How to Use Formative Assessment to Drive Teaching and Learning in the Virtual Classroom

Odette Falone

So you’ve spent hours tirelessly working on creative and engaging lessons to teach a new topic.  Your students seemed to have responded well to the material and enjoyed the activities but, when test day comes, their scores are less than stellar.  Where did they go wrong?  How can they move forward if they haven’t mastered the content that was just taught?  Cue the frustration.  We’ve all been there!  Here’s where the use of formative assessment can swoop in to save the day.

In my experience as an elementary level teacher, the best days were those in which I took slight detours from the lesson plans to entertain “teachable moments” and clarify students’ struggle areas.  Unlocking the area of need, modifying my teaching, and witnessing the “aha moments” were always very rewarding for me.  Planning out these “detours” and using the information to adjust and improve upon instruction is the goal of formative assessment.

Difference between formative and summative assessment

Summative assessments, such as chapter or unit tests, provide an evaluation of what students have learned.  Formative assessments, such as entrance and exit tickets or quick writes, periodically provide information that will inform students’ learning going forward.  Formative assessment can, and should, take many forms.  Its four elements include clarifying learning, eliciting evidence, providing feedback, and activating learners.  Formative assessments can be used before, during, and after learning to monitor and keep track of “where students are” in regards to the content.

student operating a computer

How can I use formative assessment in the virtual classroom?

During these unprecedented times, it might seem challenging to reimagine what these assessments should look like, but it's important to remember to incorporate them into daily lessons.  There are so many excellent digital resources available to us, most of which are equally as effective when used in the physical classroom as when utilized in the virtual classroom

1. Try asking groups of students to collaborate on creating a graffiti wall using Google Drawings.  This excellent example of formative assessment allows students to creatively demonstrate their ideas and thoughts on a topic, or depict the themes and elements that they have taken away from their learning.

2. Padlet is a helpful tool that can be utilized in an abundance of ways. Try posing a discussion question or sentence starter, and allow students to show you what they know in real time.

3. Create a quick Google Form for students to fill out as an entrance or exit ticket. Share the data from the students’ responses and use it as a conversation starter about the subject matter.

How can formative assessment be used to drive my teaching?

As in any profession, it’s important to reflect upon the effectiveness of our methods.  Creating a plan for the types of formative assessment that will be utilized for each lesson, as well as the elements that will be evaluated, is a great place to start.  Keep track of the evidence collected from these assessments and the modifications that you made based on the results.  This information can be applied to an action plan which can be used to drive your teaching.

As teachers, we understand that clear learning goals, strong questioning and discussion techniques, and high levels of student engagement are all large components of what creates an effective lesson.  Through the use of formative assessment, several of these components can be achieved.  Embedding these assessments into daily lessons allows students’ needs to be addressed immediately, thus giving us teachers more of the “aha moments” that we know and love!

Looking for more ways to incorporate formative assessments and other assessment strategies into teaching and learning? Check out some of the workshops Inspired Instruction offers!

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