Formative Assessment of Teaching

What is formative assessment of teaching?

How do you know if your teaching is effective? How can you identify areas where your teaching can improve? What does it look like to assess teaching?

Formative Assessment

Formative assessment of teaching consists of different approaches to continuously evaluate your teaching. The insight gained from this assessment can support revising your teaching strategies, leading to better outcomes in student learning and experiences. Formative assessment can be contrasted with summative assessment, which is usually part of an evaluative decision-making process. The table below outlines some of the key differences between formative and summative assessment: 

Evaluation of Teaching

Type of Assessment




Gather evidence of teaching to guide the instructor towards growth and improvement. 

Gather evidence of teaching to make a decision about the instructor being evaluated.


To reveal the instructor’s current strengths and areas for improvement. 

To judge the instructor’s case for promotion, tenure, or other decision of consequence.


A check-in that allows you to adjust and correct your actions.

A final exam in a course where your performance is judged.


May generate pieces of evidence over time that can later be used as part of a summative assessment.

May use approaches similar to formative assessment with a different purpose and audience.

By participating in formative assessment, instructors connect with recent developments in the space of teaching and learning, as well as incorporate new ideas into their practice. Developments may include changes in the students we serve, changes in our understanding of effective teaching, and changes in expectations of the discipline and of higher education as a whole.

Formative assessment of teaching ultimately should guide instructors towards using more effective teaching practices. What does effectiveness mean in terms of teaching?

Effectiveness in Teaching

Effective teaching can be defined as teaching that leads to the intended outcomes in student learning and experiences. In this sense, there is no single perfect teaching approach. Effective teaching looks will depend on the stated goals for student learning and experiences. A course that aims to build student confidence in statistical analysis and a course that aims to develop student writing could use very different teaching strategies, and still both be effective at accomplishing their respective goals. 

Assessing student learning and experiences is critical to determining if teaching is truly effective in its context. This assessment can be quite complex, but it is doable. In addition to measuring the impacts of your teaching, you may also consider evaluating your teaching as it aligns with best practices for evidence-based teaching especially in the disciplinary and course context or aligns with your intended teaching approach. The table below outlines these three approaches to assessing the effectiveness of your teaching:

Evidence of Effective Teaching


Student Learning Experiences

Alignment with Best Practices

Alignment with Intention


Does my current course design or teaching strategy lead to students able to demonstrate my stated learning outcomes?

Does my current course design or teaching strategy align with what is recommended in my  context (e.g. student level, class format/size, discipline)?

Does my current course design or teaching strategy align with my teaching philosophy and values?


Measures of student learning are the most authentic and accurate metrics for teaching efficacy.

Effective teaching will increase student learning from before to after a course, and to a higher extent compared to less effective methods.

Research has identified several strategies more likely to be effective at accomplishing certain student outcomes. 

Certain instructional formats/approaches may help accomplish particular skill learning objectives.

The planned teaching approach may not actually be reflected in practice.

Observations and student experiences can reveal a mismatch between reality and intentions.


Direct evaluation of student work through papers, projects, assignments, exam questions

Student surveys for intended experiences or changes in student beliefs/attitudes

Evaluation of course design components using instructor rubrics

Evaluation of live teaching practice using classroom observation protocols

Student surveys for perceptions of class environment or instructor practice

Evaluation of live teaching practice using classroom observation protocols

What are some strategies that I might try? 

There are multiple ways that instructors might begin to assess their teaching. The list below includes approaches that may be done solo, with colleagues, or with the input of students. Instructors may pursue one or more of these strategies at different points in time. With each possible strategy, we have included several examples of the strategy in practice from a variety of institutions and contexts.

Teaching Portfolios

Teaching portfolios are well-suited for formative assessment of teaching, as the portfolio format lends itself to documenting how your teaching has evolved over time. Instructors can use their teaching portfolios as a reflective practice to review past teaching experiences, what worked and what did not.

Teaching portfolios consist of various pieces of evidence about your teaching such as course syllabi, outlines, lesson plans, course evaluations, and more. Instructors curate these pieces of evidence into a collection, giving them the chance to highlight their own growth and focus as educators. While student input may be incorporated as part of the portfolio, instructors can contextualize and respond to student feedback, giving them the chance to tell their own teaching story from a more holistic perspective.

