Everything You Wanted to Know About Formative Assessment But Were Afraid to Ask…

Recently Steven Anderson and I had an engaging discussion on the topic of Formative Assessment for ACER Education. Check out what we had to say.


Some of the highlights:

What Is Formative Assessment—As you can tell from our video, there are many ways to describe formative assessment. Simply put, Formative Assessment is taking a pause in learning to ensure students are where they need to be for a particular lesson. The best formative assessments are subtle, giving teachers an overall picture of how students are learning and adapting to their immediate needs. Think of it as a GPS for the teacher—knowing where students are in their learning and where you should head in your teaching.

Formative Assessment could also look like “check-in” questions at the end of a lesson or class, offering valuable information on which direction to head next. Formative Assessments should not be graded assessments. At the end of the day, the goal is to get a pulse on what students know and how effectively the teacher is teaching the material.

But Why Formative Assessment-From the ASCD Book Formative Assessment Strategies for Every Classroom: An ASCD Action Tool, 2nd Edition, Susan Brookhart explains that:

Formative Assessment refers to the ongoing process students and teachers engage in when they:
● Focus on learning goals.
● Take stock of where current work is in relation to the goal.
● Take action to move closer to the goal.

Students and teachers who are engaged in the Formative Assessment process are constantly examining how teaching and learning work as one If we look at Hattie’s Effect Size, or practices that best move student learning forward, Providing Feedback, Providing Formative Evaluation, and Self-Questioning had anywhere from a 0.64 to 0.68 effect size. What do these results show us? These studies show us that students and teachers who engage in the Formative Assessment process learn and retain more information compared to take-home homework.

Low-Tech Formative Assessment- Technology can make the collection of data related to Formative Assessment easier, but it’s not necessary. We’ve seen a variety of different low-tech ways to gauge student understanding. From dry erase boards where students can write the answer to a question, to sticky notes exercises that can act as an open-forum, Formative Assessment does not require a large investment to make a large impact.

Is There Hardware Designed For Formative Assessment? In fact, there is. Shaelynn and I are partnering with ACER Education to take a look at their new TravelMate Spin B118. It’s a dynamic, classroom-specific device that was built with Formative Assessment in mind. It comes with their ACER TeachSmart software that makes use of LED lights built into the lid of the device. This allows the teacher to ask Formative Assessment questions in the middle of a lesson and students can change their lights simply and easily. The lights could stand for anything—ABCD, Yes/No, I’ve got it/I don’t understand.

The TravelMate Spin B118 is also equipped with a digital pen and Windows Ink that allows users to sketch, map, annotate, and draw with the ease of a traditional pen and the magic of digital ink. The visual aspect of this tool is not only beneficial for teachers to model skills to students, but students are able to brainstorm, ideate, and prototype during the design process, making this an invaluable tool in the classroom.

Our Favorite Apps and Tools For Formative Assessment We’ve talked about how Formative Assessment can be done without tech. However, when we add that layer into our teaching and learning, we can do so much more. There are many (free!) apps and tools out there that achieve this.

Nearpod— Create lessons and sync them across devices in the classroom, with built-in tools for questioning, drawing, audio and video responses.
RecapApp— One of our favorite tools built for Formative Assessment. Available on any device, students can record their thoughts and feelings on any given lesson. There’s also a questions tool where feedback can be posted.
EdPuzzle— Add an interactive layer to YouTube videos. Teachers can build in short questions at various points in the video to ensure students are getting what they need out of it. This is also great for data collection and seeing how students’ progress over time.
Flipgrid— A very cool way to post video questions and gather responses. Videos can be shared so students can see where their peers are in their learning as well.
Padlet—A virtual board for multimodal sticky notes. Great for tickets out the door or reflection activities.

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3 Essentials for Success in a Blended [Literacy] Classroom

Adobe Spark (13) (1)This post is sponsored by ThinkCERCA, an online platform designed to empower teachers to personalize literacy instruction across disciplines.

The use of digital learning spaces has exploded in use in classrooms nearly everywhere. Through Learning Management Systems (LMS) many educators are moving to put content online and extend learning beyond the four walls and beyond the school day. This Blended Learning approach is both beneficial but its definition can be tough to nail down. Blended Learning is different than merely integrating technology into the classroom. It provides all learners the ability and opportunity to contribute both openly and differently than they would in a traditional classroom. Simply putting a lecture online and calling it blended learning doesn’t cut it. Students need opportunities for collaborating with peers, creating new ideas, and formatively assessing their knowledge, all taking place in the digital environment.

