We just completed the final stage of our state testing this past week with a typed essay on laptops/Chromebooks no less. Not exactly the feel good moment of the school year for either our students or teachers. It did get me thinking though, does this time of year feel so crazy because we as educators are constantly assessing students for understanding, mastery of the standards, and preparing for final grades? That’s a lot of pressure! No wonder stress levels are so high.
It’s not only high stakes assessment for students, but it can also be high stakes for us as educators as well. I mean after all, if our students do not show progress, or a certain percentage of our students do not meet all of the standards, does this reflect poorly on us as well for teacher evaluations? It can be a stressful time of year, especially when it feels like time is running out.
This got me thinking about assessments throughout the year. I’m one of the first to admit that we assess our students a great deal, and at many times throughout the year it feels that we are taking away good instructional and learning time to administer these high stakes tests, especially at the national and state levels. However, not all assessments are created equal! Not all assessments should be such high stakes, where the final outcome ends up on the report card or evaluation. In fact, good formative assessment is how we can all learn together and reflect on our practice and learning to adjust to promote larger/stronger growth in all of us.
Kim Meldrum literally writes the book on assessment entitled, Assessment that Matters. If you haven’t read this book yet, you should check it out. It’s a wonderful resource and reminder to all of us educators what is meant by true formative assessment. Kim talks about the differences between summative and formative assessments describing summative assessments as a measure of the learning where a grade is the final evaluation. She stresses the importance of continuous formative assessment throughout the year which she coins assessment for the learning and as the learning. These are great reminders to think about. Quick checkins and feedback can be hugely beneficial to our students so that they can reflect on their own learning, but also on us as educators so that we can reflect on our teaching and make adjustments to groups or individuals to meet everyone’s needs within the classroom.
Quick and immediate thoughtful feedback can inspire a growth mindset within our schools. One in which we all recognize that everyone has something they need to work on or learn, and yet at the same time everyone can achieve that goal if they put their mind to it. Simply having an auto corrected answer guide sent back to students upon submission of a quiz probably isn’t going to be enough. Instead, I urge teachers to think about thoughtful feedback. How can you lead your students to discover more about their learning and truly investigate what works best for them, so that they can grow into life long learners?
I have had the pleasure of talking with Kim at a few conferences now in which we were both presenting, and I am always impressed by how she embraces the technology tools that can make teaching and assessing learning easier, but yet at the same time question the end means in which these tools were developed. We were lucky enough to have Kim join us on our weekly vodcast last week, which is located below as a YouTube archive if you wish to check it out.
When I asked Kim the question about what were some of her favorite tech tools that she uses for formative assessment, she paused and mentioned that the teachers are the best tools. She warned the audience that sometimes the latest app, or software tries to market themselves as formative tools with quick and easy feedback options for teachers and students, but in fact the tool itself isn’t doing much more than speeding up the teacher workflow. In other words, the instructor has to manipulate either the app or the software to truly give back the feedback we want for students to help them grow. Merely kicking out the answers or scores is just speeding up the correcting process. It’s not necessarily providing necessarily a better formative assessment scenario.
There are many great tech tools and softwares that can easily assess students as the learning and for the learning. Here are some of the tools that I use routinely to check for understanding both within the classroom and for teacher professional development;
It still takes a well versed teacher to manipulate the app/software to provide for authentic feedback though for students. A good example of this is the fairly new option within Google Forms called Quizzes. We can now setup a Google Form as a quiz to auto correct answers that students submit (multiple choice, choose from a list, and short answer only), and have the score and/or the answers kicked back to the students either upon submission or at a set time/date. This is a wonderful addition to Google Forms, however, simply sharing scores and/or the correct answers to students does not really promote a growth mindset, and certainly does not inspire students to investigate more about the learning. Most students will see their score or the correct answers and discard the results. Now, if a little more work was done in the backend by the instructor, greater formative feedback could be given to the learner.
Before the quiz option in Google Forms, I used to create exit tickets with Google Forms. Quick little 5 questions quiz-like forms that I would give my students or teachers (if it was a PD session) to check for understanding and better drive my instruction. Instead of just having the correct answers pushed out to them, or merely a score when they submitted these exit tickets, I would create a simple mail merge using the add on Autocrat. This add on works within Google sheets and simple takes the information submitted from the exit ticket and pushes it out to a clean Google Doc that can then be emailed to the submitters of the form. Now, I wouldn’t just have their answers pushed back with the correct answer underneath. Instead, I would have their answer shown on the doc with helpful links and further probing questions to get students to investigate further to check their own answers to see if they were correct in their thinking, or if something else would have been a better fit for the question within the exit ticket.
Interestingly enough more of my students would take the time to look for the correct answers, and share their results with others in the class. Engagement went up and students took to the challenge of continuing their learning like going on a scavenger hunt. I quickly realized that if I gave these exit tickets only at the end of the day we would either run out of time for this continued investigation, or I would have to “assign” the investigation portion as homework each night.
That also got me to thinking about using formative assessment up front in my lessons. Now I was beginning to see the power of a flipped classroom, where the video introduction was the homework. The students would then arrive to class and take the entry ticket (instead of exit ticket to check for understanding), and use class time in pairs, small groups or even individually to research the correct answers and report back to the group. I was using the same tool, but the assessment was now being used for the learning and as the learning rather than of the learning in a summative format. It also got me thinking about my own teaching practice and how I could improve. It was a bit more work, but I quickly realized that the feedback being sent back to the students would also have to be modified based upon the learner. That meant finding ways to kick out feedback and helpful links/resources to each individual based upon their individual needs and understandings. That’s when Google Classroom became a great tool to help me achieve that when face time was limited.
Truly nothing beats one-on-one feedback with real face time, but that may not be attainable in many of our classrooms each and every day. That’s when I do turn to these tech tools, that speed up my workflow to help me achieve authentic formative assessment strategies and meaningful feedback. What are some of your favorite tools and how do you use them in class? Please fee free to add these to the comments below.
For more information on formative feedback tools, check out these resources to help you get started…
Presentations I have done in the past
Creating Easy Exit Tickets with Google Forms and Autocrat
Magic Happens with Google Drive Add Ons
Amazing Things You Can do with Google Forms
Tech Curriculum and Assessment Vodcast with Kim Meldrum
Resources from other professionals in the field
Assessment that Matters: Using Technology to Personalize Learning by Kim Meldrum
Fantastic, Fast Formative Assessment Tools by Vicki Davis
56 Examples of Formative Assessment by David Wees
Over 35 Formative Assessment Tools to Enhance Formative Learning Opportunities by Michael Gorman