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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

The following is an excerpt from my new book, 'Tween Crayons and Curfews: Tips for Middle School Teachers, I share what I call "lesson trails," step-by-step activities that I routinely use in my classroom following every formal assessment, in order to use that test formatively. In the book, I describe two different kinds of lesson trail packets: one for formatively reflecting on essay writing, and one for formatively reflecting on a multiple-choice assessment for any subject. The excerpt below is an abridged description of the latter.

As a student, I would study for a test (most likely the day before or, I confess, even the period before), take the assessment, and then, much like a person who is done with a document on their desktop, my brain would simply "Empty Trash."

To avoid this same scenario happening to my own students, I use assessments formatively. That is, I have designed a series of activities that routinely follow each test that help guide my students to learn from the results of their formal assessments. Therefore, the information gets routed, not into their brain's trashcan, but into their long-term memory. These activities help my students to look frankly at the results of their tests, analyze and reflect on how they did and why, and set goals to achieve better.

Bottom line: In my classroom, taking a test doesn't end the learning. In fact, it signals the beginning.

The day after I receive the results of their multiple choice tests, whether they are scantron, peer-scored, or teacher scored, the students know that we will begin embarking on a series of what I call "lesson trails" to create a formative packet that becomes both evidence of their learning and a resource for their future test preparation.

"Lesson Trails" lead from one to another, building towards a goal. We step onto one stepping stone, accomplish that task, then jump to the next one, which can only be tackled if the one before it is complete.

A Lesson Trail Following a Multiple-Choice Assessment

Basically, each student gets a Formative Assessments folder. This folder, which can be used for any subject, becomes a yearlong vault of information for each student. Through its development, I guide them to analyze their own growth. During the standardized testing season, the folders are also used as a test prep resource. However it is more than just test prep because it is a dynamic and growing resource that students interact with formatively.

Depending on the assessment being analyzed, the packets therein could look something like this:

1. Their Copy of the Test - Let's say this is the original packet of 50 questions that they used to take the initial test. When taking the test, the students should be encouraged to write in the margins, highlight words in the passages, etc...to show what they were thinking at the time they came up with their answers. They should also circle their answers in the booklet before bubbling the answer onto their answer sheet in order to assess another skill: bubbling prowess.

Frankly, even the best students make bubbling errors. It's a fine-motor skills issue. By getting the additional information that the circled response gives them, the students can decide for themselves whether it was a careless error or a lack of content knowledge.

2. The Original Answer Sheet - This way they can't dispute the accuracy of the actual scantron machine.

3. Reflection Questions - This is a sheet that asks students to quantify some of their mistakes on the assessment as a whole so that they can look at their data in the eye in order to goal-set later. On it, I ask the following:

  • What Score Did You Get?
  • How Many Problems Did You Get Right?
  • How Many Did You Answer Incorrectly?
  • How Many Bubbling Errors Did You Make?
  • How Many Errors Did You Make Because You Didn't Understand A Word In The Question?
  • What words or phrases challenged you on the assessment?

4. Short Answer Packet - This is a different kind of reflection that asks students to zoom in and look at each individual question to analyze why they missed certain questions. Basically, it has four columns. It looks something like this:

# Your
Correct response Why you chose what you did and why the correct answer is right
5 A B I chose A because I thought it was asking for the character trait, not the main idea.

It's actually B because the author wanted the reader to understand that we are dependant on the environment's health to survive.
5 C A I chose C because I read the question too quickly.

It's A because when you move the X over to the other side of the equation, you get 3/4.

5. Goal-setting Statement - This can be anything from an index card to a more formal writing piece. What are their goals for next time? Are they going to work harder to show understanding of a certain standard or are they setting a percentage goal for themselves in how they will improve from Below to Proficient by moving up 10% in their correct responses?

6. Data Displays - In order to incorporate a non-linguistic element into their Formative Assessment folders, students should create a visual graph of their own progress from test to test in order to analyze their growth or lack thereof. Additionally, you can have the students graph the data that represents their class as a whole group based on the data from 1st to 4th quarter. Cover the classroom in graphs that show both individual and class-wide growth.

By the end of the year, through analyzing their own data, goal setting, and reflecting, more students will improve. I've seen it. Using data formatively is vital for students because it gives them control in their own learning, and in the end, less information will find its way into the cranium's trash.

