Formative assessment is a HUGE piece of teaching. We do it all of the time, sometimes without the students even realizing we are doing it. There are so many ways that we can formatively assess students and the online websites and apps can be overwhelming. In our Useful Tech Tools posts we will offer up our insights into some of our favorite formative assessment tools.
One of my favorite online sites to use for formative assessment is aptly named Formative.
Formative is free to use and easy to sign up. I created my account and then created my classes. Students do need to create an account to really get the best use out of the site. When you create your classes, it generates a code for each class that you can share with students after they have signed up. If you school uses Google for their email system, the process is even easier. Students can sign up using Google.
Once you have created an account, you can begin creating. You have the option of uploading existing worksheets, making your own online worksheet, an online quiz, or an online drawing window. A teacher can add text, embed material, and add video. One of my favorite features is the ‘show your work’ question. It provide the student with a blank box and gives them the ability to draw or upload material to it.
Once you have your ‘Formative’ created, you assign it to your students. Added plus is that your Formative activity can be embedded into your learning management system. Students will see the assignment in their dashboard. Once they have completed the assignment and even as they are working on it, you will see live results on your end.
I started using Formative this year, and I have really loved it! I like the different options it provides me to create formative assessment activities for my students. I have used Formative to create bell ringer activities, exit tickets, and progress check quizzes to see how students are understanding material. I can challenge them and push them through the different tools offered to me by Formative and thanks to the live results, I can spot problems quickly. I can also show the class the results without showing names if I like to compare and discuss what the class is doing as it is happening.
Another great thing about Formative, is that they have a great support system. Within the site there is a chat function that is sent to the Formative team. Every time I have contacted them, they have got back to me within the day and usually within the hour.
Try out Formative and let us know what you think in the comments! If you have another use for it, we would love to hear it!
Teachers have always been talking about differentiating in the classroom, but it seems only recently that teachers have started talking about the pace. We either slow down or speed up based on the middle of the pack in our class. If the majority needs it to be slower, we slow down, if the majority want us to speed up, we speed up. In an attempt to differentiate we try to identify those students at each end of the spectrum and modify to fit their needs.
In my 9 years of teaching I have experimented with different ways to differentiate my teaching, so I could meet more students’ needs but nothing had really seemed to work. I had students that were getting left behind and students that were bored out of their minds. In my new setting with high school freshmen trying to teach them geography, a subject that I am really passionate about but can be hard to get students interested in, I felt like I was drowning.
I knew I was looking for a change, but I wasn’t really sure what I was looking for. One day I was expressing my frustrations to Becca and she told me about what she was doing in her class. She described the self-paced atmosphere and as I listened to her I got more and more excited. This was it! This was what I was looking for! She was seeing positive results in her class and I wanted to immediately switch up my class to do the same type of thing.
I loved the idea of students moving at their own pace and taking time to learn the material! It seemed like the perfect way to reach all of my students.
That day I sat down to figure out how I could make changes to my class. Luckily we had just started our last unit of the semester. I already knew what we were going to cover and many of the materials to cover it. I just needed to restructure the content and the way we did class.
I started by splitting the class in half. One half worked on notes and the other half worked on an small group assignment and then they flip flopped. This allowed me to get the students started on material and be there to work with students. It also helped stagger the students progress. It was easier to manage when not everyone was working on the same thing. Then I wasn’t needed everywhere at once. Here is a quick breakdown of the what I did in my first trial.
What I saw in the class:
This was enough for me to get really excited! I knew though that I going to face some challenges if I was going to make a change for my classroom. I was really pleased with how the students did during this experiment. I knew that there were some changes that I was going to need to make in the next semester, but I have a higher level of excitement and drive going into this semester.
Check our future posts on how we make this work in more detail!
Talk to other teachers because they can sometimes have the most amazing resource up their sleeve!
Throughout my education at Eastern Illinois University (Go Panthers!), differentiation was the concept discussed the most. We often discussed how we would eventually be giving all students their own personalized education.
Another math teacher and I were at school working on creating materials for the next unit of our geometry curriculum one Saturday when we started discussing the struggles we noticed. It is so hard for students to get caught up in a math class once they get lost because it builds on itself so much. We had students who would miss because they were sick, participating in a school activity, or leaving early for an athletic event who would come back and be lost. We had some students who did not understand the first unit , struggled on the second and were now failing the third. The way we were doing things (guided notes for class, practice, test) was working for some but not all. I started talking about how nice it would be to give students more time to work on the lessons that they struggled on and that’s when she showed me flippedmath.com.
