Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Formative Assessment Toolbox

image courtesy of Humorist John P Wood

Teachers use assessments all the time throughtout their instruction. Typically this is done to measure how much students have learned up to a particular point in time. This is what we call "assessment of learning", or a measurement of what students know compared to state or district standards. Although these types of assessments are important, teachers should focus more on assessment for learning, or formative assessments.

Formative assessments support learning during the learning process. They are not graded, but serve as practice to develop deeper understanding. They are quick checks for understanding and can be used by teachers to guide current or future instruction. Formative assessments help teachers differentiate instruction and thus improve student achievement.

Benefits of Digital Tools

There are a variety of digital tools available to teachers that make formative assessment activities easier and more efficient. In this discussion, we need to remember that formative assessment is a process, not a tool or instrument. Any tool used for formative assessment should simply be a part of that process and not the outcome.

Digital tools should be a part of every classroom teacher's formative assessment toolbox, because they offer these benefits:
  • make student thinking visible
  • provide efficient and immediate feedback
  • increase human interaction and debate
  • increase classroom participation and attentiveness
  • encouraging risk-taking with anonymous student responses
In a blog post from 2011, Nat Bantingz described 5 benefits to polling (formative assessment) in his math class. This is a very interesting read and illustrates very nicely the points made above.

The Tools

There are many tools teachers can use for formative assessment. They each have pros and cons. Ideally, teachers should be familiar with several of them. Some tools work well in some situations, while others are better in a different situation. I have blogged about several different formative assessment tools and have given a quick summary below as well as links to my blog posts.

Plickers are a good solution for classes that don't have access to classroom responders. Teachers print out QR Code style forms and use their cell phone to "poll" the classroom. This is a nice solution because students don't need a device in order to participate.

Poll Everywhere is great for BYOD classrooms. Students can use their own cell phone, regardless of whether it is a smartphone or not. Another feature I love about Poll Everywhere is the ability to collect words or phrases and display them as a word cloud.

Kahoot is a game-based response system. Students compete individually or in teams and earn points based on how quickly they can answer the questions. The game-based aspect of this system is highly motivating and engaging for students. It's web-based so they can use any web enabled device such as a tablet, phone, or computer.

Socrative is a good old standby for formative assessment tools. It has an iPad app for both teachers and students, but can also be accessed via the web. Many teachers have created Socrative quizzes and share them freely on the web.

If you use any of these digital tools in your classroom, or have suggestions for others, I'd love to hear from you. Leave a comment below and let me know all about it.

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