Diagnostic, formative, and summative assessments. Sound familiar? Cringing at the thought?
You’re not alone. Data collection is an art and there is no exact, or one “right way”, to do it- so give yourself some grace as you navigate the assessment craft.
While all forms of data collection are significant, here we will focus on, what I believe to be, the most informative in measuring teachers' impact, and the most challenging in its execution: Formative assessment.
I’ve actually reframed the term formative assessment to Check for Understanding (CFU’s) because these assessment practices do just that. They quickly check for student understanding within the lesson. I also found that the term itself, CFU/Check for Understanding, provoked a less stressful and more manageable mindset for making the collecting of data a daily ritual in my classroom.
So, how do we use Checks for Understanding to measure “in-the-moment” proficiency of individual skills for individual students during the learning process? You may be answering that question with, “Thumbs up, Thumbs down,” “Traffic Light,” or an “Emoji Survey.” I argue that these strategies gauge how students think they understand the material (great for building self-reflection and meta-cognitive skills), but that their perception does not always align with their true understanding.
So with that, let me share with you four Checks for Understanding that you can immediately implement in your classroom, informing you of what your students really know and are able to do.
1. The Sticky Response: Can occur at any point within the lesson; low stakes for students; quick
Materials: Scrap paper (or sticky-notes, hence the name), timer, student-roster
The Sticky Response can be done at literally any point in a lesson, for any type of question, and it gives the teacher immediate feedback about student mastery. Here is how it works:
Present a question to the class. The question must be precise enough where students can respond with a phrase, or short sentence on scrap paper or sticky note. Provide students with 1-2 minutes to think and jot down their response. The teacher can scan responses while students complete them, or collect the scrap paper as students finish, and sort the responses based on who answered correctly and who did not.
The goal of The Sticky Response is to immediately know student performance levels: who has demonstrated understanding of a very specific skill or prerequisite skill necessary to meet the learning target, and who needs further support? You are not measuring a student's ability to write a paragraph, or their handwriting, or even a full math problem. As the teacher, you should be able to glance at the ticket and immediately know the students who need to revisit the content. PS. how you sort is up to you. I would use my student-roster to check off the names of students who answered correctly.
See some sample Sticky Response prompts below as they align to the learning target:
Learning Target: SWBAT explain how an author develops the point of view of the narrator or speaker in a text.
Checks for Understanding: What adjectives would you use to describe the feelings of the narrator at the beginning of the event?
Learning Target: SWBAT solve equations.
Check for Understanding: What is the inverse operation of addition?, or, Why is multiplication the inverse of division?, or, If you solve x + 3 = 6 what would be different if you were solving x - 3 = 6?
Learning Target: SWBAT identify that water and sunlight are necessary for plants to grow.
Check for Understanding: Where would you place a plant in a house if you want it to grow and be healthy?
2. In-task Observations: Allows teachers to assess with purpose while students are working on a task with a peer(s).
Materials: List of behaviors or cues that indicate understanding of the skill; student roster
We all know how important collaborative learning is. However, sometimes this collaborative work can make it difficult to measure individual student understanding.
In this assessment, circulate the room with a list that you have created, indicating the behaviors, cues, key words or phrases that indicate proficiency. Check off the names of students who demonstrate what you deem to be enough of the cues or behaviors that would indicate understanding of the skill or content.
For example, students are alternating reading an article on the Tang and Song dynasties and have been tasked with annotating the dynasties’ achievements.
Evidence of Understanding:
Students annotating or underlining key words and phrases in the text, such as currency, development, trade, advancement, money, During this period, discovery, compass, results;
Students providing examples of China’s advancement;
Students drawing connection between dynasties and the industrial revolution/Western world, changes in leadership, influences, importance of the silk road
Lastly, jot down that Evidence of Understanding in a lesson plan, or even on your spreadsheet (that’s what you see scribbled on mine). I remember administrators asking me, “yes, but what exactly demonstrated that student understanding?” particularly for tasks that were more collaborative or oral based.
3. Oral Response Observations: Great to use when students are providing mainly verbal responses.
Materials: List of words/phrases that indicate understanding of the skill; student roster
This one is very similar to In-Task Observations, but is geared towards activities where oral responses are provided and are the main source of demonstrating understanding, such as a Turn-and-Talk, Gallery Walk, Socratic Seminar, or a presentation.
While students are orally responding to a question, prompt, having a discussion, etc., the teacher marks on the roster or jots down the names of students who are using what they deem to be enough of the key words or phrases from the list you created that would indicate understanding of the content or skill.
For example, students are tasked with describing and discussing the water cycle process with their peers.
Evidence of Understanding: Students are using words like evaporation, transpiration, condensation, precipitation, infiltration, surface runoff, groundwater, and absorption, movement of water, water transitions, states of water.
4. 4 Corners: Gives students a chance to make a decision about a problem, question, or prompt.
I know, I know. This strategy is very similar to approaches like Thumbs up, Thumbs down, where students are asked to decide if they understand the content or skill. However, this strategy is different in that the focus becomes more about the process in answering the problem, more-so than the answer itself; students think about their answer, reflect on that answer and then make a decision about how comfortable they are in that answer. They are then tasked with explaining their decision.
Here is how it works:
The teacher presents a problem, question, or prompt to students. Students are given think-time to answer it; they may jot down the answer or not. The teacher then asks students to select a corner that best reflects their certainty that the answer is correct. Students then choose a corner based on their level of expertise of the given subject.
Based on your knowledge of __________________ , which corner would you choose?
Corner 1: The Dirt Road- There’s so much dust, I can’t see where I’m going! Help!!
Corner 2: The Paved Road- It’s fairly smooth, but there are many potholes along the
Corner 3: The Highway- I feel fairly confident but have an occasional need to
Corner 4: The Interstate- I ’m traveling along and could easily give directions to
Once students have selected a corner, the corners pair up (how they pair is up to the teacher), now creating two groups. The teacher presents each group with a second question; this second question relates to the original problem, question, or prompt, but is different for each group and is based on how the teacher has decided to pair the corners up. For example, if the teacher has decided to pair Corner 1 with Corner 2, the teacher may ask a scaffolding question to help them better understand the concept, and if Corner 3 is paired with Corner 4, the teacher may ask a question that pushes them to make inferences or draw connections between concepts.
I used to make copies of my student rosters and have them readily available on my clipboard, that way I could just grab one when I needed it.
No need to purchase a timer. Use the one on your computer, or watch, or even Smartboard.
Your assessment should link to your focus and capture the outcomes that students need to move forward.
Be specific in the skills/content you want to measure, know what you are looking for, and,
Be transparent with your students! Tell them what outcomes you are looking for and why they are important to the classroom and for the world.