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You may not even know you’re doing it. Perhaps you glance at your students’ graphic organizers as they work or listen to them tell a partner how they solved a math problem. But the data you gather during these informal assessments can make all the difference in your instruction the next day, or even in the next few moments. Formative assessment is that powerful.
Unlike summative assessments, which occur at the end of a unit, formative assessments are simply check-ins to gauge students’ understanding. They happen while you teach, and they provide insight into what students understand before you give or grade a single test.
So how do you take your assessments to the next level—and further engage students? By infusing them with spot-on technology, say Judith Dodge and Blanca E. Duarte, authors of 25 Quick Formative Assessments for a Differentiated Classroom. In the new edition of the book, they take teacher-tested assessments and give them a fun tech twist.
Technology in assessments “allows for tremendous flexibility for individual learners,” says Duarte, and it can capture student responses that might otherwise be lost or forgotten.
James Drumgoole, a grades 2–12 ENL (English as a New Language) teacher in Queens, New York, agrees, noting that the use of technology in assessments “makes it possible for educators to make quicker decisions about where their classes are and where they need to go.” This is especially true in younger grades, when instruction needs to change rapidly to accommodate big jumps in learning. Plus, few things keep students more engaged than well-crafted technology.
Middle school teachers Janine Marie Vogel and Lauren Cierski, from Sayville, New York, have students cycle through highly engaging simulations, each paired with a digital formative assessment. In one lesson, their students learned about early-20th-century business owners’ experiences during Industrialization by role-playing with one another and keeping a digital balance sheet of earnings.
Of course, with seemingly endless options for apps and other programs, how do you decide what to choose? Dodge and Duarte’s tips are designed to help every teacher, in every grade and subject. Here are five of our favorite assessments, in their traditional and technology-infused forms.
Quick Write/Quick Draw
Use With: Grades 2 and up
Traditional Model: Dodge is a big fan of this assessment, which is a workout for both sides of the brain. In quick write/quick draw, students express their thinking through words and illustrations. On one side of the page, they draw to show what they know, and on the other, they jot down their thoughts. The assessment allows students to reflect and make connections, and with its emphasis on illustration and an option to transcribe words, it can easily be adapted for your youngest learners. Use it to assess everything from students’ understanding of steps in a math problem to analyzing character traits to outlining the life cycle of a butterfly.
Infuse It With Tech: Explain Everything extends this assessment, and it can serve as an opportunity for students to teach their peers. The app allows kids to add found images and text to their work, and younger students and English language learners can record their voices to explain their work.
Third-grade teacher Becky Dingsor-Forero, from Queens, New York, especially appreciates that Explain Everything “captures student work in progress,” making it perfect for assessing students’ strategies for adding and regrouping as they apply themselves. The results can be saved and shared.
Use With: Grades 3 and up
Traditional Model: Both an assessment and a way to extend learning, the 30-second summary puts kids in charge of their own learning. They begin by developing questions that have come up during the course of a unit. These can become part of a “Question Kiosk”—chart paper or a bulletin board where students can post questions. For example, during a study of animal habitats, a student may want to learn more about how climate change affects Arctic habitats. She posts the question on the kiosk, and then completes a 30-second summary by briefly researching the question and summarizing what she has learned.
Infuse It With Tech: Dodge and Duarte recommend using Flipgrid to give the 30-second summary a tech boost. The program allows kids to create short “documentaries” of what they have been working on, and the technology is straightforward.
“Students can use Flipgrid to easily share summaries with parents or the whole world,” note the authors. In this way, they can demonstrate understanding of both the unit of study and of tangential topics of interest. These electronic summaries of short research can be kept and viewed by students (and you!) all year long.
Use With: Grades 3 and up
Traditional Model: The concept map is a deceptively simple graphic organizer. From basic wheel-and-spoke maps to more complex webs of thought, concept maps help students link ideas using boxes, circles, lines, and arrows. The maps adapt easily to all subjects and grades, from organizing thoughts on plant development for third graders to charting the causes and effects of historical events in fifth-grade classes. Also, maps can easily be added to during the course of a unit of study as students learn more and more about a given topic.
Infuse It With Tech: Duarte points out that the concept map’s flexible structure encourages students to take charge of how they present their learning. This is even more apparent when it’s coupled with technology.
Using BrainPOP’s Make-a-Map application, students themselves are able to choose a topic’s shape, content, and level of depth when creating their concept maps. They can add images and video from the program to help them organize information, making the map easily adaptable for all grade levels. And the flexibility allows students to reorganize what they have learned in a format that’s easy for them to understand.
Weers applauds this twist on concept maps, noting that “representing knowledge in a different way than it was presented requires critical thinking skills, which enhances student understanding!”
Use With: Grades 3 and up
Traditional Model: Whether your students are artists, spatial learners, or writers, the photosynthesis graphic organizer has something for everyone. The organizer consists of two rows of three boxes for illustrations, with space for writing underneath each box. Students must think critically and make connections between one element, which appears on the top row, and a second element, on the bottom row.
For example, they may show the pros and cons of living in a city or the similarities and differences between two book characters. Dodge notes that such generic assessments are part of the appeal—they can be used broadly for a variety of areas of study.
Infuse It With Tech: Technology can be a great equalizer for this assessment. Microsoft Office Mix lets students create slide shows using found images and then narrate their responses, making it easier for kids who have difficulties with writing or drawing. (Programs such as Flipgrid allow students to include video in their work.)
Weers notes that combining video, pictures, and written responses brings the “power of a wonderful visual to the forefront of assessing students’ knowledge.” The result has a dual purpose—teachers can assess easily, and the slide shows can be archived and used by other students.
Use With: Grades 4 and up
Traditional Model: This is a classic, speedy way to assess students’ knowledge and attitudes about a topic, such as the use of cell phones in school or the importance of the separation of power in government. With the S-O-S summary, teachers provide a statement (S) about the topic of study. Students then write their opinion (O) on the statement, and use evidence to support (S) the opinion. The activity allows teachers to quickly assess whether students understand a topic, and to gauge their opinions. The benefits of this assessment extend to collaborative work as well—students can discuss their summaries with partners or write summaries together.
Infuse It With Tech: Turn the summary into an exit ticket by having kids consider how their opinions about the statement may have changed after learning more.
Middle school technology teacher Catherine Weers, from Chesapeake, Virginia, uses the appropriately named program Formative. She finds it “kicks formative assessment up a notch by allowing students to draw what they know.” Paired with an S-O-S summary, which can also be done with the app, the exit ticket provides a powerful assessment that shows where students start and end up after a lesson.
Photos: Courtesy of BrainPOP (top); courtesy of Dean Deaver (above)
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