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Inclusive Teaching Guide: Formative Assessment

Effective teaching is a dynamic, not static, process. Whether you have years of experience or are just beginning to teach, there is always room to expand your repertoire, explore a new approach, or reflect on an aspect of your practice.


Formative assessment quickly gives a sense of student learning. These techniques are low-stakes measurements of learning that are often ungraded and informal. Librarians can use formative assessment to maximize the limited time we have with students during instruction sessions. 

One formative assessment technique is to poll or survey students to quickly check for understanding. The tools shown here can be used to gather responses before or during class, and give the class a view into other student’s ideas and perspectives. Displaying anonymized responses can grab the attention of the class as they learn from their peers instead of the presenter. 

Tools for the job:

Google Forms
Poll Everywhere

Case Study from UT-Austin

The following examples are from a real Google Forms questionnaire that UT-Austin librarians use at the beginning of one-shot instruction sessions to quickly gauge starting points and create buy-in for the presentation. 

They create a spreadsheet of the responses and display that spreadsheet on the screen as students complete the questionnaire. The spreadsheet auto-populates with their responses.


question screenshot

Developing Research Topics

When students are allowed to choose their own research topics in a class, they are often more engaged with the assignment, but may need help scoping the topic appropriately. By anonymously polling students on their choices and displaying the responses, instructors can show the range of possibilities and level of detail that is right for the assignment. 


topics screenshot


Popular versus Scholarly Resources

This distinction is an important concept in all disciplines. Using an anonymous survey, students can construct an understanding of the characteristics of a scholarly resource together and learn from their peers. The instructor can fill in the gaps to complete the picture.


schol screenshot


Research Tool Preferences

Asking students about their favorite or usual starting places for research can be illuminating, and give the instructor an idea of where to begin explaining how to choose appropriate tools for upcoming assignments. For instance, students may name Google Scholar and JSTOR as favorite tools for research. By displaying these responses, the instructor can validate the variety of starting places, and use them as a launching point for explaining proxied access, freely available resources, how to login, benefits of using subject-specific databases, and more.


databases screenshot

Created by Carolyn Cunningham