With testing talk focused on the shift in standardized testing from the MCAS to the PARCC, there is a quiet corner in the assessment landscape that should truly be grabbing the headlines. Every day in classrooms around the world, teachers turn to formative assessments to gauge how well their students are learning new content. These peeks into student learning allow both teachers and students to make adjustments to their practice along the learning path. With millions of tests being administered daily, why on earth haven’t these assessments for learning become part of the national dialogue?
While formative assessments can range from a quick thumbs up to conversations with individual students, Hopkins’ teachers explored ways to harness the power of Google Forms. Google Forms is a collaborative application within the Google Apps for Education (GAFE) suite. Forms allows for multiple question formats including text, paragraph text, checkbox, multiple choice, choose from a list, grid, scale, time, and date. It also includes the option to insert videos or images and to make branched questions. To top it off, it comes with a choice of packaging options and customizable themes. Once collected, the data is housed in a Google Sheet where it can be analyzed, manipulated, and shared. These ingredients made for a productive training session on using Google Forms to create formative assessments.
Working in teams, teachers quickly found value in the tool realizing they could automate some of the formative information they already gather from students. For example, one group mimicked the lesson quick checks for their math unit. Once students complete the form, teachers will have all the information at their fingertips. What’s more, the spreadsheet cells can be automatically formatted by color to show a quick snapshot of students’ understanding. Teachers can then make informed decisions about whether to proceed, reteach, or further differentiate instruction. Another team tackled the traditional paper-based reading log. Having students complete a form allows for the information to be captured in one place, making it easier for teachers to assess how well students are understanding the books they choose to read independently. It also allows for a feedback channel back to the students.
Still yet, other groups reimagined the type of information they could collect from their students. There are many opportunities for students to learn throughout the writing process. Why not make a reflective writing form that has students self-evaluate their journey through the writing process? As it turns out, one teacher who took her writing form back to her classroom today reported that her students were thrilled with the idea! Lastly, a team of specialists sought an easy way to gather and manage informal results from their large population of students. Forms fit the bill as it allowed them to create drop down lists of students organized by class. Using this template, related arts teachers and specialists can customize the questions to better understand how their students are progressing.
Perhaps we do not hear about these learning assessments because, unlike the stress that often befalls summative assessments, formatives evoke a sense of well-being in the classroom. With assessments for learning’s sake, teachers and students adapt to lessons along the way to mastering concepts, thereby limiting anxiety. While gathering and providing feedback along the learning path is invaluable for students and teachers, it does not produce the most coveted piece of data in our education ecosystem: grades.
In order for this quiet movement to gain momentum, it may be necessary to shift our way of thinking about educational outcomes. According to survey data published by Tom Barrett on his edte.ch blog, the greatest obstacle teachers face when choosing to implement more formative assessments is the unpopular notion of collecting data to use for instruction rather than collecting the summative data that yields tangible grades and scores. It turns out that all education stakeholders – students, parents, teachers, and administrators alike – are conditioned for these marks. However, since formative data is useful for making mid course corrections, it really is a means to making the grade!
“. . . seeing feedback as a teaching opportunity can help us shift our perspective from correction to collaboration, from merely fixing students’ work to moving students forward in their learning.”
-Troy Hicks, Director of the Chippewa River Writing Project, Central Michigan University, Edutopia.org
By: Stephanie Doty