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.

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.

Weekly Bookmarks from @mccoyderek 9.02.2014

PLN Blogging Challenge

ChallengeThis is fun!

Earlier this week, Dwight Carter, PLN member and inspiration, forwarded me a fun challenge. Dwight has always been a great example of leadership and a great representative of the potential of our growing digital community. I’ve got mad respect for him as an #edleader and eagerly accepted this blogging challenge. This will be a great way to get to know the members of my PLN and have some fun at the same time.

The first part of the challenge is to share 11 random facts:

My 11 Random Facts

  1. I am the last of ten children. [I grew up on a farm and this was a great way to ensure continued farm help ; )]. Great history here, my parents had a simple mission – EVERY child will graduate high school and EVERY child will go to college [mission accomplished]
  2. I love comic books – LOVE THEM! DC and Marvel! Grew up reading them and still buy them [digital versions though – you should see my garage]
  3. My wife’s mom introduced us! My mother-in-law and I worked at an H & R Block in Savannah and she invited me to dinner – history was made!
  4. I eat my best when I’m at school – 1 serving of protein, lots of veggies at at least 2 liters a water. But this is at school – I come up short at home and the weekends!
  5. I was a break dancer growing up – Ozone and Turbo had nothing on me and my friends [let’s see who gets that reference]
  6. I’ve never lived close to any of my K-12 schools I’ve attended as a student [always at least 75 minute bus rides in the country] or worked in [for five years, I lived in Charlotte NC metro environment and worked in Montgomery County NC, very rural environment – I regard this as the best growth time in my life]
  7. Because I lived so far from school, I never had the opportunity to play sports or do after school activities until I could drive.
  8. I’ve studied Jiu Jitsu, American Freestyle Karate, and Muy Thai Kickboxing but I am dying to study and learn the ‘sweet science’ – boxing!
  9. One of my best friends in the world is Richard Greene. He and I took every class together K-8 and at least one class together 9-12. He is also a middle school principal
  10. As deep as I am on social media and began adopting early on, my wife only recently joined Facebook and Twitter, both late in 2012.
  11. I was a Political Science major in college but when I got chance to teach, I fell back to my one true love in K-16 – Math

My Answers to Dwight’s Questions

  1. What’s the best book you’ve read in the last year? ‘Fair Isn’t Always Equal’, Rick Wormeli, ‘The Will to Lead, The Skill to Teach’ Dr Anthony Muhammad, ‘Ten Minute Inservice’ Todd Whitaker and Annette Breaux  [Dude, I’m a co-moderator on #edfocuschat]
  2. What person in history would you want to have dinner with? W.E.B. DuBois and Booker T Washington. When I was in college I did a lot of reading on the two of them and their ‘philosophical’ differences. At the end, both stressed the advancement of African Americans through education but with slightly different purposes. I think hosting a dinner and discussion with the two of them on Google+ and having some conversation today would be a enlightening.
  3. What’s the one thing you care about the most? God and family
  4. Who is your all time favorite cartoon character? Mr Terrific – 3rd smartest man on the planet, 13 PhD’s, ‘a natural aptitude for having natural aptitudes’ [like I said, comic book nerd]
  5. What was your favorite extracurricular activity in high school? Track and Field, 400 meter run. Like I said earlier, because of where we lived I didn’t have to opportunity to participate in a lot of extracurriculars. I ran track my last year and found a strength.
  6. Growing up, were you a nerd, jock, teacher’s pet, loner, or extravert?  Nerd! I embrace my nerdhood! I had a great time growing up because of my close friends though! They are great!
  7. What’s your dream vacation? At least 8 hours away by plane, incredible beach, world-class spa [for the wife], free wifi for catching up on some digital reading [DC and Marvel]
  8. What’s one thing you would invent that would positively change lives? – Two inventions for teachers, ‘Engage-ometor’ and the ‘Rigor-m0-rator’ [These are works in progress]
  9. If you weren’t an educator, what would do for a living? –  Upward Bound Director, this is an easy one. Upward Bound is a TRIO organization that is committed to helping first generation college students go to college! UB was a fundamental part of my life and a big reason I went to college. Being a UB Director is the one job I would give to serious consideration to leaving K-12 education. Fun, purposeful, incredible experience.
  10. If you were to give a TED Talk, what would be your topic? ‘It starts in the middle!’ [There won’t be TRUE EdReform until we really GET middle school education!]
  11. What’s your sentenceWe can always do a better!
Now I’m assigning homework to the following bloggers (hope they have not been tagged previously):
  1. John Bernia
  2. Sam Fancera
  3. Bill Burkhead
  4. Craig Smith
  5. John Robinson
  6. Robert Sigrist
  7. Justin Tarte
  8. Dr Sheron Brown
  9. Cornelius Minor
  10. Chris Hubbuch
  11. Anyone who wants to play along! (Just follow the guidelines below)

