualized linguistic activities which will assist them in learning how to manipulate a certain grammatical structure. When students are involved in these types of activities it is important to note, on a consistent basis, what it is the students are doing in order to provide then with immediate feedback regarding the accurate use of the structure. This is a vital step in ensuring that students will be able to properly store the structures for use in real-life communicative tasks.

Therefore, the most important aspect to bear in mind with error correction is that it needs to be seen as a valuable part of the learning process and a needed element for the acquisition of the language. Furthermore, error correction needs to be carried out in an accepting and supportive environment so that learners feel that making a mistake is not something to avoid, but, rather, is a natural part of language hypotheses testing. Effective error correction, then, assists students in becoming better language learners who are willing to tolerate ambiguity and to take risks.


Even at the very beginning stages of language teaching/learning, teachers are encouraged to use the target language as much as possible. In this way, each class will involve further development of listening comprehension skills as teachers carry out direct instruction, learning activities or classroom procedures. To further enhance this development, teachers will also need to use, on a consistent basis, a verification procedure which involves paying careful attention to what students are saying and doing and how they are reacting to a particular learning activity. By verifying how students are functioning with the instructional process, teachers are able to begin a new activity, to continue the current one they are working on or to stop to rephrase instructions and redirect students’ attention in order to ensure that all students are actively engaged in what is going on in the classroom. Teachers can also confirm if students have understood instructions for a class activity by asking verification questions such as: “A quelle page es-tu?”, “Qu’est-ce que vous devez faire?”, Est-ce que tout le monde est prêt?”, “Est-ce que vous avez compris?”, “Avez-vous des questions?”, or by asking students to paraphrase instructions either in French or English. In this way, teachers can ascertain that all students will be able to actively participate in the learning activity.

When students start group work, teachers can begin verification procedures by asking a quick question to the group or by listening attentively for a moment to verify that students are on task. This type of technique will usually provide sufficient evidence that students have understood what it is they are supposed to do. Continuous verification is necessary to monitor classroom dynamics and to ascertain that both the teacher and students are always “on the same wavelength”. Thus, this type of formative evaluation can assist teachers in providing them with immediate feedback as to how the lesson is proceeding in order to determine if any quick changes will be warranted so as to meet the needs of the students. It is also an efficient means of determining who is experiencing difficulty so as to be able to assist this student in becoming an active member of the class, without singling out any particular student. Finally, it is possible to easily incorporate this technique on an ongoing basis, and it is an effective means of keeping students attentive and on task.


This form of evaluation involves the act of reviewing what has been learned during an activity, a class, or a unit/project. It is recommended that teachers involve students in reflection activities on a regular basis in order to obtain feedback on the learning that has taken place. This type of evaluation is an opportunity for teachers to verify the perceptions of students, to review what they have been doing and to determine to what extent they have learnt the material being presented. For teachers, this kind of feedback provides the input required to make revisions so as to meet students’ needs. As for the students, this type of evaluation can help to acknowledge their efforts and to give them confidence to continue taking risks with the language.

Reflection/feedback activities can take place at specific points in the unit/project or during closure activities at the end of a class. They can be as simple as a discussion of the learning activities carried out during the class or they can relate to the lesson plans for the next day. Such a discussion could involve teachers in asking students what they did in class that day so as to review not only the content covered but the language skills developed and to discuss how they can use this knowledge in the development of their unit/project or other communicative situations.

Another form of feedback could involve teachers and students in talking about how a particular set of learning activities that will be carried out during the course of the next day or days will be tied to learning activities that they are presently working on so as to assist the students in developing a mental and written framework. A brainstorming activity could be carried out in which a semantic map is created so that students now have a visual image of what progress they will be making at the end of specific points in the project. As each class goes by, students can add the activities they have been carrying out to the framework in order to be able to view the progress they have made in their language development. Brief discussions as to the success of each activity can also be carried out in order that students develop the ability to reflect upon their work and attribute value to what it is they are doing. These are only a few of the kinds of activities which can be carried out, but in essence, all of these types of activities will provide students with an opportunity to think about what is they have been learning as a means of developing metacognitive learning strategies. As can be seen, this form of evaluation involves students in becoming directly involved in their learning and helps them to take responsibility for what they have learned.

This technique is also quite simple to incorporate into one’s daily teaching practices and, as has been demonstrated by the examples given above, an effective means of making transitions between classes. However, it does need to be planned for so that teachers can obtain information from the students which will assist them in being able to determine the effectiveness of the lesson or unit/ educational project so that further instructional decisions can be taken to meet the needs of individual students or groups of students, such as the development of remediation or enrichment activities.

Self-Assessment/Assessment by Peers

Self assessment, or self-evaluation as it if often called, is a technique which provides students with the opportunity to reflect upon the degree to which they believe they can perform a given task. Or, it can be used to allow students to reflect upon their general behaviour as it pertains to the learning of the language. In essence, this technique involves students in judging for themselves the degree to which they have progressed in the acquisition of the language. This type of reflective process can provide students with the opportunity to develop more self-confidence with the language as they are being given the chance to think about how well they are able to carry out a task prior to being evaluated summatively. If, at this stage, they continue to be unsure of themselves, they can ask for assistance in order to be able to improve in those areas in which they are experiencing difficulty. This moment of reflection, then, can motivate students to do better by being more confident in themselves.

