Arts Integration Connections

Formative Assessment

Explore a process for using assessment for learning during arts integration

Creative Process

Formative assessment, also known as assessment for learning, takes place during the learning process. These assessments help us “diagnose student needs, plan our next steps in instruction, provide students with feedback they can use to improve the quality of their work, and help students see and feel in control of their journey to success.” (Stiggins et al. 2004)1 In contrast, summative assessment, also known as assessment of learning, takes place after the learning process. It “documents individual or group achievement or mastery at a point in time for purposes of reporting or accountability.”2

Formative assessment is a continuous process embedded in instruction. We listen and observe students during the learning process, collecting evidence of student understanding. Based on this evidence, we make decisions about what instruction/experiences are needed next.

Embedded in formative assessment, is the need for students to be DOING something—talking about something, creating something—so that we can collect evidence of their learning. Learning through arts integration provides that opportunity. As stated in Kennedy Center’s definition of arts integration, students construct and demonstrate their understanding through an art form. This highly visible work helps us to engage in formative assessment.

When students construct and demonstrate their understanding through an art form they are naturally engaged in the creative process. There are many accepted models of the creative process. In the model depicted here, the process is made visible as five open circles.

Each circle identifies what students do. Students 1) imagine, examine, and perceive; 2) explore, experiment, and develop craft; 3) create; 4) reflect, assess, and revise, and 5) share their products with others. The arrows indicate the ways teachers can guide students through the creative process. These arrows are moments of formative assessment—when we make decisions about what experiences students need next. (Over time, students develop the ability to assess their own learning and guide themselves through the creative process.)

Formative Assessment Process

How do we engage in formative assessment during arts integration? The Formative Assessment Process for arts integration includes four main parts:

  • Establish Criteria
  • Observe
  • Clarify
  • Direct

Part 1: Establish Criteria

The first part of the Formative Assessment Process is to establish clear and concrete CRITERIA for the task. Students need to know the lesson’s learning goals and what they need to do to achieve them. These are called performance criteria—“the basis for judging the quality of the performance on the task.”3

In arts integration, teachers generally use two strategies for establishing performance criteria: checklists or rubrics. These are the same strategies used in any performance assessment.4 (As students become familiar with the criteria, they also are able to play a role in assessing their progress.)

Part 2: Observe

The second part of the Formative Assessment Process is OBSERVE.

We collect evidence of learning by observing small groups or individual students at work in the following ways:

  • Observe students’ behaviors—what they do.
    We observe how students are interacting with the content (e.g., on task/disengaged) and on their social/emotional behaviors (e.g., collaborative/withdrawn.)
  • Listen to and engage students in conversations—what they say.
    We listen to students’ conversations and engage them in purposeful talk. We may have brief impromptu discussions with them to assess understanding and diagnose the reasons for any misunderstandings or misconceptions.
  • Look at the products they create.
    We observe what students create and listen to what they say about it.

Part 3: Clarify

The third part of the Formative Assessment Process is CLARIFY.

Sometimes what we observe—what students do, say, or create—provides clear information that helps us direct them to the most appropriate place in the creative process.

Sometimes, however, we need to clarify what students mean by what they do, say, or create. We need further information to help us know how to guide them.

There are two options for clarifying: We can ask questions and we can provide feedback.

  • Questions

    We use questioning to verify or extend our observations. Questions help us avoid making assumptions or inappropriate interpretations.

    • “Why hasn’t your group completed the task in the allotted time?”
    • “What is so challenging about this step?”
    • “You look frustrated. What is causing you to feel that way?”
    • “I notice no group has moved on to step 3. Why not?”
    Sometimes asking a question is all that is needed to clarify what students know or are able to do. Other times, asking a question leads to giving feedback.

  • Feedback

    When we give feedback to students, we share an observation about the extent to which they have met one or more criteria. The feedback is descriptive and based on the criteria included in the checklist or rubric. It is not praise. Sometimes we involve students in self-assessment prior to receiving feedback.

    The observation we make during the feedback can be followed by an open-ended directive or asking a question.

    Observation + Open-Ended Directive

    Our feedback is delivered as an observation and a direction to an action. The direction, however, has more than one possible solution.

    Assume that the criteria for a enacting a scene is that every actor’s face must be visible so that the audience can see the range of emotions at every moment.
    • Feedback: “I didn’t see John’s face in that scene.”
    • Open-Ended Directive: “Consider how you might reposition him.”
    We should avoid following an observation with a closed directive. We should avoid taking over the decision-making and removing the opportunity for students to solve the problem.
    • Feedback: “I didn’t see John’s face in that scene.”
    • Closed Directive: “Turn his chair so he is facing the audience.”
    Observation + Question

    This feedback includes an observation followed by a question.

    Feedback: “I didn’t see John’s face in that scene.”
    Question: “Was that intentional?”

    If the response is “No,” we would follow up with an open-ended directive.
    Open-Ended Directive: “Find a way to solve it.”

    If the response is “Yes,” we would follow-up with a probing question:
    Probing question: “What are you trying to achieve by having John’s back to the audience at that moment?”

Part 4: Direct

The fourth part of the Formative Assessment Process is DIRECT.

We make a decision about whether students are ready to proceed to another step in the creative process. (As students become experienced in self-assessment, they may play a role in this decision-making.)

We have three choices for directing students in their learning. We may:

  • Send students back to a previous step (redo/reexamine)
  • Keep students in the same step for an extended time (remain/revise) or
  • Move students ahead to the next step (progress).

Sometimes the evidence we collect tells us that our instruction has not been clear enough. In those cases, we step back and adapt or change our instruction to better meet students’ needs.

Within a Lesson

If formative assessment is a continuous process embedded in instruction, what does it look like when it takes place during the creative process?

In the diagram below, one of the arrows in the creative process is magnified to show the embedded formative assessment process. This formative assessment process takes place at every arrow.

Making the Formative Assessment Process visible and exploring its connection to the creative process helps us to reflect on how we use formative assessment during arts integration.

When we use formative assessment effectively for arts integration, we establish and share clear criteria for student work, are careful observers of our students as they work, clarify our observations through questioning and feedback, and direct our students to the most appropriate next step. When appropriate, we use the evidence we collect to adjust our teaching strategies to help students learn more productively. The formative assessment process is embedded in our arts integration teaching and natural to our thinking about instruction.

For those of us that are new to arts integration, guiding students through the creative process may be an unfamiliar task. We may even hold the misconception that we have no role once students enter the creative process. In contrast, those of us that are experienced in arts integration, know we have an important role in helping students navigate the creative process. We stop students along the way to make sure their understanding is in place before moving on. We give students feedback. We ask questions. In short, we engage in formative assessment to help us guide students in the creative process. Further, we help our students understand that creative work does not just happen. Rather it is a purposeful, examined, and navigated process.



Lynne B. Silverstein
Senior Program Consultant
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

Sean Layne
Kennedy Center Teaching Artist and founder of Focus 5, Inc.

Editors & Producers

Amy Duma
Director, Teacher and School Programs
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

Kenny Neal
Manager, Digital Education Resources


Image via Creative Commons; flickr.com user Renato Ganoza

Works Cited

  1. Stiggins, R.J., Arter, J.A., Chappuis, J., Chappuis, S. (2004) Classroom Assessment for Student Learning. Portland, OR: Assessment Training Institute, 31.
  2. Ibid., 33.
  3. Ibid., 194
  4. “Performance assessment is assessment based on observation and judgment. Students engage in an activity that requires them to apply a performance skill or crate a product and we judge its quality.” (Stiggins et al, 191) we look at a performance or product and make a judgment as to its quality.

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