When done correctly, any classroom can benefit from the blended approach, literacy classrooms especially. Literacy learning is unique in that there are both concrete and abstract concepts that work well in face-to-face teaching and in the digital space. We believe there are 3 essentials for success in any blended literacy classroom.

 

  1. Maximizing Physical and Digital Space – In a blended literacy classroom, success is partly attributed to identifying the “best” practices in both the traditional classroom and a digital space and blending them together. Whole class literacy instruction is best-done face to face. From the modeling of the teaching point to the scaffolding of the active engagement, a physical space in which students can gather and learn is preferred. Co-constructing anchor charts and a quick formative assessment during the active engagement provides educators timely information in which to inform instruction. On the other hand, enrichments for learning, differentiated content, and substantive conversations to construct knowledge may be best in a digital space in which the teacher can support student needs on a larger scale and students can personalize learning anytime and anyplace.  When one considers student needs in both a physical and digital space the list looks similar:

 

Instructional Practices Physical Space Digital Space
Whole Class Purpose: Gathering area to learn and share as a whole class, direct instruction

What it Looks Like: A carpet or rug, open area to accommodate students, transition or movement of bodies/tables for older students

Purpose: Shared digital space by all classmates and teacher(s)

What it Looks Like: A forum or class-stream where everyone can view, post, and comment. A repository of accessible resources, information, and tools that students can utilize during learning.

Independent Purpose: Student area to work, learn, and create on their own
What it Looks Like: A desk, table or flexible furniture, storage space, materials
Purpose: Student area to work, learn, and create independently
What it Looks Like: Individual student logins, profile page or virtual “locker” to store materials, information, creations
Small Group Purpose: Area designated to work as a small group of peers or a teacher working with a small group
What it Looks Like: A table; grouping of desks, chairs, or pillows; flexible for student needs and task intent
Purpose: Area designated to work as a small group of peers or a teacher working with a small group
What it Looks Like: A breakout room, group room, or other “digital space” language that designated a spot for students to work together. It may also include a way to assign and share resources peer to group or teacher to group
One on One Purpose: Area designated for partner work, peer conferencing, or teacher to student conferring
What it Looks Like: Conferring table, flexible seating, teacher moves to student
Purpose: Similar to small group with the addition of private peer to peer feedback, teacher to student feedback, messaging
What it Looks Like: Space used can be similar to a small group. Ability to target and differentiate messages and feedback to an individual or privately. Private assessment and gradebook
  1.  Fostering Collaboration and Communication – Although most of our students do not know the world without the internet, collaboration and communication in a digital space does not come naturally to them. In a blended literacy classroom, students are sharing their writing, participating in literature circles, creating multimedia projects in small groups, and providing feedback to each other. A blended environment asks educators to not only support student learning in content areas, it also requires special consideration on how best to grow and support students in a healthy and safe reading and writing community. These skills are often overlooked but essential for success in a blended literacy classroom. To do so, we must foster digital communication and collaboration skills that will impact not only their current learning but their digital footprint as well. One of the best ways is to co-create and establish norms for the blended literacy classroom. Digital space expectations would include communication, collaboration, sharing, messaging, appropriate use, etc. Here are a few to get you started:
  • Communicate effectively when in a digital space.
    • ALL CAPS = Shouting
    • Know your peers/partner/audience, is text lingo appropriate?
    • 3 before Me – have 3 other people read before you publish
  • Recognize all voices in group and peer to peer spaces.
  • Be careful when using jokes or humor online, it is hard to convey meaning through text alone.
  • When providing feedback to peers address them by name, use the PQP Strategy (Praise, Question, Polish), be specific, and sign your name at the end.  
  • During a class discussion on the forum: Be Engaged, Be Active, Be Reflective

 

  1. Accessible Texts and Materials – Finally, recognizing the capability of differentiating content based on student needs in a blended literacy classroom is an essential component for success. With the access to information and support from platforms like ThinkCERCA, blended learning should not limit student choice to one particular text or resource. In fact, through collaboration with the librarian or media specialists, student choice in what they read should increase exponentially. A digital text that is linked to an LMS (Learning Management System) is not blended learning. Blended learning in a literacy classroom includes multiple texts and information that are high interest and available at all independent reading levels. The Common Core State Standards are end goals that are scaffolded and applicable to any content which is seen in the expert reader. Expert readers apply similar skills no matter what they are reading. These transferable strategies are what we intend to fill our students’ toolboxes with and are done so through text in which they can independently access. And just like the fluidity of student interests, so too is their independent reading level. It can change based on prior knowledge, motivation, or interest. When students have endless access to information and texts everyone wins. Fill your blended literacy space as you would a classroom library; full of books, informational texts, articles, media, and audio at all levels and interests!  

