Sunday 27 November 2022

Summative and Formative by Claire Fayers

 I was wondering what to write for my blog post this month when my husband mentioned the terms summative and formative. People who work in education will probably know what they mean. A summative assessment is a means of measuring how much a student has learned, while a formative assessment measures how well the student is learning. Because formative work doesn't count towards a student's degree, the academics often complain that students don't do it. From the student's point of view, summative work means something you get a reward for doing, and formative work is the stuff you can safely ignore.  

We were talking about this because I happened to mention writing competitions. Are they summative or formative? Competitions offer a reward and everyone enters hoping to win, but the act of creating a piece of work to a specific brief and sending it out into the world, is surely formative, especially for writers early in their careers.

I ran a workshop for teenagers recently. Many of them had been writing for years and were at the point where they could really benefit from the experience of sending their work out. Competitions are an obvious route for them, but they were frustrated at the lack of competitions for people in their age group. Many of us work with young people so I wondered if this is something we can help with. (If anyone knows of any writing competitions for young people, by the way, please put them in the comments and I'll pass them on.) 

 Then, if competitions for young people are primarily formative, then wouldn't it be good if the prizes were formative too? A cash prize or the more dubious prize of free publication, might give a much-needed confidence boost but it would be even more valuable to offer a prize that would help develop the writer's skills. Earlier this year, I helped judge the Abergavenny Writing Festival's competition for young people. The prize was an afternoon of workshops with three leading Welsh authors and poets. Twelve young people receiving intensive writing coaching - I wish I could have sat in on it myself. 

We tend to become more focussed on summative rewards as we progress in out careers. Contracts, advance payments, fees. They are necessary things if we want to make some sort of a living out of writing. But I'm pondering two questions this morning. What can I do to help young writers develop their skills, and what am I doing for my own development?


Adelaide Dupont said...

For me writing competitions were very formative indeed.

They gave me the experience of shaping to a brief and a guaranteed audience and access to my writerly peers.

Stephen Burgess said...

Not sure if it adds to the discussion (this is a favourite topic of mine but this may not be relevant). But in my experience, students tend to ignore bad formative assessment. Good formative assessment is about quality feedback which helps you improve your learning and doing. When an assessment that "doesn't count" provides no feedback they, quite understandably ignore it. I like the terms they tend to use in primary schools - assessment of learning and assessment for learning. Think it can be very well applied to writing. The writing workshops I have run and most enjoyed have been with teenagers who just want feedback and to talk about writing.

Stephen Burgess said...

Good topic. And a lot we can learn from education.