Here are your questions:

  1. What is one of your guilty pleasures?
  2. What is an awesome thing you do to get yourself motivated, really pysched up!
  3. What education movie really inspired you?
  4. What is the one thing you do that your close friends would say is unique to you?
  5. What would you different in the classroom today than when you first started?
  6. Favorite dessert?
  7. If we could get you a ticket to anywhere in the world to taste true, authentic cuisine, where would you go and what would you eat?
  8. What do you miss most about high school or college?
  9. Droid or iPhone?
  10. Why education?
  11. Best vacation with the family?
The Guidelines for your Homework…
  1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger.
  2. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
  3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
  4. List 11 bloggers.
  5. Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer, and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated.
  6. Don’t nominate a blogger who has nominated you.
  7. Post back here (in the comment section) with a link to your finished assignment. Go on, you have homework to do.

Can’t wait to hear from you guys!!

Making a Difference in Our Communities

This past month, we had the opportunity to participate in another great community event that really highlights the best of working in schools and serving kids.

When I first arrived at Spring Lake Middle, I was told about several strong, impactful, long standing community relationships that have made a difference in our school and community at large. For example, we have a great relationship with our Boys & Girls Club.We have a mutually beneficial agreement with them in sharing resources and supporting students. We can’t name all the ways this partnership benefits kids and families in our community.

Saturday, December 14th, Spring Lake Middle proudly hosted the T.I.G.A.P.A. Food Drive. We partner with T.I.G.A.P.A. to commit to being a service to our community. This partnership has proven to be an impactful vehicle in helping the needy families in our community.


I was proud and overwhelmed to see the community support we  received that day. One reason we do this is to give our students an opportunity to put in some community service hours. We had several students show up to gladly help with boxing up food packages and carrying out heavy boxes to family cars. Planning ahead, this is an opportunity for our school to promote a bigger community service opportunity for more students. We also received organizational support from several local groups, organized largely by our newly elected Alderman James O’Garra. Without his help and dedication, we would not have been able to help feed over 300 families that day.

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These events are important for educators. Being a part of this strong sense of community helps recharge battery and provide new focus for us. We normally plan for outside operations for these food drives and the community came out expected that. But given this day was cold with steady drizzle – just enough to make standing outside for a couple of hours a very miserable day. With a  simple decision to move the event inside and making more restrooms and seating available, we had more grateful people open up conversations about the community, families and what they can do serve our school. Support will look different for everyone but at the end we welcome all support!

I’m thankful for T.I.G.A.P.A. and this inspirational opportunity. School leaders at all levels can develop a pretty narrow view of what serving the community is – this is a great way to create needed new looks.

Inspired Support

I took part in a truly inspiring meeting several weekends ago.



We recently had the fortune to hire a new teacher from Michigan to join our staff. We are very excited about the prospect of her making a difference in our school. She contacted me recently to let me know her family was vacationing several hours away and wanted to stop by to see her room and get an idea of how to set up. Her stop through was going to be on a Saturday. Of course, I agreed to open the school and meet her and her family. I remember the excitement of starting the year off as a first year teacher and every year since so I wasn’t going to miss this experience.

I extended the invitation to my 8th grade teachers and was elated to see that three of my 8th grade leaders volunteered to give up some of their Saturday morning to meet and greet their new teammate and welcome her family.

It was all smiles and great talks that morning! I wanted to make sure that our newest staff member felt not only welcome to the school but also knew that she was supported in all of her endeavors. We were joined by experienced teachers and a first year teacher – all provided curriculum resources, suggestions for living spaces and advice for support for the family.