Self-evaluations can be administered at any given time during the instructional process, but it is always useful to do so just prior to the presentation of the cumulative task in the unit/educational project so that students may be given the opportunity to think about how successful they will be in carrying out the task. However, self-evaluations should be used sparingly as students will soon grow tired of the same routine. In this sense, it is recommended that self-assessment procedures be administered no more than three to four times a year so that students can truly feel as though they have progressed.

Self-evaluation checklists are created in terms of what students are expected to be able to do and are derived from a specific unit’s objectives or they can be written based on desired student behaviours. They can include as many columns as necessary for the self-assessment, in addition to a comments column which will allow the teacher an important opportunity to also reflect upon what the students see as their progress. The checklists need to be written in such a way that they encourage students to indicate the degree to which they can perform the various tasks. Older students may indicate their degree of success according to a predetermined scale, whereas younger children can indicate satisfactory or unsatisfactory performance through symbols such as happy/unhappy faces. Figure 13 is one example of how students might assess themselves in relation to a task and Figure 14 is an example of how students might assess desired behaviours.

Self-assessments, then, can also serve as an important mechanism for opening andialogue between the teacher and students or the teacher and parents as it provides a basis from which to discuss certain concerns the teacher may have already noted in the student’s language development. Using the students’ selfassessments may also help confirm for some students that they are in fact experiencing difficulty with a certain aspect of the unit/educational project so that further instruction can be carried out to address these needs.

Therefore, self-assessments can be used in a number of ways which allow students to self-diagnose their strengths and weaknesses, in addition to providing valuable information to the teacher concerning the students’ selfconcept and learning needs.

Peer evaluation is another means of obtaining valuable information on student progress. Instead of assessing themselves prior to their presentation, the students can have their peers verify the degree to which they can perform the required task. As indicated above, these checklists can also be based on the specific unit’s objectives or they can be based on desired student behaviours. The purpose of peer evaluation is to also give students the opportunity to obtain feedback from another source before being evaluated summatively. This process also develops valuable strategies such as being able to point out errors in another person’s work, to work cooperatively with a peer and also to selectively attend to the task by being actively involved in assisting peers to edit their work.

Peer evaluations can also be used to actively engage students in their peers’ oral presentations. In this form of peer evaluation, students are asked to give their opinion on the presentations (see Figure 15). The benefit of this type of evaluation is that it can assist students in taking more responsibility for their work by giving their best performance. However, Once again, it is recommended that this form of evaluation be used sparingly as it could also intimidate some students into not wanting to perform at all.

In essence, then, these two techniques can be used to obtain other forms of information on students’ language development and acquisition.


Objectivation is an evaluation process that encourages students to step back from their work and reflect on the learning that has taken place. This technique can be carried out as either a teacher-led discussion or through the completion of a checklist. In this process students are involved in examining objectively what they have learned (knowledge, skills, attitudes, or strategies) and whether they have been able to apply what they have learned to the task at hand.

Objectivations, done either individually or as a class, can help in determining what was successful, what was unsuccessful, and how learning can be improved. This technique differs from self-assessment in that students must think about what it is they have learned and analyze it in terms of whether or not they have been able to apply it. On the other hand, self-assessment asks students to reflect upon how well they think they know what they have learned by using a rating scale to qualify their degree of success. The strength of the objectivation process, then, lies in the fact that it is carried out in a non-threatening manner by giving students the opportunity to assess their own work before it is formally evaluated. Furthermore, objectivations help students develop important metacognitive strategies such as self-monitoring and self-correction.

Objectivation checklists can be developed directly from the learner objectives for a specific task or unit. Each element that is to be included in the preparation of the task is listed and the necessary instructions for the completion of the checklist are also given. The use of yes/no is the usual format (see Figure 16).

Objectivation checklists, such as Figure 16, can be given to the students at the beginning of a unit or educational project in order to direct their planning and to guide their learning during the instructional/learning sequence. This encourages students to take greater responsibility for their learning and to further develop strategies which will lead them to become more autonomous learners. Moreover, the objectivation process assists students in acknowledging whether or not all the necessary steps leading to the successful completion of the task have been covered. By going through each step, students are given the chance to improve the quality of their work and to feel more successful in what they are doing. In the beginning, though, students will need to carry out this technique with the assistance of the teacher and will need to be encouraged to take on this task by themselves.

Objectivations also provide the means for a discussion between the teacher and the students in those cases where students have not understood what may have gone wrong in the carrying out of the task. Through the use of an objectivation checklist, the teacher and students can revisit the task by discussing each step needed to carry it out and together pointing out any steps which may not have been performed. This process assists students, then, in seeing where they have been successful and unsuccessful, in addition to becoming aware of the value of using the objectivation process as a means of verifying that one has indeed followed every step. By going through this process, students will become more cognizant of the importance of the use of objectivation as a means of verifying one’s work.

Finally, objectivation grids can also provide teachers with useful information in their preparation of anecdotal comments for report cards, in that objectivations can indicate what students can do successfully and what needs more work. The data gathered from objectivations can be transferred to teacher notes so that more explicit information can be reported to both students and parents as it relates to the students’ language development and acquisition.

In essence, this section has discussed a number of ways in which students can be given feedback on their work. It is important for teachers to determine which of these techniques can be incorporated into their daily teaching practices in order to provide students with data which will assist them in constantly improving their language development. The following section will discuss formative evaluation methods.


Government of the Northwest Territories (Canada).