Flippedmath.com was created by four teachers (the Algebros!) for just this purpose. On their site they have a video to go along with a guided notes packet and practice problems as well as solutions to the practice problems AND more practice problems! They had built each of these resources for each lesson of a full Algebra, Geometry, Algebra 2, Pre-Calculus, and Calculus curriculum. The videos were great quality with entertaining factors thrown in to make it so much more interesting than a lot of math tutorials I had found on YouTube previously.
How I structured it
I built the course on Canvas and started it the next week in my Algebra class.
It was amazing. Here are some of the benefits I saw in switching to a self-paced method.
Basically, I love it. And my students do, too. I surveyed them at the end of the 1st semester and 83% of them said they prefer the self paced method and wished it could be adapted to other courses they were in.
Updates to 2nd Semester
For the small percentage who missed a traditional math class, I teach a short lesson twice a week in front of the class. It may be using the guided notes or it may be an activity, but it brings back some of the traditional components that a few of my students were missing. The remaining class time is spent in the same style as 1st semester!
There is so much more to say about this method and how to make it work better, but we’ll save that for another day!
I read an article this morning from Edutopia Visualizing 21st-Century Classroom Design and it really made me think about my desire for change in my classroom. In my desire to change my class to a more self-paced environment, I feel myself working towards the principals talked about in this article.
In the article the author, Mary Wade, describes five elements of a 21st-century classroom and gives some really great ideas of how to implement them in a teacher’s room. I loved her ideas, but it got me thinking about change and how hard it can be when we know where want to get to, but don’t know how to get there or how fast to move in that direction.
In my teaching career, I have gone from teaching with an overhead projector to teaching in a 1:1 district. That was a massive change for me even with my masters degree in Educational Technology. I love the technology that I get to work with and I don’t want to go back to not having it, but over the past 5 years I have been trying to figure out the best environment for students to work and learn with technology and create meaningful learning opportunities for students.
I have been moving towards a self-paced classroom for a while now in small trials and units and have only now 5 years into my 1:1 classroom experience have made the full jump to trying it for an entire semester. I was scared of failing and letting students down, of having a high F rate, and not feel like a teacher anymore if I wasn’t in the center pushing students along. I finally found the courage to change, because I was so unhappy with they way things were going that I couldn’t argue against it anymore and someone I respect and trust was trying as well.
Change is hard, but making small, slow changes is better than making no changes at all. I encourage all teachers out there to read the article on visualizing 21st-century classroom and find a partner that would be willing to experiment with you. I have found that finding someone that you trust and work well with that can go through the experience with you or at least support you in change can go a long way in making those positive changes happen in your classroom. Maybe you will find some inspiration from this practical article and we can all move toward a more positive and productive atmosphere for all students.
Even if you pick one thing to change, you will be making a positive change and moving towards creating a learning experience meant for ALL students. Isn't that what all teachers want?
WE CAN DO THIS!
A back channel is a program/tool that a teacher can use in the background of a lesson. Typically they are chat windows that are used to allow students and the teacher to communicate together while they are working on notes, projects, or any class activity. Many teachers use these to allow students to ask questions without having to speak in a whole class setting. It benefits the students that are quiet and do not like to talk out in class. It also gives students that know the content well to answer student questions and allows them to become leaders.
1. GoSoapBox - GoSoapBox creates events for students to join. There are multiple functions within each event. Students can participate in discussions, polls, and quizzes. For the teacher there is a profanity filter, confusion barometer, and name requirements. You can also download quiz results. Students do not have to sign up for an account. Teachers give students an accent code to enter when it is time use it.
Uses - I have used this when I given my students reading assignments. I love that students can ask questions, let me know if they are confused, and have different modes of interaction. I can give them a quiz to check for understanding and then have students engage in a discussion and poll them on their thoughts about the content.
2. TodaysMeet - This is the basic chat room. Students can use their phone or computer and have no account to sign up for. You can close out rooms whenever you want. This is great for in the background chatroom. Students can ask questions and respond to student questions while the class activity is happening. You can download a transcript of the discussion before you close it. There really isn’t much control for the teacher unless you pay for an upgrade on the free account.
Uses - I have used this as an exit ticket activity or progress check. I like that this is quick. Student can do a quick response about whatever question I ask. I’m not a big fan of the lack of controls in the free version.
