Two Simple ‘Add-ons’ to Get More Out of Formative Assessment

How often does this happen in the classroom?

  1. Students are taught information.
  2. Students take quiz.
  3. Students grade quiz.
  4. Students see their grade. 
  5. Everyone moves on.

I must admit this sometimes occurs in my classroom. There’s no further feedback than students seeing how many they got right/wrong. This is not good enough. I want to avoid this situation next school year as much as possible, but I also know I cannot possibly provide feedback for the 90+ students I will have in my classes next semester on every (or any) formative assessment we complete in class. So, here are two tweaks I’ll be adding in next year to hopefully make these assessments more valuable for the students by (1) providing each student with more information than just their grade and (2) teaching the students easy strategies they can apply to almost any quiz/assessment they complete in any class. 

So, here goes…

Did you guess?

One aspect of assessment I stress to my students is to not fool themselves because they scored 18 correct out of 20…especially if they guessed on 5 of the questions. This student really only knew 13 of the 20 answers. What do students (and teachers) do, though? We see 18 out of 20 and think little Maggie knows 90% of the material. But, that is not true. What I’ve done in the past to try and combat this is quite simple and, I believe, effective…particularly on ungraded assessments. I simply ask my students, before we grade, to place an asterisk beside any of the questions they really didn’t know but guessed on. This allows them to see, even if they got it correct, that they did not know the material well enough to answer confidently. Then, I have students place two grades at the top of their paper; one simply with how many they got correct and another with how many they got correct, minus all of the questions they guessed on. So, Maggie would place an 18/20 at the top of her paper and a 13/20. The second grade is much more indicative of Maggie’s knowledge and should be used to guide her studying/practicing of this material in the future. 

What’s that mean?

Another super simple strategy to apply to formative assessment. Whenever students encounter a person, term, or concept they do not know, I ask them to place that/those word(s) in the margin of their paper. Then, students continue on with the assessment. No big deal. After we’ve completed the assessment, I have students first try and use their notes from class to locate the word(s) they did not know. If they cannot locate these terms in their notes, I next ask them to use the textbook, and then a peer. This sequence of events does a few things: 1. It lets the students know there are terms they should have known, but they did not. Why didn’t they know them? Were they absent? Did they not pay attention in class? 2. If they cannot next locate the terms in their notes, it points out that they did not take proper notes during class. Why not? What could/should they do to perform better? 

Occasionally, when time allows, I will ask students to tell me the terms they did not know. I write them on the board, and we have a short (but important) discussion about these terms, why they weren’t known, and perhaps how they relate to one another, other current material, or even past material. This allows students to (1) realize they weren’t the only person who missed a term or two, (2) become more comfortable with the idea of formative assessment being more about highlighting their level of knowledge and less about a final grade, and (3) allows me to keep a pulse on the general level of understanding in my classes. If I see that 10 of my students all missed the same term, that may indicate that I did a poor job with instruction on this particular material. 

What I like most about these two strategies is they add very little overall time to the assessment and they are super easy to apply to assessments outside my classroom and outside high school. I stress to my students they need to know how to study and assess for themselves before they go to college (about 90% of my students attend either a 2 or 4 year university after high school graduation). Only rarely are college students afforded the opportunity to experience low or no stakes assessment during class. They need to have the necessary knowledge to be able to assess themselves during and after class, while studying. 

So, that’s it. Pretty simple…by design. Just get the students thinking with and about the information they do AND don’t know from formative assessment opportunities. 

What simple ‘add-ons’ do you have for formative assessment in your classroom? Please comment. 🙂

One comment

  1. Blake, our posts are incredibly similar. I am focusing on getting students more involved in knowledge acquisition and taking more time to discuss content with individual students rather than lecture. (These are 11 & 12 graders). My “add-on” is a white board where kids write unfamiliar terms as they learn new content. We check them off as the words become more familiar. I make sure I use these terms regularly in conversation and checks for understanding.

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