The formative assessment enactment model

The aim of the formative assessment enactment model is to offer a practical resource for teachers to support students’ sense making. The model was derived from rigorous analysis of classroom videos of experienced science teachers (many who are chemistry teachers, most are teacher leaders in their school district) doing formative assessment activities with their students.1 The model offers a structure of how different kinds of teaching moves are enacted, as well as characterizes the overall structure of formative assessment that science teachers enact. Excellent science teachers have a broad repertoire and use all of these different kinds of teaching moves in different moments, depending on the in-the-moment purposes that teachers have which are shaped by knowing the specific students and the challenges they are facing at that moment, as well as in the context of the overall lesson purposes.

We follow a definition of formative assessment by Bell and Cowie2 that is very broad:

Formative assessment is a process “to recognize and respond to student learning to enhance that learning during the learning”.

Formative assessment can occur in whole class discussion or as the teacher interacts with small groups or individuals. As long as there is a cyclical feedback loop of noticing and interpreting being done by the teacher, with decision making by the teacher about teaching moves that then lead to students saying something that can be noticed and interpreted again by the teacher and used for responding in order to enhance student learning, it counts as formative assessment. The model has two dimensions.

The horizontal dimension: Types of teaching moves

In the horizontal dimension, the model characterizes teachers’ enactment of formative assessment as starting with noticing something about student thinking and then interpreting what is noticed (central purple hexagon in the model). The teacher then decides, based on the interpretation, whether to enact a teaching move that further elicits student thinking (the left purple hexagon in the model) or to enact a teaching move that advances students toward a scientific way of thinking (the right purple hexagon in the model). The difference between eliciting and advancing is the teacher’s intent behind the teaching move in that moment. All of this occurs in the context of overall lesson goals, so while there is always an overall goal of student learning, sometimes we seek to understand our students’ thinking more, and sometimes we work on pressing students forward toward more scientific ways of thinking.

The vertical dimension: Approaches to making a teaching move

The vertical dimension of the model characterizes two approaches to the teaching moves. Teaching moves can be more authoritative (upper part in red) or more dialogic (lower part in blue). Authoritative teaching moves are based on decisions by the teacher that are made from a “univocal” perspective. Authoritative moves primarily focus on the scientific view as the “voice” that is in the dialogue. Usually, the teacher is the authority who is responsible for this voice, thus it is often the case that the teacher leads the sense-making during authoritative teaching moves, but students certainly still can engage in sense-making during authoritative discussion. Dialogic teaching moves are based on decisions by the teacher that are made from a “multivocal” perspective. Dialogic moves are focused on including the diversity of different “voices” or ways of thinking about science in a discussion. In discussions that are dialogic, the students often are leading the sense-making and bringing their different ways of thinking to the discussion. Often these derive from underlying assumptions that are constraining how students think, such as by extending reasoning beyond the validity of an assumption or in the reverse order. For example, chemists consider various substances to have characteristic reactivities that are conferred by functional groups on molecules. This can be considered as a refinement of an inheritance assumption often exhibited by students who think that the behaviors of substances at a visible scale confer certain properties at a molecular scale. In the example, the chemistry view would be the authoritative voice, and the student “inheritance” view would be another voice in the discussion.

Putting these together: Versatility and intentionality of the teacher

All six kinds of teaching moves (the red and blue boxes in the model) are important for excellent teachers to be adept at using, so that teachers can make intentional choices to use particular kinds of teaching moves at certain moments, based on in-the-moment purposes to enhance student learning as they are learning in a way that maintains students doing sense-making.


1. Characterizing the formative assessment enactment of experienced science teachers

Dini, V., Sevian, H., Caushi, K., & Orduña Picón, R. (2020). Characterizing the formative assessment enactment of experienced science teachers. Science Education, 104 (2), 290-325.

2. The characteristics of formative assessment in science education

Bell, B., & Cowie, B. (2001). The characteristics of formative assessment in science education. Science Education, 85(5), 536-553.