3. CoverItLive - They call it a live blog. It is a chat window, but the teacher can act as a moderator in the conversation. A teacher can deny posts that are inappropriate. Another great function is that it can be embedded in a website or LMS page. The chat can also be replayed at any time. It is marketed to corporations, but I emailed them about a teacher account and was given one for free.
Uses - This is my favorite chat window. I love that you can embed it in a website. I love that it has moderator functions to limit students that choose to make irresponsible decisions. I have used this one as a background chat during lecture and days when I am meeting with small groups and cannot immediately answer every question. It allows students to answer each other's questions without disrupting the rest of the class. I have also seen this used at pd conferences so attendees can discuss what is going on as it is happening!
This image popped up on our twitter account and it was one of those that made me stop and think.
I read it and then reread it. Would I be up for doing something like this?
I personally enjoy having teachers come into my classroom. I attribute this mainly to the amazing learning coaches that I had my first two years of teaching. They would pop into the classroom and observe me, take a few notes, and give me constructive feedback in between classes. As a new high school teacher, I loved getting the feedback during my morning classes because I could improve that lesson that very day for my afternoon classes! I could feel myself becoming a better teacher in the course of one day and it was so empowering!
Fast forward to a year later when I was taking classes to earn my Masters in Administration. For one of the courses I had to observe and fill out an evaluation form for two different teachers. My stomach dropped upon hearing about the assignment.
I felt a little bit better when everyone else in my class also shared the instant stress over having to ask a fellow teacher if we could observe and evaluate a lesson. Part of my personal issue was that I was new to teaching. Who was I to assess another teacher? It made me incredibly nervous and it got even worse when I actually had a teacher tell me they would rather I not watch their class after requesting to observe them.
Why can it feel so awkward to be watched? And is it worth pushing past the awkwardness to help each other grow to be better educators?
To that first question - It is easy to feel like your techniques are being judged. What if someone decides to come watch that class?? You know, the one with ALL of the kids who have to be told a million times what to do. That class is a rough part of your day already and now you’re inviting an audience?!?
And that, in my opinion, is the real issue here. If someone is just coming in and purely watching, that does absolutely nothing to help you and it is DEFINITELY awkward! It is completely one sided. The observer may have learned something or been given an idea to use in their class, but you are left feeling like they came, they saw, they judged, the end.
It is all about the conversation afterwards.
If you are the observer, ask yourself questions like:
If you are the observed teacher:
If we commit to that 2-5 minute conversation after class breaking down what happened and how it could be better, we all benefit from it! We can bounce ideas off of each other or even relate to having a challenging class together! We could learn a new behavior management technique from the person we are observing OR as a suggestion from the observer! There is so much to be gained from this conversation compared to so little to lose!
So to the second question, yes. If you and the observer can both commit to having a conversation about what went well and what could improve, it is 100% worth the initial awkwardness! After 3 or 4 of these types of observations, it may even start to feel pretty normal!
Give it a shot and let us know how it goes! Is it awkward? Is it worth it?
You can read the original blog found on twitter linked with the image here
Webster defines self-paced learning as “designed to permit learning at the student’s own pace”.
In a self-paced learning environment, the teacher creates multiple weeks of materials (notes, activities, assessments) in advance for students to complete when they are ready. Students do not move forward until they have mastered the previous skill to certain pre-determined level of mastery.
It is really the first and most logical step in my mind to differentiating your classroom. Allowing students that move slower to move slower and those that move faster to move faster.
Becca had started the process in her class and I was eager to try it in mine. She implemented it for a quarter in her class and I gave it a trial at the end of last semester. Here are some things we discovered about logistics and complications related to starting up a self-paced environment. If you are interested in bringing this to your classroom here are some tips from our trials in the new class format.
Logistics & Potential Complications:
This is a system that both Becca and I are very excited about using in our classes. We will continue to post about our success, challenges, and adventures in the self-paced environment.
Have you ever had that class that just seemed longer(or crazier!) than all the others? It becomes a continuous downer which means you and your class need a pick-me-up! Something new to try out that may or may not change how that class works. In the parts of our blog labeled “Classroom Pick Me Up”, we’ll share about one of those types of classes and a strategy we used to turn it around.
