10 Ideas for Building a Formative Assessment Toolkit

Every teacher needs a range of formative assessment strategies to help determine how to shape instruction.

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Most of us know that we should be using formative, or informal, assessments throughout our lessons. Formative assessments give students a chance to show what they know before high-stakes summative test and tasks. They allow teachers to adjust their instruction or differentiate for certain students who might be struggling.

However, with limited teaching time and a long list of standards to address, we can often find ourselves skipping over or rushing through opportunities to check in with our students’ understanding.

It is good practice to build formative assessment routines into your daily teaching routines. You’ll want to be armed with a variety of formative assessment strategies that are quick, engaging, and simple to implement in your classroom without losing significant teaching time.

Here are 10 ideas to get your formative assessment toolkit started.

Some involve preparation, while others can be applied “spur of the moment” to any skill or concept.

1. Write-Pair-Share

Pose a question or problem to the class. Have students write down their thoughts before "pairing and sharing" to ensure that each person is doing some independent thinking. Float and check in with student pairs, and make checkmarks next to student names on your clipboard as they provide evidence (either written or spoken) of understanding.

2. Self-Assessment Sorting

Gather data at two levels using this strategy. After students complete a hard-copy exit ticket, have them drop off their responses in one of four trays or folders marked “Got It," "Almost There," "Not Quite," and "Not at All.”

I particularly like this strategy because the instructor can not only gauge whether students were able to master the concept or skill, but they can also gauge whether the students felt confident in their abilities.

An extension on this type of exit ticket might be pulling all the students who sorted themselves in “Not Quite” and “Not at All” into a small group for review the next day.

3. Graffiti Wall

Post a series of tasks or questions on chart paper around the room. Allow students to circulate and respond with markers. Students can also choose to use an arrow to “add-on” to their peers’ ideas, or place a checkmark next to ideas they agree with.

This activity doesn’t provide you with individual data, but it’s a fun, active way to check whole class understanding. It can also serve as a scaffold for students who are still confused, because they will see the responses of more advanced peers.

4. Write Your Own Quiz Question

Have students independently write three quiz questions that they feel successfully address the concept or skill from the day’s lesson. You might require students write one multiple choice, one fill-in-the-blank, and one short answer question.

If your students’ questions don’t sound similar to the questions you would have written, then you know re-teaching is needed.

Bonus: Put together a quiz for the next day using the questions your students wrote!

5. Big Ideas Twitter Post

Use a paper or online template to have students summarize important ideas in 140 characters or less (or, if you are feeling generous, allow them the new 280 characters).

The “Twitter post” idea is partially a gimmick to get student buy-in, but it also serves an academic purpose. Limiting characters forces students to engage in critical thinking about what was most salient in the day’s lesson.

6. Whiteboards

Whiteboards are a great tool to quickly assess student understanding of any subject. Keep small whiteboards and a dry erase marker in each desk. You’ll be able to pose a question or problem and ask students to hold up their answers.

The tech-based version of this would be posting quick questions or polls on a platform like Google Classroom. However, for subjects like math, you might want to stick with old-fashioned physical boards.

7. Wrong Answer

Put up an incorrect answer, explanation or example of the concept or skill on the board. Have students either write down or discuss with a partner whether the answer is correct and then how it could be revised to make it so. Make sure to mark down which students are able or not able to revise the answer correctly.

8. Fist to Five

This is a very basic formative assessment strategy, but I’m including it here because instructors can use it over and over during class to get extremely quick information about student understanding. I might use this to determine which students I should send to work independently or in peer groups versus which students I should pull to review with me at my table.

9. Red Light, Green Light

This strategy works best for younger students. Simply provide every student with a card that has a red circle on one side and a green circle on the other. The card should be placed in the corner of their desk to show whether they are successfully working independently (green) or whether they need teacher assistance (red).

10. Plickers

Plickers is a great tool if you have access to a smartphone and smartboard. You’ll give each student a paper with a QR code, and then pose a multiple choice question. Students respond to the question by holding their code with a certain side facing up. You then use the Plickers app on your smartphone to scan the room. The app will then provide you with in the moment data about which students understand.

"However, formative assessments are meaningless without
the teacher choices that follow them."

Formative assessments are a key piece of a strong teaching practice. Every teacher needs a range of formative assessment strategies to help determine how to shape instruction.

However, formative assessments are meaningless without the teacher choices that follow them. Make sure to record your data and use it to make a plan. Perhaps you need to re-teach a concept in a new way. Maybe a few students need small group instruction to reinforce the concept. It’s up to you to determine the best next steps!

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Author Bio:

Nicole Nicholas is a urban public school teacher who is passionate about designing curriculum that is rigorous, engaging, inquiry driven and socially conscious. She loves learning about and discussing creative ways to support and differentiate for students with a wide spectrum of needs.

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