 

These 3 Essentials for Blended [Literacy] Learning help to maximize the digital space to support all young readers and writers. Intentional virtual spaces, scaffolding collaboration and communication, and surrounding students with high-interest, accessible texts promote literacy learning and help to raise student achievement that will last a lifetime.

 

Want to learn more? Check out the Administrator Guide to Personalizing Literacy Through Blended Learning from ThinkCERCA! There is also a great webinar on crafting Scalable Blended Literacy Programs worth a watch as well.

Shaelynn Farnsworth is a Digital Literacy Expert in the Iowa. You can follow her on Twitter @shfarnsworth
Steven W. Anderson is a Digital Teaching and Relationship Evangelist. You can follow him on Twitter @web20classroom.

Urban Legends, Headline Hooks, and Ideation: 3 Edtech Writing Activities for Inquiry

Adobe Spark (9)Writing is often short-changed in most classrooms but it is through writing that students demonstrate their understanding of texts, concepts, and topics. Writing about their learning provides insight into what a student understands and where the gaps occurred. For example, I assign a chapter in The Giver for my students to read and the next day in class I kick off the discussion by having students take five minutes to write down everything they know about a Utopian Society, how it has impacted the characters and the setting of the novel. This 5 minute activity provides me with data to inform my instruction. It provides a small glimpse into my students’ understanding of the novel and theme.

Writing as a type of assessment is typically what most teachers think of and utilize in their classrooms but there is a second reason to have students write (and write, and write, and write a lot more). Writing allows us to wrestle with ideas, make a mess with our thinking, and sift the top ideas and thoughts we may have not known were in our heads. It is through writing that exploration and inquiry can be launched in the classroom.

3 Edtech Writing Strategies for Inquiry:

Urban LegendsWomen wearing leggings are denied boarding for their flights, the current slime craze has serious health implications for youth, Disney VHS movies with the Black Diamond cases are worth thousands of dollars. Using myths, Urban Legends, and other misinformation is an engaging way to launch kids into exploration. Not only does this type of activity lead to more reading, writing, and investigation; but it also promotes healthy skepticism in the information age.  During this exploration, students work to uncover the truth and also ask themselves how this phenomenon takes place and what catapults these Urban Legends into popularity. Great places to start:

 

 

Why Might This Be? – This strategy is great for brainstorming and ideation. Collect provocative statements from newspapers, magazines, blogs, etc. Share each line one at a time while students list possible reasons for each (one minute per headline works well). Students are answering the question “Why Might This Be?” as the list as many possibilities. These lists serve as instigators to launch students into an inquiry or exploration unit where student choice is provided.

 

“Denmark Just Drove Uber Out of The Country”  – Why Might This Be?

 

  • New laws were passed.
  • Accidents caused while using Uber.
  • No money being made by government.
  • Hard to police and hold drivers accountable.
  • Acts of violence caused by riders – or drivers.

 

Headline Hooks – This activity has students reading and writing their way through current NF sources. To start with, students spend 20 mins. or more reading articles that spark their interest. Here is a collection of digital sources to have kids explore! During their reading, students take note of what they want to explore more. This list becomes a plethora of ideas to support inquiry throughout the year. Use a graphic organizer once the student has chosen a Headline that Hooked them listing the topic on the top, what they know about it, what they think they will find out, and then what they did find out.

Resources – Kelly Gallagher, Write Like This

7 Characteristics to Look For when Purchasing New Curriculum/Programs

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It’s that time of the year again when schools across the country are looking to purchase new curriculum and programs. Often times the big rocks that make things best for kids are masked by bells and whistles. Part of my role is helping educators determine which programs and curriculum are right for their staff and students. I believe that no one program or curriculum meets all standards or needs of all students, but there are definite factors that schools should consider before purchases are made.