We were in a unique situation in Joplin after the tornado my first year teaching. Our high school was split into two separate buildings: the 9/10 building and the 11/12 building. I taught Pre-Algebra and Geometry in the 9/10 building and while my Geometry class was full of either advanced freshmen or “on-track” sophomores, my Pre-Algebra class culture was very different. When conferencing with these students, many of them identified themselves as “bad at math” or “in the dumb class”. It was heartbreaking.
I struggled throughout my first semester to get buy-in and effort from many of these students who had accepted that they were just never going to succeed in math. Many would do their practice problems and get them right and then fail tests with the explanation that they were the dumb kids and I just needed to accept that. Having spent time in schools in 3rd world countries where kids sat three to a desk and had very limited resources but still worked so hard to do well in school, it honestly made me a little angry that these students in a 1:1 school with internet and all kinds of resources were giving up so easily. There was no way I was going to have a repeat of this overwhelming discouraging semester.
I tried to break down the issue over Christmas break. These kids were continuously telling themselves that they were stupid and incapable of doing well in math, that they were in the dumb class. If I could reframe that mindset, maybe these kids might start to feel success. I tried to think of a day when I had seen this class be motivated or focused. If I could determine what it was that motivated them and give them that feeling every day, class may be different.
Then I remembered a guest speaker I had brought into class. She was from a local non-profit and she told of her experience using art therapy in Thailand to aid children rescued from slavery. The kids were so into it! They had asked questions and showed more enthusiasm that day than I had seen during any other guest speaker or math activity. These kids cared about helping others, so I needed to make math about helping others.
When the students came back to school in January they were no longer going to be traditionally learning Pre-Algebra. They were going to be using the class time to create textbooks for kids in Africa who didn’t have any resources. I showed off a new area in my classroom decorated with pictures and souvenirs from my trips to Africa to be used ONLY in my Pre-Algebra classes. I bought a composition notebook for each student to use.
We would start all the way back at the beginning of the school year with the content in order to be sure what we delivered to the classes in Africa had a complete text. It would be up to each student to make sure their textbook was complete with instructions (notes we would take in class), practice problems with solutions (I provided examples of practice problems while they provided the worked out solutions), and tests (made completely by students). They would also need to add their own flair to the notebooks - drawings, hints or general studying tips, encouraging notes, and more.
I didn’t know if they would really buy into the idea or not until I posted the first section of notes to copy into the “textbook”. The class was silent. They were all intent on copying everything and making sure it was legible. They asked questions so that they could make sure they put everything possible into the book to help the kids in Africa.
After each lesson I took a picture of one notebook. It had to be neat and include all the notes and practice problems and contain correct solutions. I posted these pictures online so that students who were absent could catch up.
I used a rubric to grade each section in the notebook and then the students were tested with the same unit tests that all the other Pre-Algebra classes in the building gave. Their test scores went up and I believe it is largely due to their new mindset. They weren’t in the dumb class anymore. They were in the class that was creating textbooks for kids who didn’t have them. We still had to take tests but those were just one day that they had to take off from making the textbooks. It was a necessary thing required by the school and they were fine with it so long as they could get back to doing work that would impact others.
The whole process made class so much better both for my students and myself! And it got about a million times better when we received pictures from the textbook recipients!
Maybe something like this works for you! Maybe it doesn’t…(sorry!) Regardless, remember that you are not alone with your classroom struggles! Keep pushing through and trying something new!
Even in deciding what to title this blog, we asked ourselves this question and did some research. How do you name your blog? The basic process we discovered was to write down all of the topics we wanted to discuss in our blog. Our list looked something like this
It all came back to teacher empowerment.
The more we broke down each topic, the more we realized our blog would be answering the question, “What would a teacher do with this if they had the option to take control?”.
We have been very lucky in the past couple of years to find ourselves in very empowering roles developing a teacher-run advisory class to meet the needs of our high school students as well as being elected as representatives on a teacher-pd committee for our district and building. Throughout the past year, we have loved having the opportunity to come up with an idea and run with it.
When we are given the autonomy to ask ourselves “What would a teacher do if they could plan pd for their building?” or “What would a teacher do given class time twice a week to try to meet students’ needs for personal and professional growth?” and we actually get to answer those questions and see it play out, it’s amazing.
Successful or not, we are learning a lot and enjoying our jobs a million times more.
And so we landed on the name, What Would A Teacher Do?, because we believe it is a fundamental question to ask ourselves when making decisions or trying new things in education.
So check back every Monday as we dive into the topics listed above (and more!) and ask ourselves, “What would a teacher do?”.