Heather's book is available at the Web site Eye on Eye Education Publishing and on Amazon.

Comments (29)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Brandon's picture

I like the idea of the Formative Assessment Folder. It really allows students to take charge of their learning and hopefully carry the knowledge into the future, not delete it after the test. For the goal-setting statement and data displays, are they going to have the opportunity to retake a test on the same information, or are they comparing new information to old information? I like the idea, but am a bit confused about this part, but perhaps I'm looking at it incorrectly? I am a math teacher, so each unit is working on a different part of a standard.

Tyler D. Williams's picture

A great teacher will take what they have done in the past and apply it to their students in the future. We take what we went through as students, the good and the bad, and use that knowledge to shape instruction. In this way, I like how you were willing and able to reflect back on your days as a student, acknowledge your bad habits, and then find ways to ensure that your students don't find the same pitfalls. Your approach with Formative Assessment Folders is a great way of accomplishing this. I have done somethings similar to this approach in my classes but not to the extent that you did. As an English teacher, I cover similar indicators throughout the year and am able to revisit them often to check for learning. In this way, the Formative Assessment Folder makes perfect sense. One thing that I would likely add to the Short Answer Packet would be another column for the indicator to which the question refers. This way, the students will be able to more specifically track their improvement. I really like the Goal-setting Statement since I feel that this is something that I talk to my students about but do not give enough class time to complete. I feel that this is a good use of time, and want to incorporate it more in my classroom. Thank you for this quite applicable information. I look forward to utilizing it soon.

Nicole McGillivray's picture

I really like the idea of using the Formative Assessment Folder. Like Brandon, I also teach math and wonder about retaking a test to improve. It definately would be a helpful study guide for students at the end of the year in preparation of final exams. This is definately something I would like to set up for use in my classroom. This would also be good to use for after quizzes throughout the unit and then students can use the folders to prep for the unit exams.

Angie Dennis's picture

I know as teachers we are often saying that we don't feel the students think about what they learn today and apply it to tomorrow. This was a fantastic idea (BRILLIANT) and I do want to incorporate this into my lesson planning. I would love to do a short review (index size) getting them to recall and retain the information from previous learning each day as well as the Formative Review after the test. The goal setting gives them goals for smaller time frames and smaller pictures than the state assessment at the end of the year.
I will definitely be picking up your book!!

Stephen Shaw's picture

I also like the idea of a formative assessment folder. Students are able to reflect on their assessments and develop a plan for improvement in the future. Although this can be quite time consuming, I feel the results are worth the extra time. I also find students are often amazed at the amount of mistakes they make that they would categorize as "simple mistakes." This insight can be used to encourage students to be more careful and to think more critically when taking an assessment. Overall, an excellent practice that certainly has a positive impact on student achievement.

J Recchio's picture

This seems like a great way to extend the learning of an area to make sure your students are understanding the content. I agree that we often take a test or finish writing a document and then empty our recycling bin, I have done it myself. I have just started to survey my students this year about changes I have been making to lessons and assessments in order to improve my teaching. This strategy does the same thing but changes the focus to help the student improve their leanring.

Romona's picture
Middle School Math Teacher

I really like your idea of the Formative Assessment Folder. This would be a great activity for the day after the test. I always make sure my tests are corrected for the very next day so it is fresh in their memory. I have done other activities with tests results, but I like the reflective part of this. This would also help focus the study areas for the state tests. What a great tool.

atsalo's picture
6th Grade Communication Arts and Literature Teacher

Love the idea of a Formative Assessments Folder. I always review tests in class the next day, but this really engages students in their review. It requires them to identify their errors and then "diagnose the problem." True learning always takes place when a student is able to understand a) why an answer is incorrect and b) how to fix it so that it is correct. We are encouraged time and time again as teachers to reflect in order to grow in our teaching; why not have our students do it, too?

Derek's picture

I love the idea of following up your tests with having the students analyze why they got the answer wrong. I think too often, teachers just get the results of their tests and maybe touch on the most commonly missed answers and end there. I think having the students write in the column what they are thinking while they answer and hanging onto that for them is great. It allows them to go back and think about what they were thinking and correct that mistake in their mind. I will definitely look at doing this going forward on my assessments.

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