Modern Language Formative Assessment or Just Raw Data

The term “formative assessment” is used very frequently in discussing modern language learning. Teachers often cite many different ways of doing formative assessment:  thumbs up or down; five fingers;   A, B, C, D cards;  clickers;  online surveys;  red  yellow green cards;  exit slips;  3-2-1 cards; etc.

Each of these techniques collects raw data. If the activity ends with the raw data, then no formative assessment has been done. Formative assessment implies that the raw data (monitoring), will go to diagnosis, to feedback, and to student implementation of the feedback to overcoming the gap. (Tuttle,Formative Assessment: Responding to Your Students 2009.)

In diagnosis, the modern language teacher decides if there is a gap between the intended learning and the actual student learning. If there is a gap, then the teacher does a diagnosis to determine what specific different strategy the student can use to overcome the gap within this class or a few classes. In feedback the teacher invites the student to use the new different strategy. It is highly unlikely that if the original learning strategy or approach did not work, redoing the same strategy or doing more of it will result in success (“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results” – attributed to Einstein). The modern language teacher builds in classroom time for the student to practice the new strategy; the student may need several classes. The formative assessment has worked when the student has overcome the language gap and can successfully demonstrate the learning. If the student has not demonstrated the learning after several tries then the student may need another different strategy.

What does formative assessment look like in the modern language classroom? An example from my book: Improving Foreign Language Speaking Through Formative Assessment will illustrate peer formative assessment.  Student A describes a visual for a minute. Student B records a slash for each said statement. At the end of the minute, Student B tells Student A how many sentences he/she said.  Students know that their goal is eight sentences in a minute. If Student A has not said eight sentences, Students B indicates topics or items in the visual that Student A could have talked about.  Student A then creates sentences for those items.Student A and B  may practice several times that class and even during the next class so that they can say eight different things about the visual in a minute.

In another example from my online speaking activities,  Student A asks Student B the question from a printed card.  Student B supplies an answer.  Student A compares that answer to the written answer which contains the most likely response or  responses. If Student B’s answer does not match, then Student A coaches Student B by giving hints about the answer; Student A does not just give him/her the answer. Once Student B gets the answer, Student A asks the question again so Student B can answer it correctly.

Do you do formative assessment or do you collect raw data?

I have 30+ activities (about 24 for Spanish and 6 for all Modern Language) to develop student speaking at At the same location there are four modern language culture inquiry activities and one Spanish culture inquiry activity.

The formative assessment books are available at

The following ebooks are available at

90 Mobile Learning Modern Language Activities by Harry Grover Tuttle

90 Mobile Learning Modern Language Activities by Harry Grover Tuttle



Modern Language Proficiencies: Can-Do Strategies