7 Characteristics to Look For when Purchasing New Curriculum/Programs

  1. Direction – Before making a purchase of new curriculum it is important to understand the mission and goals of the program. After an introduction to the program, educators should have a clear understanding of the direction the program intends to deliver as well as the means in which to arrive. Look for both a larger conceptual mission of the curriculum that reach both inside and outside of the school as well as smaller goals aligned with the mission.
  2. Standards – All teachers follow some sort of standards or guide in which to embed curriculum and write student learning targets. Whether you are using the Common Core State Standards or a different roadmap to guide instruction be sure that there is alignment between the two. I again want to reiterate that while no program or curriculum materials reach all Standards or student needs, there are definite discrepancies between the quality available from each company.
  3. Learning Cycles – Within each program or set of curriculum materials, there should be evidence of learning cycles. Look for assessment in both pre and post formats, objectives, steps, scaffolds, timelines, etc. When purchasing programs that are meant to meet the needs of students all of these factors come into play during instruction and learning.
  4. Resources – When identifying which programs or curriculum to purchase it is essential to consider the resources included (or not included) for successful implementation. Resources involve materials for both teachers and students, people and time, technology integration, and also alternatives. Having to create or find material, people, and time that was not expected at the initial time of purchase can be detrimental to any new program or curriculum.
  5. Professional Learning – Knowing what professional learning is available for programs and curriculum schools are considering purchasing helps plan for roll-out, implementation, as well as systemic change. Professional learning could come in a variety of forms from on-site training, manuals, digital resources, and communities. While purchasing high-quality materials is an investment in kids, a better investment is in the educators that are working with students. Do not neglect this area when making a purchase. What typically happens is spotty use and frustrated staff members.
  6. Student-Centered – When purchasing new curriculums or programs it is important to always keep the student at the center of your decision. Students should recognize themselves (backgrounds, ethnicities, genders, etc.) in the texts. Materials targeted to engage youth at appropriate ages. Subjects that are important and relevant to students. Does the material allow for choice in content or demonstration of understanding? Is there a variety of instructional styles designed to meet more than one “type” or student needs.
  7. Continuous Improvement – Finally, it is also important to identify resources within programs and curriculum that allow for interventions, spiral or scaffolded learning, enrichment activities, and multi-lingual support for our EL students. Do they value reflection and metacognition empowering students to own their learning?  Are there clear ways information and data collected informs instruction and supports educators enhance learning for ALL students in their classroom?

(Adapted from David W. Moore)

I also like to gauge the group whose charge it is to identify and select programs/curriculum to purchase. I use this form and share the results with the school leadership team so that all voices are heard. Feel free to make your own copy to use.

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Consider These 6 Areas When There is a Glitch in Reading Comprehension

when-reading-comprehension-breaks-down

Direct instruction in literacy should not end in elementary school. Students of all ages need continual modeling and practice of reading comprehension skills. And while many elementary teachers use running records to inform instruction, at the intermediate grades, this type of assessment can be modified to meet the needs of our older readers.

At the end of the oral reading, students retell what they had just read summarizing, analyzing, and connecting to the text. This retelling is preferred over the typical question-answer assessment for older students. Retelling gives us a glimpse into the reader’s cognition and provides valuable insight as to what was grasped and what may have been lost.

During the reflection with the student following the retell, teachers can hone in on 6 areas to identify possible sources that contribute to the breakdown of comprehension.

6 Areas to Explore when Reading Comprehension Breaks Down

  1. Background Knowledge on the topic. Do I need more information on the topic in order to understand the text? Would rereading or talking about it help me understand new concepts presented by the author?
  2. Vocabulary. Were there lots of words I’ve never heard of or seen in this selection?
  3. Cultural Differences. Is this about a way of thinking or pattern of acting that is different from mine?
  4. Word-Recognition Skills. Can I figure out hard or unfamiliar words?
  5. Comfort with the task. Am I worried about doing well?
  6. Responses to environmental influences inside and outside of school. Am I confident I can be successful?

(Based on the work of Mary Shea)

When teachers and students reflect and identify areas that contribute to the breakdown of comprehension glitches can be addressed efficiently. Teachers instruction is targeted and students understanding of themselves as readers grow enhancing independence and comprehension.