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What is the difference between formative assessment and summative assessment and how can technology be used to facilitate both?

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Formative assessment, also known as assessment for learning, is an ongoing interactive process between the teacher and the student. In this process, the teacher integrates interventions, and analyzes the outcome of the interventions through observations, note-taking, and other forms of empirical research.

Formative assessment is process-based. The teacher gets a wealth of information about the student through formative because the student will be consistently performing, researching, and applying a diversity of problem solving and critical thinking skills. During formative, the teacher sees the student "in action" as a diversity of inquiry projects will help the student become exposed to a myriad of different skills.

Summative assessment is assessment OF learning; this is when the teacher has to make one final wrap-up asking specific questions to determine how much of the information acquired during formative was actually retained. This is when your unit tests, state tests, and other forms of standardized testing come in, showing us in raw data what are the strengths and deficiencies of the students as they are shown through testing. However, the data that the standardized test shows is not 100% as accurate as what the teacher is able to perceive empirically through formative. This is because the drawback of summative assessment is that some students may just not be good test takers, or may not be in the mood to test. Sometime the testing conditions eschews the data because the testing was not conducted properly. Formative, therefore, is the type of assessment that shows the true colors of the student.

Technology is a fantastic tool to use for formative assessment because students of the 21st century have ubiquitous exposure to technology, hence, they do not need to re-learn anything to express themselves with it. Using blogs, for example, students can apply a plethora of skills that include:

  • critical thinking
  • spelling and grammar skills
  • essay writing skills
  • organized and focused writing
  • vocabulary skills
  • drawing conclusions
  • the use of voice and focalization
  • research skills (when using the blogs to answer research questions)
  • netiquette
  • constructed responses

These skills are applied by merely writing on a blog. Imagine when we add to that other technology activities that can also be performed online such as:

  • building graphic organizers to summarize
  • creating timelines to re-tell the steps to the process
  • role-play a famous historical character and stay in-character throughout research
  • creating word webs, flashcards, and concept maps for Spelling
  • blending images to create a visualization map
  • making graffiti out of spelling words

All of these activities can be learning centers within the formative phase of instruction. Throughout these, the teacher can obtain a lot of information about the behaviors and traits of students; about their likes and dislikes, and about their true passions. Technology has been a heaven-sent door that has opened the doors of the American classrooms to the world, and to the future of education.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team