Teaching portfolios encourage self-reflection, especially with guided questions or rubrics to review your work. In addition, an instructor might consider sharing their entire teaching portfolio or selected materials for a single course with colleagues and engaging in a peer review discussion. 

Examples and Resources:

Teaching Demos or Peer Observation

Teaching demonstrations or peer classroom observation provide opportunities to get feedback on your teaching practice, including communication skills or classroom management.

Teaching demonstrations may be arranged as a simulated classroom environment in front of a live audience who take notes and then deliver summarized feedback. Alternatively, demonstrations may involve recording an instructor teaching to an empty room, and this recording can be subjected to later self-review or peer review. Evaluation of teaching demos will often focus on the mechanics of teaching especially for a lecture-based class, e.g. pacing of speech, organization of topics, clarity of explanations.

In contrast, instructors may invite a colleague to observe an actual class session to evaluate teaching in an authentic situation. This arrangement gives the observer a better sense of how the instructor interacts with students both individually or in groups, including their approach to answering questions or facilitating participation. The colleague may take general notes on what they observe or evaluate the instructor using a teaching rubric or other structured tool.

Examples and Resources:

Student Learning Assessments

Student learning can vary widely across courses or even between academic terms. However, having a clear benchmark for the intended learning objectives and determining whether an instructor’s course as implemented helps students to reach that benchmark can be an invaluable piece of information to guide your teaching. The method for measuring student learning will depend on the stated learning objective, but a well-vetted instrument can provide the most reliable data.

Recommended steps and considerations for using student learning assessments to evaluate your teaching efficacy include:

  • Identify a small subset of course learning objectives to focus on, as it is more useful to accurately evaluate one objective vs. evaluating many objectives inaccurately.

  • Find a well-aligned and well-developed measure for each selected course learning objective, such as vetted exam questions, rubrics, or concept inventories.

  • If relevant, develop a prompt or assignment that will allow students to demonstrate the learning objective to then be evaluated against the measure.

  • Plan the timing of data collection to enable useful comparison and interpretation.

    • Do you want to compare how students perform at the start of your course compared to the same students at the end of your course?

    • Do you want to compare how the same students perform before and after a specific teaching activity?

    • Do you want to compare how students in one term perform compared to students in the next term, after changing your teaching approach?

  • Implement the assignment/prompt and evaluate a subset or all of the student work according to the measure.

  • Reflect on the results and compare student performance measures.

    • Are students learning as a result of your teaching activity and course design?

    • Are students learning to the degree that you intended?

    • Are students learning more when you change how you teach?

This process can be repeated as many times as needed or the process can be restarted to instead focus on a different course learning objective.

Examples and Resources:

Student Surveys or Focus Groups

Surveys or focus groups are effective tools to better understand the student experience in your courses, as well as to solicit feedback on how courses can be improved. Hearing student voices is critical as students themselves can attest to how course activities made them feel, e.g. whether they perceive the learning environment to be inclusive, or what topics they find interesting.

Some considerations for using student surveys in your teaching include:

  • Surveys collect individual and anonymous input from as many students as possible.

  • Surveys can gather both quantitative and qualitative data.

  • Surveys that are anonymous avoid privileging certain voices over others.

  • Surveys can enable students to share about sensitive experiences that they may be reluctant to discuss publicly.

  • Surveys that are anonymous may lend to negative response bias.

  • Survey options at UC Berkeley include customized course evaluation questions or anonymous surveys on bCourses, Google Forms, or Qualtrics. 

Some considerations for using student focus groups in your teaching include:

  • Focus groups leverage the power of group brainstorming to identify problems and imagine possible solutions.

  • Focus groups can gather both rich and nuanced qualitative data.

  • Focus groups with a skilled facilitator tend to have more moderated responses given the visibility of the discussion.

  • Focus groups take planning, preparation, and dedicated class time.

  • Focus group options at UC Berkeley include scheduling a Mid-semester Inquiry (MSI) to be facilitated by a CTL staff member.

Examples and Resources: