3 Strategies to Leverage Formative Assessment Techniques in Any Learning Environment: In-person, Virtual, and Hybrid Classrooms

 

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Using formative assessment effectively
Using 3 strategies and a simple tech tool for student self-assessment

 

Why should teachers sharpen formative assessment techniques in the middle of a pandemic?

As teachers and leaders grapple with the learning gaps brought on by school closures in the spring, there has never been a more important time to “catch kids up.” Paired with this sense of urgency is the reality that it is even harder to gauge if students are learning in virtual and hybrid environments where students don’t feel as free to ask questions or interact with their peers. As a result, the mountain we face to catch kids up can feel insurmountable.

To accelerate learning, students must be partners in the learning process. While the teacher needs to have an acute sense of where each student has achieved mastery and where learning gaps still exist, it’s just as critical for students to be aware of what they have mastered and where they have learning gaps.

Below, read…

    • What formative assessment is, why it’s important in the classroom, and examples of effective formative assessment techniques
    • How to support student-initiated formative assessment specifically
    • 3 research-based strategies for using formative assessment in any learning environment
    • A technology tool called Student Evidence Tracker that can be used to quickly jumpstart classroom formative assessment strategies and provide a structure for student self-assessment

 

To accelerate learning, students must be partners in the learning process. It’s critical for students to be aware of what they have mastered and where they have learning gaps.

How formative assessment promotes equity in any learning environment

Research indicates that academic gaps caused by COVID-19 school closures can translate to adult skill gaps and lost wages unless educators accelerate learning and close gaps now in virtual instruction (see Achievement Gaps and the Lost COVID-19 Generation).

The findings warn that students could experience a reduction in earning potential of about 3% a year if no action is taken (DELVE Initiative, 2020).

Whether your school is virtual, in-person, or hybrid – changing every week or not changing at all – one of the priorities that remains constant is how to ensure equity for all students.

As we focus on sharpening formative assessment in classrooms, how do we do it in such a way that all students feel valued and develop the skills they need to be successful?

 

Student Evidence Tracker

Getting Students to Self-Assess for Effective Formative Assessment

View Demo

 

How do you use formative assessment techniques effectively?

First, what is formative assessment?

The Council of Chief State School Officers defines formative assessment as “a planned, ongoing process used by all students and teachers during learning and teaching to elicit and use evidence of student learning to improve student understanding of intended disciplinary learning outcomes and support students to become self-directed learners” (2018, p. 2).

This definition can be used as a litmus test to determine if using a certain technique will result in an effective formative assessment.

When considering whether a formative assessment technique will be effective, educators can use the following checklist:
Is this a planned, ongoing process?
Are all students and teachers using it during teaching and learning?
Does it elicit and use evidence of student learning?
Does it improve students’ understanding of the intended learning outcomes?
Does it support students to become self-directed learners?

 

For example, let’s look at exit tickets.

 

Exit tickets: Not the only formative assessment technique in town

A quick Google search confirms what most of us know: exit tickets are everywhere in schools.

The good news with such high use of exit tickets is that teachers are getting a sense of students’ ability before the test. Because it is a quick and easy way to check for understanding, teachers are getting data at the end of the lesson that can inform the next lesson. For those reasons, exit tickets can be the ‘go-to’ formative assessment tool in many classrooms.

However, the limitation of exit tickets is that students aren’t getting an opportunity to improve their understanding of the learning outcomes. They aren’t asked to reflect on their learning or to track their own progress, meaning this formative assessment technique falls short of supporting students to become self-directed learners.

Sue Brookhart cites research in her blog: When students track their own progress, learning increases (Marzano, 2009/10), and so does student involvement in their own assessment (Stiggins & Chappuis, 2005). Students have limited involvement – and therefore limited ownership of their own learning – when it comes to exit tickets.

How do exit tickets fare on the effective formative assessment checklist?
Is this a planned, ongoing process?
Are all students and teachers using it during teaching and learning?
Does it elicit and use evidence of student learning?
Does it improve students’ understanding of the intended learning outcomes?
Does it support students to become self-directed learners?

 

Exit tickets and other demonstration-based formative assessment techniques place the responsibility of reflecting on learning solely on the teacher. The student is simply demonstrating learning without reflecting on their progress toward the learning target. There is no partnership of owning the learning.

In order for teachers to accelerate learning by leveraging formative assessment techniques, students and teachers need to share ownership of learning.

 

Student Evidence Tracker

Getting Students to Self-Assess for Effective Formative Assessment

View Demo

 

Research-based questions to drive students’ assessment of their own learning

According to researchers Hattie and Timperley (2007), students who are engaged in their learning ask three questions:

    1. Where am I going?
    2. Where am I now?
    3. Where to next?

These questions seem straightforward to execute, but they require teacher planning and forethought before the student is ready to answer those questions to help them reflect on their learning.

How can teachers create a learning environment where students assess their own learning?

    • The teacher needs to first clarify the learning target for both herself and for the students.
    • An important – but often overlooked – step is creating an opportunity for students to demonstrate the knowledge and skill of the entire learning target while they are learning and practicing the skill. Rather than waiting for the test, when it’s too late to make a difference, the real impact occurs when students are given these opportunities during instruction.
    • Next, students need routines to self-assess whether they can demonstrate evidences of the learning target.
    • Then, the teacher verifies that the students’ self-assessments match the evidence they demonstrated.
    • Finally, students need routines to make revisions to both their thinking and their work based on their self-assessment.

Like any other skill, supporting students to use self-assessment is not something that can be implemented without forethought and planning if the goal is student mastery.

Successful adoption requires planning the routines, teaching the routines, and organizing students to practice the routines. But with thoughtful practice, teachers and students can reach fluency with these reflection routines.

Exit tickets and other demonstration-based formative assessment techniques place the responsibility of reflecting on learning solely on the teacher. Supporting students to self-initiate self-assessment can be implemented with forethought and planning.

 

How to use 3 strategies and a simple technology tool to support student self-assessment

The following strategies use the research-based questions above so students can initiate their own formative self-assessment with the teacher’s support.

The key to these strategies is all in the routines. Establishing a consistent way for students to self-assess and track progress and for the teacher to verify student learning takes the guesswork out of formative assessment. Whether the majority of learning is virtual, in-person, or hybrid, establishing a routine for student self-assessment that easily transitions between any learning environment is essential.

To establish routines, the teacher must first break down the actions necessary for the strategy to work in the classroom. Each strategy below is broken down into actions and has examples of what the routines might look like in a virtual, in-person, or hybrid learning environment. Teachers can use these actions and examples to plan out routines for their own classrooms.

Each strategy also includes guidance on how to apply the actions to a simple technology tool developed by Learning Sciences International’s Applied Research Center – called Student Evidence Tracker – which helps to make formative assessment easier by providing a consistent structure that both teachers and students can use.

Student question: Where am I going?
Strategy #1 Actions
Teacher and students understand the learning target of the lesson
  • Teacher creates and shares the learning target and criteria for the lesson
  • Students know where to locate the learning target and criteria for the lesson
  • Students know the purpose for using the learning target and criteria during the task

The Student Evidence Tracker allows teachers to quickly share the lesson’s learning target and criteria with students. Students use their own devices – laptops, phones, or tablets – so that all students have easy access to the learning target and criteria.

Figure 1. An example of a learning target and criteria a teacher has created in Student Evidence Tracker.

Examples of Routines for Strategy #1:

Teacher and students understand the learning target of the lesson

Virtual Hybrid In-Person
Before the lesson, the teacher asks students to log into the Student Evidence Tracker and review the lesson’s learning targets. The teacher takes time to make sure that both the virtual students and the in-person students have reviewed the learning target and that the students have access to the Student Evidence Tracker whether they are at home on their own device or in the classroom on a shared device. Each team has a device in which they log into the Student Evidence Tracker. Students review the lesson’s learning target as a routine before they start a task.

 

Student question: Where am I now?

Because simply asking students if they have learned something does not always result in accurate self-assessment, there are three steps to this strategy.

    1. Teacher creates formative assessment opportunities within lessons
    2. Students self-assess and track their progress
    3. Teacher verifies learning

These steps help the student have an opportunity to demonstrate their learning before they are asked to self-assess their learning, ensuring students’ self-assessment is based on evidence. Then, the teacher checks the students’ evidence of learning and compares it to their self-assessment of learning. This allows the teacher to give feedback on the accuracy of the self-assessment and makes the students and teacher partners in the assessment of learning.

Strategy #2a Actions
Teacher creates formative assessment opportunities within lessons
  • Teacher creates or identifies a task aligned to the learning target
  • Task allows the student to demonstrate learning

 

Examples of Routines for Strategy #2a:

Teacher creates formative assessment opportunities within lessons

Virtual Hybrid In-Person
Student teams share a Google doc to complete the task (Google docs identify which student contributes which part to the task). Students work on their own task individually before the teacher partners them together. Student teams use roles and routines to collaborate on a task in which each student is asked to demonstrate their own learning before coming to consensus.

 

Strategy #2b Actions
Students self-assess and track their progress
  • Students understand the connection between the criteria and the task
  • Students use the criteria to complete the task
  • Students track their demonstration of the criteria during the task
  • Teacher listens to or looks at student responses
  • Teacher verifies that student self-assessments match their responses

In Student Evidence Tracker, students can self-assess and track their own progress with the click of a button as they are working on their task. Figure 3 shows the different options for students to access Student Evidence Tracker depending on if each student has their own device or if students are sharing devices.

Figure 2. An example of what students see in Student Evidence Tracker – they can check off each criterion as they work toward the lesson’s learning target. Students can also raise their hand to request assistance.

 

 

Figure 3. An example of how devices can be available in the classroom so that students can access the learning targets and criteria in the Student Evidence Tracker if they don’t have their own devices.

 

Examples of Routines for Strategy #2b:

Students self-assess and track their progress

Actions:

  • Teacher identifies when students should self-assess and track their progress within the lesson
  • Teacher creates and teaches a routine for self-assessment and tracking
  • Students reflect on the task to determine if they met the criteria within a lesson
Virtual Hybrid InPerson
At the bottom of the Google doc, every student in the team has a place to reflect on which criteria they demonstrated in the task and how they demonstrated them. Students can then check off each criterion they met using Student Evidence Tracker. Teacher partners up in-person students with virtual students in breakout rooms. Students discuss which criteria they have mastered. Students can check off each criterion they met using Student Evidence Tracker. Student teams have a routine to periodically look over the criteria for the learning targets, discuss, and then check off those they feel they have mastered in Student Evidence Tracker.

 

Strategy #2c Actions
Teacher verifies learning
  • Teacher listens to or looks at student responses
  • Teacher verifies student self-assessments match their responses

After students reflect, discuss, and self-assess, the teacher then verifies that the student evidence matched their self-assessment. In Student Evidence Tracker, the teacher can quickly and easily record their agreement with the student’s self-assessment.

If the teacher does not agree that there is sufficient evidence of the student meeting the criteria and learning target, students have the opportunity to revise their work and resubmit their self-assessment.

Figure 4. An example of what the teacher sees in Student Evidence Tracker. The teacher can click the blue star symbol to accept a student’s self-assessment of whether they achieved the lesson’s learning target. Or, the teacher can click the red X symbol if there is not sufficient evidence, and the student can try again. The teacher can see which students are virtual and if students have raised their hands to request assistance.

 

Examples of Routines for Strategy #2c:

Teacher verifies learning

Actions:

  • Teacher plans when to verify student self-assessment and how to track progress
  • Teacher listens to or looks at student responses and self-assessment to check alignment
  • Teacher documents if they agree with the student tracking
Virtual  Hybrid In-Person
As student teams are typing on the Google doc, the teacher reads their responses. Teacher compares each students’ self-assessment in Student Evidence Tracker to their responses in Google Docs. As the partners are talking, the teacher walks around and listens at the desk of the in-person student to hear their conversations. Teacher compares these demonstrations of learning to the students’ self-assessment in Student Evidence Tracker. As the student teams work, the teacher walks around and compares their work to their self-assessments in Student Evidence Tracker, asking questions as needed.

