19 formative assessment strategies for online teaching

At Teach. Learn. Grow., nothing makes us happier than knowing some of our posts are especially bookmark worthy. They’re the ones you keep coming back to when you need a quick boost of inspiration or a fresh idea. Kathy Dyer’s “27 easy formative assessment strategies for gathering evidence of student learning” is one of those. It’s full of formative assessment tools that can help you understand what students know and write lesson plans that will meet them where they are.

As you continue to navigate remote and hybrid learning this fall, online assessment tools will come in especially handy. That’s why we’ve revisited Kathy’s post to highlight the formative assessment strategies that best transfer to the less familiar world of online learning. Let’s break down some common challenges and easy ways to adapt formative checks so they can become valuable online teaching tools.

The challenge: Breaking out into pairs or small groups

Many formative assessment strategies—like Think-Pair-Share, Carousel Brainstorming, and Jigsaw—call for students to work in pairs or groups. If your online video software lets you have live, small-group breakout sessions (and if your students are mature enough to use the feature without consistent supervision), try that.

If your software is limited, or if you’re working with younger students, try using class message boards. Or pair students for a week or more at a time so they have someone to consistently check in with in whatever way suits them best, from phone calls and videos to chat messages and texts.

The challenge: Leveraging classroom space

Strategies like Corners ask students to move to certain parts of the classroom to select a specific answer. Since that’s not an option, ask students to make certain gestures during live video—like an air five, thumbs up, or rabbit ears—and hold still while you tally the data. Simplify the gestures or use ABCD Cards for younger students who may be tempted to select their responses based on the gesture.

The challenge: Student-led discussions

It can be tricky to follow a discussion on video chat, especially for younger learners. To keep everyone focused and engaged, combine group discussions with a formative assessment strategy like the Popsicle Stick. Simply write every student’s name on a popsicle stick ahead of time (Post-its or slips of paper will do the trick, too) and show them to your class at the start of the video lesson, explaining that you’ll use them to call on students randomly. Select the first person to speak, and perhaps who’s on deck, to get the discussion started and keep it moving.

Try new ideas with your colleagues or grade-level teams, and share what clicks for you and your students.

The Explain What Matters strategy can be a great way to get these conversations going. Using your sticks or paper, select a few students who can share some of the most critical ideas for the topic at hand. Or pick three names for Keep the Question Going. Get creative with Basketball Discussions, too. Let older kids know you’ll serve only as a moderator during a video or message-board discussion. With younger kids, call on different students to participate without interjecting too much into their conversation.

The challenge: Writing an answer on a piece of paper and turning it in

Entrance and Exit Tickets—including One-Minute Paper and 3-2-1—are powerful formative assessment strategies. With these options, you ask a question either at the start or end of a lesson, like one of these:

  • What’s one thing from yesterday’s lesson you’re not confident you understand?
  • What’s one thing you’re excited to learn today?
  • What’s one thing from today’s lesson you think might show up on a test or quiz?

Other valuable strategies that include writing ideas down include Dos and Don’ts, Three Common Misunderstandings, Yes/No Chart, and Three Questions.

Instead of using paper, students in an online classroom can write their responses on a class message board or send you an email. (Email can be an especially good way to connect with students on a more personal level right now, especially if you have the time for a quick response. Even something as simple as, “Thanks for sending your answer! We’ll talk about this more during our video lesson at 2 pm.”) You can use responses to assess initial understanding of something to be discussed or as a short summary of understanding of that day’s lesson.

You can also have students share their responses aloud in a video roundtable using the 30-Second Share technique. If you want everyone to share, you might cut the time down to 10­­–15 seconds. This can be a great way for classmates to hear from each other and build a sense of camaraderie in what can otherwise feel like a somewhat lonely learning experience. If time is tight, select multiple students to share aloud, maybe even using the Popsicle Stick method.

The challenge: No classroom whiteboard to keep track of questions and reminders

A Parking Lot is a great way to document ideas tangential to a topic you’ll want to try to address later,  and it also provides valuable insight into student thinking. Use class message boards or even a shared document, like a Google Doc, to keep track of them. Invite students to add their ideas or questions and even to respond to their classmates when appropriate.

[F]ormative assessment tools […] can help you understand what students know and write lesson plans that will meet them where they are.

If you send a daily or weekly summary of what students should be working on, include a space for reminders or weekly focus questions that would otherwise be on the board.

Try it out

Remember, the primary benefit of formative assessment is the power to quickly incorporate student feedback into your lesson in progress or for the very next day. Consider this when making updates to your tried-and-true formative checks. Decide which updates are worth the time and additional effort, and which are best reserved for on-site learning. Try new ideas with your colleagues or grade-level teams, and share what clicks for you and your students. Here are some discussion questions that can help you get started with this work:

  • How can small group collaboration be used as a formative assessment strategy?
  • After using an entrance/exit or 3-2-1 strategy, how is the data collected used to inform instruction?
  • How can a community of learning be created in order to ensure that students are comfortable to share in a video roundtable discussion?

Need some administrator support to make more formative assessment a reality in your online classroom? Here are some questions you can encourage them to ask themselves:

  • Thinking about these digital tools, what tools does your school make available for teachers to do formative assessment in a digital setting?
  • How can you ensure teachers feel comfortable to explore the digital tools available to them in order to try new things with their students?
  • What opportunities are there in your current schedule for teachers to share digital tools or to learn from each other?

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