Formative assessment is a vigorous and engaging tradition that we as teachers should be committed to cultivating in every classroom. Why is it such an essential part of learning? It serves as an assessment tool for teachers, probing for understanding, and guiding decision-making about future instruction. Formative assessment creates a supportive environment in which the teachers and students learn and teach each other effectively, and instruction is tailor-made to fit each learner.
Formative assessment is an ongoing, fluid experience – a spontaneous, on-the-fly process that guides teachers toward understanding which resources to utilize with specific students according to their specific needs. Analyzing student work is a valuable part of formative assessment, as it clarifies which pieces of the learning process students might not understand. As an effective teacher, be prepared! Know the content that you’re going to cover, and have an understanding of the progression you want your students to make to achieve that ultimate goal. Utilize a plethora of questioning strategies and focused observations, engaging students in the learning process with a sense of urgency, and closely monitoring their progress and comprehension. Students should be entrenched in the content of the curriculum, entirely present with each other, and focused in the process of learning.
An effective formative assessment system gauges student understanding and nurtures retention. Teachers are able to pinpoint student strengths and weaknesses, down to their most minute need. Formative assessment results are used to drive instructional strategies and resources. These results should be effectively and easily communicated to students, teachers, parents, and administrators in a consistent and easy to understand format. When teachers analyze data and use it as a tool to tweak the curriculum, the curriculum becomes dynamic and alive, not just a static document.
There are literally hundreds of ways and opportunities to formatively assess students. Education today is moving away from the sole use of traditional paper and pencil assessments. Valuable formative assessments now come in a plethora of forms, adding interest and engagement to the classroom while still providing the information needed to differentiate instruction and guide student learning.
A tried-and-true method of formative assessment is the “Ticket-Out the Door,” or the “Exit Ticket.” Students compose a written response to a question posed by the teacher, and are allowed to leave the room (or in many cases, transition to the next subject) only if their response meets the approval of the instructor. Similarly, teachers may utilize this strategy as a pretest, having the students complete an ”Entrance Ticket,” or a “Ticket-in-the-Door” to gauge student knowledge on the topic of the day.
Another quick and effective formative assessment, “Show What You Know,” can also be used at the end of the lesson. This is simply a higher order or critical thinking question posed at the very end of the lesson after the lesson summary. Students write their response to the question in a complete sentence on a sticky note, and post it on the “Show What You Know” board. This gives the teacher an “at-a-glance” view of whether students understand the concept presented or not.
The “Text What You Learn” strategy engages students at a high interest level, and allows teachers to formatively assess student knowledge of a concept quickly and effectively. At the beginning of the class, students use their cell phones to text in a response to a question that the teacher has presented through the Poll Everywhere software. Responses are projected on a SMART Board, and students are given the opportunity to self-assess, and see what their peers have learned. This provides valuable information to the teacher on how to move forward with the lesson.
Edmodo has a free micro-assessment called Snapshot which provides assessment feedback by student and standard. Progress can be monitored by choosing the standard(s) to be assessed, and utilizing the standards-aligned Math and ELA questions (for grades 3-12). Snapshot displays information on student mastery of standards, and with prioritized recommendations, teachers are able to customize lesson plans and improve the performance of individuals. There is even a built-in calendar and time limit selector option, so teachers can schedule Snapshot for the most opportune time during lessons.
Socrative is a super simple tech tool teachers can use to enhance classroom engagement, assessment and individualization of content. This is a free student response system in which students respond to the teacher through a series of educational exercises and games via any web-enabled device: smartphones, laptops, and/or tablets. Socrative takes teachers 3 minutes to set up and takes their classes 20 seconds to load. Easily differentiated, Socrative can be tailored for any learner.
If you don’t have that level of technology in your classroom, you can do a “quick write” at the beginning of your class. Ask students to provide you with a brief summary of what the homework was about, or what the key point in the reading was last night. They can either hand these in to you, or you can have students share them with a Collaborative Pair Partner or group — all to truly pinpoint where the lesson should begin.
Whatever tool or strategy is chosen, formative assessment is a culture, of sorts, that teachers create in a learning community that is dynamic and engaging.