Incorporating Formative Assessments into Everyday Teaching
While formative assessment has always been part of effective teaching, the importance of using it to guide instruction and inform teachers so we can differentiate lessons and make the best use of instructional time has become more evident. Checking for understanding of important concepts helps the teacher decide to move on or to continue instruction to ensure that crucial information is not lacking.
Formative assessments don’t have to be highly planned events. They can be something as simple as a thumbs up/thumbs down or exit tickets when students leave the classroom. The most helpful methods of formative assessment are those that are easy to implement but still provide the information teachers need about whether their students have met their learning targets. Verbal questions that require simple student responses are easy but may not provide enough information, especially about students who may not understand but are reluctant to respond. Because formative assessment does inform instruction, it should be incorporated on a regular, if not daily, basis.
In my classroom, I use pivotEd, a digital collection of science, social studies, and language arts curriculum. With a tool like pivotEd, the quality formative assessment questions are designed to provide the answers the teacher needs, and because they are built right into the instruction, they are easy to implement. It’s especially helpful to provide different ways for students to respond, which can help reluctant or hesitant students come out of their shell.
When I monitor student engagement in real time, I can provide instant feedback for students so they know what they need to do to gain more understanding. Several of the activities in pivotEd let students see their responses along with their classmates in a non-competitive way. Students can comment on their peers’ posts, which creates a collaborative, device-friendly environment. It also gives a platform for those students who may not say anything in class but who will add their voice to this non-threatening platform.
Seeing the students’ interaction with the material and each other in real time, I can change instruction almost immediately as I identify what concepts need additional clarification or what topics we can move through—and as students themselves identify where they may need additional support. Assessment for learning can be ongoing and become an integrated part of instruction.
Here’s an example: I was recently teaching a unit that began with a question asking the students to put words into a word cloud. It became obvious that several of the students really didn’t understand a specific word in the question. Instead of moving on with the lesson, I chose to stop and review what the word meant.
During this class discussion, I saw responses in the word cloud change as students gained understanding. The discussion was robust and relevant, and I saw the results of that activity as the students responded differently to the material with a better grasp of the concept. It changed the entire lesson for the better.Dawn Nelson is a school library media specialist at Oak View Elementary School in Minnesota.