One of the advantages to being a building principal is that I get to see what takes place in classrooms all around the school. I love seeing a great strategy in one classroom, then going to the next classroom and sharing it with another teacher. I think we can all agree that there is not nearly enough of this kind of sharing and collaboration in education.
In our school, we have been studying different approaches to formative assessment in the classroom. We looked over about twenty-five different ideas for how to formatively assess, then I asked teachers to try one of the concepts in their classroom and provide me with feedback about the strategy.
This “action research” showed me that some of these strategies were more popular because of the quick prep time—and because teachers felt they were very effective. We found that the assessments that were most popular incorporated multiple modalities to get students talking, listening, moving, writing, and thinking.
Here are the top picks:
- Grab Bag: This adds a bit of fun to the process of questioning students. Either the teacher or other students can list questions on cards and put them in a bag. One student can select a question for the whole class or small groups can each take a question to respond to. There are other variations for a grab bag that can incorporate vocabulary words or a Jeopardy style that gives the student the answer on a card and they have to come up with the question.
- Sticky Notes: There are all sorts of variations I have seen in classrooms with using sticky notes as an assessment tool. They work well since any written response has to be short in nature because of the size of the notes. As a tool for assessment, when students post their notes around the room, students can read the other students’ answers, or they can see what the responses were. One teacher posted the responses in a bar chart on the classroom wall to show how many students felt a certain way about the topic.
- Take Off/Stand Up: This is a quick gauge for checking how many students feel like they know a certain concept. For example, asking students to stand up if they know what 12 x 16 is. If only 40% of the students stand up, then that fact needs more review. If 90% of the students are standing, then the teacher knows which students need some extra practice on that concept.
- Pass the Question: This is a small group formative assessment check. Have your students pair up, then ask them a higher level question. They can take a minute to discuss it before starting their response. After all the groups have started an answer, have them trade with another pair. They can then read the response from the first pair and add to it, respond to it, or even disagree with it. When it is over, the teacher can collect all the responses to check to see if they understand the concept that was being taught.
- Quick Writing/Summary Writing: This is similar to the sticky note idea, but is a little more formal. The teachers that I have seen try it either use an index card and expect a few clear sentences on it, or use technology and have students respond in a Google Form. Either way, the expectation is for the students to summarize some of the learning—either for the day or for the end of the unit. The technology option works well because the teacher can start the next day with some of the responses posted on the projector.
- Sticky Spot: This is a check for students’ misconceptions or lack of understanding. Each student at the end of the lesson determines the one part of the lesson that they do not understand or is the place they are most likely to get “stuck.” The teacher can then take the information to see if there is a pattern in the misunderstanding. This can be a little more analytic because the teacher can look for the root of the issue. It could be materials, curriculum, or even lack of time when the instruction was taking place.
These are the top six in our school so far, but there are many more strategies and ways to assess students that we have yet to try. The key thing for teachers to remember is to use the information that is gathered to make informed instructional decisions. Lessons plans should be altered—whether accelerated, decelerated, deepened, or lengthened—as a result of the information that is discovered from these assessments. This is the real power behind formative assessments and shows how they can make a huge difference in the learning environment.
Though most of these options don’t use technology, many teachers love the ability to assess on the fly with mobile devices using an assessment app or even a clicker. Both of these give immediate feedback and kids love using the devices!
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