I thought I could read my students’ body language. I was wrong. As an experiment, I used Socrative when I taught binary numbers. What I learned forever changed my views on being a better teacher.
Why Formative Assessment Makes Better Teachers
Here’s what happened in my classroom. I was teaching my hardest topic of the year—binary numbers, where students learn to add ones and zeros like a computer. It looks harder than it is, and many of my students will shut down and not even want to try. So I taught how to count in binary numbers, and we worked some examples together. After a few minutes, two students piped up.
“We’ve got this, it’s easy,” they said. “Can we move on?”
I looked at the other students and asked, “Do you have this?”
They nodded their heads furiously up and down in a yes.
My teacher instincts said that everyone knew it, but I decided to experiment, so I wrote a problem on the board. Students were already logged in to Socrative, and a box opened up on their screens. Each student typed in his or her answer to the problem. They clicked Enter, and their answers appeared on my screen beside their names.
I was floored. Guess how many knew the right answer? Two! Just the two students who had spoken up, and no one else.
I taught for another few minutes and gave them another problem. A few more solved it, but not everyone. We took the problem another way, and then another few thought it was easy. Finally, after about 10 more minutes of teaching, everyone was mastering the problems. Their test scores proved it.
But the end result was not what you think. It didn’t take me longer to teach binary numbers. You see, I don’t move past this lesson until all of my students are scoring 90 percent or higher. And as a result of this experience, I taught binary numbers and all of the accompanying standards in three days instead of my usual five, and no one had to come for after-school tutoring.
I was sold on formative assessment.
Good teachers in every subject will adjust their teaching based on what students know at each point. Good formative assessment removes the embarrassment of public hand raising and gives teachers feedback that impacts how they’re teaching at that moment. Instant feedback. We can do this now. Here’s how.
Formative Assessment Toolkit
Learn the strengths and weaknesses of each tool. You’ll need several to meet every classroom situation. These are my favorite tools for formative assessment.
1. Quick Feedback: Socrative can be used for quick quizzes and also on the fly, as I’ve already shared. Here’s another feature: Before class, I create quizzes that we can play as a game called Space Race. The website automatically divides the class into teams. Kids know what color team they’re on and can look at the rockets racing one another on the board. I don’t always record the grade, particularly when I know I have more teaching to do.
The advantage of Socrative is that it gives me percentages that I can use as a grade if we’re ready for that. You can even use it for traditional quizzes if desired.
Formative is another tool in this category, with some different advantages. Whereas in Socrative you see the answers and what students are doing, Formative can have students draw on their device, type answers, or use a variety of methods all updated live on your screen as students enter their answer. Math teachers with 1:1 devices will likely prefer this one.
2. Live Quiz Games: Kahoot, Quizziz, and Quizlet Live let us build fun quizzes. Students use computers, cell phones, or other devices to join the game. In some platforms, you can embed videos and make the game part of the teaching process, or students can create review games to share. One disadvantage is that students can use aliases. I like these tools, but do prefer the accountability and data I get out of Socrative and SMART Lab (see below) over Kahoot and the live quiz games.
I knew Kahoot was a winner when I finished 10 minutes early on the last day of school and my class asked to play SAT vocab review with it.
3. Integrated Presentation and Quiz Tools: I use SMART Notebook, which has an add-on called SMART Lab. It lets me make Kahoot-like games but gathers results like Socrative. SMART Lab is a free add-on for those who have purchased the SMART Notebook software, and you don’t need a SMART board.
Nearpod is another fantastic tool along these lines. You can create presentations that include quizzes, assessments, drawing boards, and more.
I appreciate the integrated nature of Nearpod and SMART Lab because I don’t really like having to present material, then switch over to a formative assessment tool, and then go back to the presentation tool. Everything is in one place.
4. Formative Assessment With Videos: There are two uses of formative assessment with videos. First, when students watch videos, as they do in flipped classrooms, you want to know that students know what they’re doing.
I used to recommend Zaption, but that tool shut down. And while Vizia claimed to be a replacement, I recommend Edpuzzle instead. Edpuzzle lets you embed questions in the video, interact with your students, and know how your students are engaging with digital content.
The second and perhaps most exciting formative assessment method is to have students create videos to demonstrate learning. For example, students can use Let’s Recap or Explain Everything to create videos documenting their learning. (If you want students to read to you or use audio, Fluency Tutor is a good alternative.)
I find this second method so exciting because it is a huge time-saver. For example, students who are learning to count can do so on video or audio. Then, using the same app or a tool like Seesaw, a teacher can listen to and give feedback on their work after class or at another time. The long line at the teacher desk is just no longer necessary.
5. No Devices? But what if your students have no computers, no cell phones, no nothing? Do you have a smartphone or tablet? If so, you’ve got two simple answers.
For verbal questions: Log in to Plickers and create a card for each student. The cards look a bit like QR codes, and students can use them to answer multiple-choice questions by rotating them (one side represents A, another B, and so on). When you ask a question, students hold up their cards with their answer at the top side. Looking at the class through the Plicker app on your smartphone, you’ll see the name of each student and his or her answer—instant feedback!
For quick quizzes: QuickKey is a mobile scanning app for the iPhone. There are several others, such as ZipGrade and GradeCam. Your questions must be multiple choice. Print out the short form and have students fill in the bubbles. Use your smartphone to scan the quizzes and immediately know what your students know.
No More Surprises
Test scores should never be a surprise. You don’t need to be a mind reader—you just need a formative assessment toolbox, and you need to use it every day.
I invite you to share your formative assessment tools and tips in the comments, because there are dozens if not hundreds of ways to assess. Our students need us to be excellent teachers, and formative assessment is one way to do it.