Strategies for Coaching Teachers to Use Formative Assessment Tools

Formative assessments are an essential part of instructional design.Did my students learn anything? Ways to find out.

Formative assessments give teachers a glance at the level of understanding students have of a particular topic being taught. We like to focus on the value formative assessments bring in determining if something needs to be retaught, taught in a different way or if we can accelerate on an upcoming. These are some valuable teaching points that have to be incorporated into lessons and planned regularly to make an impact on learning. The reason we are in schools is to help kids learn and planning for these regular glimpses helps us know if we are reaching kids.

Vicki Davis, @coolcatteacher, wrote a great post ‘5 Fantastic, Fast Formative Assessment Tools.” She succinctly captures the true purpose and need for formative assessments – ‘Formative assessment is done as students are learning. Summative assessment is at the end.

I recently sat in on a planning session with some teachers and we had a great discussion about the upcoming activities they were developing for students. In the natural flow of the conversation, a teacher mentioned that she would do ‘some kind of assessment’ one day to see if they understood. Our instructional coach asked a couple of great extending questions to get this teacher to not just give this a cursory thought to assessing but to really think about the teaching that had been done and what we wanted the learning to look like – these would help her in creating a good formative assessment.  The assessment we talked about that day was some verbal cues she would ask the group,

I encourage you to read Vicki’s post! Its a great resource that goes into good descriptive detail about some of the great digital tools out there we can use for getting a picture of the learning in the room. Some of these tools are some of my favorites to use with staff as we conduct meetings and trainings.

Getting teachers to understand the value of formative assessments is step one, seeing them used in classrooms is the critical next step. There are a numerous resources on formative assessments on the web and you can have these talks with your teachers and staff. But there is particular value in using digital tools.

First, these digital tools help with student engagement. Students are anxious to get their hands on devices and tools to showcase learning and understanding. Its a great way to get active. Second, you ensure responses from all students when you use digital tools. If you are still having kids raise their hands to answer questions or you are simply calling on students you are guaranteeing non-responses from some students in your room.  Third, free is great! The tools highlighted here are free for teachers and even have apps for different mobile devices.

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Plickers in use in our 8th Social Studies class!

In the end, its more important to use a formative assessment than focus on whether or not its digital, paper, verbal or another method. We know that we have to use formative assessments but which ones? I believe in the power of these digital tools because because addition the reasons listed above, they also give teachers quick, easy to read data they can use for planning. With the devices in our school and our BYOD policy, we can ensure that if teachers want to use digital tools for formative assessment, they can.

Part of my duty is to support teachers who want and need to use these digital tools, even encourage them to use them if its outside their comfort zone. Below, I’ve captured some questions and thoughts that may be helpful if you are having those conversations:

  • What are you looking to accomplish?
  • What information do you need to capture?
  • Do you plan on using the data capture for a grade?
  • Do you need the feedback for immediate in class use or will you collect it to reflect on it for later use?
  • What devices are available to you? What devices will you use? Does everyone have a device or need one?
  • Will you use your data capture to look at individual performance or class performance?
  • How long will you allot to this?

These digital tools are great resources in helping teachers get critical information they need to guide instructional planning. Our talks as curriculum leaders and digital leaders has to expand to include what these tools have offer above and beyond traditional means of collecting information.

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