This meant a lot to me. I speak frequently about our works with our high needs population. Its exciting to see educators who are willing to commit to our schools promise to grow kids. Our students thrive because we find ways to wrap incredible support around kids. This experience is testament to how we continue to grow and support teachers – by providing that next level of support and encouragement they need.

In a time of dwindling resources and wavering support, we can always count on supporting each other.

A Review – My iPad Improves My Administrative Functions

ipadI was inspired to write this post after visiting one of our classes where students were using iPads to complete an assignment. I asked a group of kids how they like working with the iPads and did it help with their work. All three gave resounding affirmations that the iPads were a great enhancement to the lesson and just fun to ‘play and learn’ with. It was good to hear this and more importantly, see in action. As I was carrying my iPad, daily practice, a clever student flipped my question and asked me how I liked using the iPad. I smiled and responded that I really liked my iPad and couldn’t do a lot of my functions as easily if I didn’t have a mobile device.

This got me reflecting on my first year of having an iPad and how I’ve started embedding it into my practice. I’ve always been a proponent of having a mobile device, mainly a laptop and definitely my smartphone, to help me carry out my duties but this is the first year I’ve had a tablet to use regularly and help me in my administrative functions. It has helped me tremendously. My administrative team and I rely on them for a big part of our instructional supervision and data talks but there are countless ways to have iPads/tablets enhance the jobs of school leaders. I’ve outlined two posts below from a couple of expert #edleaders who have shared some of their impactful tips and useful app the use of their iPads. The last posts were written by me and how our iPads are a key part of our instructional supervision.

EvernoteJohn Robinson, @21stprincipal, is a fellow #ncadmin and a great educator to follow and learn from. John’s written a lot of great posts over the years but these two have really impacted my outlook and have helped my practice. School Administrator Uses of Evernote & Must Have Extensions and 7 Ways Administrators and Educators Can Use Evernote are must reads for all educators who want to take productivity to the next level. They go into detail about the usefulness and practical walk throughs including Evernote in your practice. If you haven’t read it, I strongly recommend it. Dive into possibilities on keeping notes, archiving articles for later reading and the great use of tags and notebooks. Having changed school districts and not having access to Outlook [this was a big adjustment], Evernote replaced a lot of key functions. It has helped fill a lot of gaps I was missing and didn’t know I should miss.

Common CoreEric Sheninger, @NMHS_Principal, wrote a post a couple of months ago that struck home. His post is titled  Common Core in the Classroom and its about the free app from Mastery Connect. I had already downloaded the app and referenced it a couple of times but I got away from it to focus on some of our local resources. More importantly, I never shared it with my team. This post stuck with me because it made me revisit a resource that I once heavily relied on and that has good, sustainable information. I immediately took it back to our instructional team to further our talks and planning efforts. This app is a great resource for references what our focus on Common Core should be.

Instructional Walk-Thrus with Feedback – I’ve blogged this year on our instructional supervision efforts using iPads, particularly for walk thrus and informal observations. The convenience of the iPad makes classroom visits and data collection easy to manage. We use that data from the spreadsheet in our instructional leadership talks to determine what we should discuss in our PLCs and Instructional Support Days. Originally, we weren’t able to provide feedback to teachers but after some research and exploring, I learned how to add that script into our form that will allow feedback to be given directly to teachers. There are several steps, nothing way technical, but well worth the effort. Committing to this process with the iPads has help set the tone with our school of where our focus lies.


The responsibilities of a school administrator are immense, everyday is different, dynamic. At a principal’s meeting, my superintendent was talking about how everyone – teachers, the public, students, politicians – EVERYONE, underestimates what we have to do. In general, educators today have a very different duty set from when I started teaching 16 years ago. Significantly different tasks and responsibilities require us to be willing to not only explore new tools and technologies but modify our methodology and incorporate new tools into our practices.

I’m grateful that I am able to dive into my PLN and am able to connect to practicing experts and professionals from whom I can learn better practices. There will always be learning on the job, stuff that isn’t covered in a class or pd session but we can all grow from the collective knowledge and experiences of our PLN.