When you barely have time to suck down occasional gulps of air amid swells of paperwork, it’s understandable to lose some perspective. Unfortunately, this is a condition many teachers face when it comes to approaching formative versus summative assessments.
Opportunity for impact?
But how important is it, really, to keep track of such minute details on student progress? Well, Google defines formative as, “serving to form something, especially having a profound and lasting influence on a person’s development.” Black and Wiliam found “that innovations which include strengthening the practice of formative assessment produce significant, and often substantial, learning gains.” And we have discovered teacher-student relationships become elevated as students recognize just how invested teachers are in their daily progress–not just in what they produce at the end of units.
The nature of the beast
Formative assessments do not cast the intimidating shadow of their summative counterparts. They are so authentically woven into the day, it can feel almost spontaneous as you uncover quiet learning moments, pinpointing students’ true understanding. Meanwhile, summatives are not only highly concrete and measurable, but they’re also accompanied by pressure for results–pressure that may come from administrators, parents, politicians, and even sometimes teachers themselves.
Educator’s catch 22
And so, we run into the classic teacher dilemma: on the one hand, we know part of the value of formative assessments lies their authentic, unassuming quality; on the other, it is precisely that quality that makes it easy for them to slip under the radar. The key is to make a plan for a record-keeping strategy that works for you. This sounds easy enough, but it does take a little trial and error as you find one or more methods that feel comfortable and easily accessible in the flow of your classroom. Below are a few personal favorites, all of which have functioned well in various contexts.
1. Confer App
This is the Mary Poppins carpet bag of education apps. No matter how full I’d pack in anecdotal notes for each student, it stayed organized and easy to navigate. It was also easy to share with parents during parent-teacher conferences. Some details I appreciated include:
- The option to sort notes in practical ways, including by student names, groups, and feedback.
- A design in that’s conducive to appropriate feedback with fields like “strength,” “teaching point,” and “next step”–great to remind teachers to look for what’s going well along with what needs work.
- The ability to apply one note to multiple students simultaneously–and the fact that it saves a previously-used note so you don’t have to type out the same phrase again.
- The color coded flags to remind you who currently needs some extra support.
Note: At first, some students were unsure about my typing on my phone during our discussions–they worried I was texting, or otherwise distracted. Be sure to introduce this method of note-taking to your whole class, telling them exactly how you are using your phone during your conferences.
2. Notecard Waterfalls
This one is a bit old-school, but I found it especially handy for reading groups. I would write each student’s name on one notecard, sort them into their groups, and then tape them into a waterfall on half a piece of laminated cardstock per group. (see photos below) I found this to be the perfect place to keep tallies for simplified running records and reading notes. After a student would read aloud, I would say something like this:
“Ok, I’m writing that you are rocking your punctuation expression. You paused appropriately at every comma and period! I’m also writing that we’re working on paying attention to the endings of words, since you left off -ing and -s a couple times as you read. Do you want me to add anything else for us to remember next time we work on reading together?”
This kind of feedback was quick and simple, but extremely effective as it kept us both on the same page. Another bonus: when a card would fill up, I could easily throw it in the student’s file and pop in another one.
3. Status of the Class
Status of the Class is the perfect tool to keep track of student-driven projects or independent work time. Simply call out each student’s name, and then jot down their selected task on a class list. This works well for long-term processes involving steps, stages, or centers with which the students are already familiar, such as the Writer’s Workshop, the scientific method, or math or literacy stations. Some advantages include:
- Stay informed of where you can coach students in their individual processes.
- Teach students metacognition as you require them to give a brief statement explaining both the what and the why of their choice. (I would periodically model how that would sound right before taking Status of the Class to remind them how to explain their choice. For example: “I’m working on illustrating because I want to better visualize how to describe my characters,” or “I’m going to read to myself because I just got to a cliff-hanger in my book.”
- Keep track of students who seem to be stuck in one place.
- Maintain accountability for students who may get off-task during independent learning time.
- If appropriate, give on-the-spot feedback as you help students learn to spend independent time wisely (ie, “I see you’ve chosen that 3 times in a row here. How else could you spend your time to help you grow?”)
Tips: Use wet-erase marker to write on a laminated class list chart, such as the one pictured, and keep it posted in the room so students can also keep track of how they’ve been spending their time. Make a key for your abbreviations on the bottom.
What are some of your favorite methods for practical formative assessments?
Featured Image: Elli Pálma via Flickr Creative Commons