 

Student question: Where to next?
Strategy #3 Actions
Students deepen their understanding and teacher plans next steps
  • Students seek out support to deepen their understanding based on their self-assessment
  • Students make revisions to their work or thinking based on their tracking to the learning target
  • Teacher adjusts lesson or future lessons based on student evidence and tracking

Reports in the Student Evidence Tracker allow the teacher to quickly look at trends so they can spend their time making instructional decisions rather than spending time aggregating data.

Student Evidence Tracker

Figure 5. An example of a basic report in the Student Evidence Tracker. The teacher can look at trends in student achievement of learning targets as well as trends within each learning target.

If the teacher wants to drill down to see how a specific student has performed on each learning target it only takes a click of a button.

Student Evidence Tracker

Figure 6. The teacher can view exactly which learning targets and criteria an individual student self-assessed on, whether their self-assessment was verified by the teacher, and if the student raised their hand.

This report allows the teacher to focus on an individual student so they can look at any gaps in learning in order to target supports and remediations.

Student Evidence Tracker

Figure 7. This view allows a teacher to see the overall performance at the level of a learning target. It also includes a restatement of the learning target and criteria so the teacher doesn’t have to reference back to another view.

 The power of the Student Evidence Tracker report is that it lets the teacher not only see the overall class data, but also quickly scroll through by student to identify which students have gaps and which students achieved the learning target. This allows the teacher to plan upcoming lessons and quickly identify which students to target for extra support based on the gaps in their learning.

 

 

Exit tickets vs. the 3 strategies and Student Evidence Tracker tool

Which one passes the test for an effective formative assessment technique?

Compare the Student Evidence Tracker tool and reports to exit tickets: What are students doing differently? What information about student learning does the teacher gather using each technique?

Students are empowered to understand what they are supposed to be learning and self-assess their own progress when teachers use techniques such as the 3 strategies above and tools such as the Student Evidence Tracker. With exit tickets, students have a much more limited role in their own learning. Teachers also gain access to deeper information about student learning over time with the Student Evidence Tracker reports.

How do the 3 strategies and Student Evidence Tracker fare on the effective formative assessment checklist?
Is this a planned, ongoing process?
Are all students and teachers using it during teaching and learning?
Does it elicit and use evidence of student learning?
Does it improve students’ understanding of the intended learning outcomes?
Does it support students to become self-directed learners?

 

 

Student Evidence Tracker

Getting Students to Self-Assess for Effective Formative Assessment

View Demo

 

Resources

 

References

Council of Chief State School Officers (2018). Revising the definition of formative assessment. https://ccsso.org/sites/default/files/2018-06/Revising%20the%20Definition%20of%20Formative%20Assessment.pdf

DELVE Initiative (2020), Balancing the Risks of Pupils Returning to Schools. DELVE Report No. 4. Published 24 July 2020. Retrieved from http://rs-delve.github.io/reports/2020/07/24/balancing-the-risk-of-pupils-returning-to-schools.html

Hattie, J., & Timperley, H. (2007). The power of feedback. Review of Educational Research, 77(1), 81-112. https://doi.org/10.3102/003465430298487

Marzano, R. J. (2009/2010). The art and science of teaching: When students track their progress. Educational Leadership, 67(4), 86-87. http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/dec09/vol67/num04/When-Students-Track-Their-Progress.aspx

Stiggins, R., & Chappuis, J. (2005). Using student-involved classroom assessment to close achievement gaps. Theory Into Practice, 44(1), 11-18. https://doi.org/10.1207/s15430421tip4401_3

 

About the Author

Deana Senn

Deana Senn, MS, has 25 years of education experience and is an expert in instructional strategies and classroom assessments. She has co-authored several books with Dr. Robert J. Marzano in the Essentials for Achieving Rigor series including: Identifying Critical Content, Organizing for Learning, and Engaging in Cognitively Complex Tasks.

Thanks also goes to the following collaborators: Mindy Province, Jody Honaker, Joanna Sozio, Meg Bowen, Amber Olsen, and Britt Hartle.

 

About LSI

Our vision for education is to close the achievement gap. Equip all students with the social, emotional, and cognitive skills they need to thrive in the 21st century. Expand equity by giving every child access to rigorous core instruction that empowers learners to free themselves from generational poverty.

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