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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Undervaluing Teacher Perception in Assessment

Peter Reynolds, author of The Dot, ish, and many others; recently released his animated short entitled The Testing Camera. Described as a “whimsical poke at high-stakes, standardized testing,” The Testing Camera, paints an all-true reality of education today.

Teaching to the test, students measured by the test, teachers evaluated by the scores their students receive on the test; with this constant focus in today’s education systems, is it any surprise that: teachers have began to question their own professional perceptions? Undervalue their day to day interactions with students? Rely solely on the test score to dictate curriculum, label and track students, and justify their own strengths as an educator?

Most recently, during a writing workshop training, a teacher expressed the joy and affirmation the framework, specifically small group instruction, has provided her in terms of formative assessment. Identifying a student need; providing examples, practice, and opportunities for improvement; targeting a specific writing skill the student is on the cusp of mastering; and continuous checks to follow-up on goals are not done through standardized testing. Instead; this type of formative assessment/observation allows the teacher to differentiate in the moment, make professional decisions based on individual students, and demonstrate the power of good teaching. Hearing this reflection simultaneously made me happy and sad. I was thrilled that this teacher regained her professional voice, but was saddened that it was lost in the first place.

This post is not intended to debate the necessity of standardized testing; instead, it is to draw attention to this culture and provide an alternative view highlighting the value in and the ease of formative assessment can in our contemporary classrooms.

Jim Knight refers to formative assessment as a GPS to “gauge how well students understand what is being taught.” As part of the Big 4 to Improve Instruction, developing and using formative assessment effectively provides insight into gaps in content planning and/or pedagogy thus allowing teachers to target learning. The formative assessment GPS allows teachers to see what direction students are heading (are they way off course, or close to the goal), which pedagogical practices were effective with which students, and a map for navigational purposes to determine teaching style (inquiry, modeling, example, etc.).

While it is clear the benefits to the learner that formative assessment provides, the ease of crafting and administering such “checks” in today’s technology-rich classrooms further add to these for both the learner and teacher. In a recent blog post by Jeff Zoul, entitled “Reimagining Learning,” Zoul reflects upon the paradigm shift in teaching and learning in a ubiquitous technology education environment. Citing Richard Culatta in his identification of challenges in education and the role in which technology can help to solve these, Zoul touches upon assessment, writing, “We can provide real-time feedback to students, an ‘LPS’ version of a GPS system in which we—and our students—know where every individual learner is currently at and where each needs to go next. We can tailor the pacing of instruction to the needs of each learner.” These two specific points align with the benefits I outline below.

Technology Assisted Formative Assessment Provides:

  1. Real-time glimpse into students’ understanding
  2. A space for all voices to be heard and recognized
  3. Opportunity for immediate feedback and differentiation of instruction
  4. Data narrating the students’ learning journey
  5. A transfer of ownership of learning back into the hands of the student

Savvy educators understand that technology tools are only as powerful as the content they are paired with, the student choice given in the unit, and the cognitive demand placed on the learner. With this in mind, I offer the following tools for exploration:

Technology Tools for Formative Assessment

forms-iconGoogle Forms

Google forms are adaptable and provide a plethora of question types to meet needs. An Exit Ticket is a common use of Google Forms. Student answers are automatically collected in Google Sheets and allow the viewer to see responses in a variety of ways. In essence, results can be cleared, and the same Form could be used each day. Paired with a script, such as Flubaroo or Form Mule, Google Forms can provide immediate results and feedback to students.


Socrative is an interactive platform, where students answer questions in real-time and receive immediate feedback. Socrative is device friendly, accessible from tablets, laptops, and smartphones. It also reports individual students, as well as whole class reports which appeal to many educawtors.


Kahoot is a game-based response system where students are motivated to be on the top of the leader-board. To play along with the facilitator, a student may use any device with a web browser (no account is needed).Kahoot encourages the teacher to blend the learning experience by constructing a social, game-based assessment while folding the learning in between interactive questions.


Nearpod brings the interaction to the student’s screen. Interactive, engaging, and customizable in both creation and response, Nearpod provides monitoring of student’s progress. Control of when and who sees the questions provides a different alternative to Socrative. There is also a “draw” response option, perfect for those sketchnoters.


Although not a new tool, TodaysMeet, is the prime backchannel for the classroom. Ease in setting up a room (virtual space), real-time capabilities, readability, and the option to save the transcript; TodaysMeet provides a voice to even the quietest student. Recently added features now allow moderation of content, private rooms, and longer lengths in room reservations.

imgres-1Poll Everywhere

A favorite with students, Poll Everywhere is an audience response platform that promotes interaction, ease, accessibility, and a visual of the responses. Poll Everywhere is another tool that has been around for years, but has recently added improvements to the site. Additions include: differentiation in visualizing the responses (wordcloud is one), embed a voting widget on your site, as a student, access a single webpage where the questioned are “pushed” to you. Answer questions via phone, twitter, or webpage. Poll Everywhere is a perfect tool for a bell ringer, diving into the material immediately or connecting to the previous day’s learning.



Thank you to Jeff Zoul, Mike Jaber, and Leslie Pralle Keehn for contributions to this post.  Appreciate you!