Digital Formative Assessment

Early in my career as an educator, I became a staunch proponent of utilizing technological resources to collect and analyze assessment data.  I’ve spent countless hours collaborating in the creation of digital assessments and providing training in how to use various platforms to evaluate assessments. All of this, ultimately, with the express purpose of giving kids the information needed to improve their learning.  With technology, the feedback could be instantaneous and that’s the beauty of it. My collaborative efforts, however, focused mostly on summative data.

It wasn’t until the past few years that I actually began to explore more tools for formative assessment.  To me, I could always rely on whiteboards, observation, and discussion to elicit data and monitor student progress.  A little circulation around the class to see what students are producing and well planned questions for understanding allow a quick idea of how a class is doing.  I knew that being able to make informed decisions in the moment and providing corrective feedback ongoing throughout the lesson was essential to success, I just wasn’t putting enough consideration in how digital resources could improve efficacy in this aspect of assessment.

As outlined in the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, there are four attributes to Formative Assessment. They occur in a cycle involving clarifying intended learning, eliciting evidence, interpreting evidence, and acting on that evidence.  This process should be fluid and ongoing throughout instruction to enable students and teachers to give and receive actionable feedback to improve learning.

Timely and specific feedback right in the thick of learning is essential to student learning.

So how can teachers use digital resources to implement strategies that may help in this endeavor?  One possible method, I happened to discover while implementing the Netop student application used to monitor our chromebooks.  Besides using the software to communicate with and monitor students in their use of Google applications, it can also be used to engage students and allow them to demonstrate what they know.  For example, during a third grade opinion writing activity we used Netop to allow students to demonstrate their development of a well stated opinion on the classroom projector. Students were eager to have their screens shared on the big screen while they used tools on their chromebook to identify elements of their statement, receive corrective feedback from the class and teacher, and then revise/edit their writing – on the spot. (Editors note: Netop is available to all SUSD classes. For more information contact Mark or Viry in the curriculum dept.)  For fifth grade math, using Google Classroom, DocHub, and Netop; students demonstrated how to create a visual model representing addition of fractions with unlike denominators. All students completed the problem and random screens were selected for display. Students were asked to justify their thinking with partners before presenting their work on the big screen. While observing student work on the Netop monitoring interface, a common error was identified which multiple students made in the process.  Corrective feedback was given immediately to the class before they even completed the problem. The possibilities for formative assessment through the application in conjunction with other resources seems to be limitless.

Another method that can be used for on the spot formative assessment is the use of Plickers.  The application is free and easy to set up. After creating an account online, teachers can choose from a bank of questions, or create their own, for quick checking for understanding.  Student response cards are printed out using the program and teachers download the app on their phones to scan student responses to get immediate feedback. With the implementation of Plickers I have seen classes reach 80% proficiency for a targeted standard within 15-20 minutes after completing multiple problems through the app and receiving feedback.  Finding misconceptions is easy with the collection of the data and having open discussion. With the correct insight brought about in the immediate evaluation of results, students make adjustments and improve. The data also allows teachers to identify specifically which students will need more support or targeted small group intervention after the lesson.

A digital vehicle that some teachers seem to be familiar with that helps to promote collaboration and discussion are back channel platforms.  But those that have experimented with them or use them faithfully may have not considered using them for formative purposes. During lessons, teacher can have a backchannel running, from an application such as Padlet, where students are asked to post questions for clarification.  Some may feel more comfortable addressing some of their learning needs in this format and do not have to wait to address concerns. Teachers can also ask the class to make predictions while modeling a problem or document their metacognitive process while problem solving. Not only can students become more engaged, but the teacher can gain valuable insight as to what they are thinking and clues to their level of understanding.  When posing questions, the teacher may even ask the entire class to post their answers as opposed to randomly calling names for responses. This makes sure everyone has to give input and, again through an application like Netop, display student work for elaboration and feedback.

With all the new innovations and programs now available, the possibilities seem to be limitless.  It’s up to educators to imagine what new and creative ways they can be used to help students be passionate about learning.  I think we need reminders sometimes not to get too wrapped up in one aspect of teaching pedagogy, or in my case one aspect of assessment, and contemplate how various technological resources can serve multiple purposes in the learning environment.  Our willingness to explore these possibilities I believe can make a world of difference in impacting student outcomes.