Whether it’s due to a misunderstanding of its purpose or the fact that it takes too much prep and classroom time, formative assessment is often lost at the bottom of the instructional toolbox, used only by those truly data-driven teachers who feel that they can’t live without it and find a way to make it work for them.
Traditionally teachers have used clipboards with complex charts, spreadsheets and note-taking systems to keep track of their students’ daily proficiency. A note here, a check mark there—sometimes even plotting scores on a line graph to see a particular student’s trajectory—it’s an arduous, time consuming process worth its weight in gold and often just as difficult to find.
All of this work is hopefully in an attempt to figure out exactly what students know and where they are struggling so that as teachers we can take action. Maybe it’s more targeted personalization of instruction or a differentiated lesson, but the ultimate action must be driven by data and the data must be collected often and within an ongoing system to be truly formative.
So, if the reward of formative assessment is so rich, but the process of formative assessment so backbreaking, how can we alleviate this load to make the teacher’s life a bit easier while simultaneously increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of instruction in our classrooms?
One solution offered by formative assessment guru Dylan William is to change our hyper-focus on “data-driven decision-making” to a focus on “decision-driven data collection.” William is calling into question our nation’s obsession with gathering more and more data without an actual plan of action for how we will use it to change our students’ classroom experience. Instead, William argues, we could be asking ourselves many questions prior to collecting anything, and then take a more targeted approach at gathering only the data we know we will need to take action and make the learning experience more practical for students.
I think this approach is a fantastic solution for answering the time honored teacher question of, “How do I do this with 30 students in my classroom?” but William’s strategy is only part of the solution. In order to further reduce the time suck that formative assessment can be we must also eliminate the clipboards, the spreadsheets, and the paper-based systems that have slowed our progress for years. (See Blog post titled, “Digital Formative Assessment Solutions”)
Evernote has so many classroom applications. As a research tool, note-taking platform, and student e-portfolio it is fantastic, but perhaps its most impressive application is it’s ability to collect ongoing qualitative formative assessment that can be accessed from anywhere and shared easily.
Marlene Vivieros is a first grade teacher at the Highlander Charter School in Providence, RI. Marlene has been working with kindergarteners for years collecting observational notes, photos, and anecdotes on paper, clipboards, digital cameras, and her brain. She loves to track her students growth and analyze their learning, but the process of taking in all that information on a daily basis was so difficult for her.
The Highlander Institute introduced Marlene to Evernote and showed her some ways that Evernote could help reduce her paper and digital media trail. As you can see from the video below Marlene has become an Evernote champ and loves the way the system has allowed her to harness the power of her iPhone as a single data collection tool.
Marlene has set up her Evernote with a folder for each student that she uses when she wants to record targeted, individual pieces of student data. She has a classroom folder that she uses to collect data on the fly or data that relates to multiple students.
In this video Marlene has opened a new file within the folder named for the student with whom she is working. Pay attention to three things while watching the video:
1. Notice how Marlene takes a photo of student at work at the very beginning of the video.
2. Notice how she types some qualitative information to accompany the photo.
3. Notice how Marlene places the phone between herself and the student. She is audio recording her conversation with the student within the same note where she took the photos and typed her observations.
All of this data is saved in the cloud and ready for Marlene when she arrives home in the evening. She has access to each of these pieces of qualitative data and can use them for progress reports, report cards or use them to help her plan for the next day.
The Highlander Institute recently announced the beta launch of the Metryx Mobile Tracker, a new education application that gives educators an easy way to conduct formative assessments and monitor student’s learning progress in real time.
Metryx empowers teachers to aggregate meaningful data through any assessment – from traditional flashcards to online learning games — while offering the flexibility to track common core standards or customize the tool to their specific needs. The innovative application is currently available for free to individual teachers as a web application that can be run on the iPad. The app will be available in the Apple App Store and the Android App markets once the full application is launched this fall.
The Tracker was conceived by Shawn Rubin, a founding faculty member of the Highlander Charter School in Providence, RI. While teaching a diverse class of English Language Learners with relatively weak basic skills, Shawn found that daily formative assessment practices helped him understand and address the individual needs of his students – but his clipboard method was inefficient and time-consuming.
Shawn envisioned an iPad app that could make his daily assessments easier, faster, and more portable. He teamed up with Stephanie Castilla, an interaction designer from the Rhode Island School of Design, participated in the Social Venture Partners Change Accelerator Program, and incorporated as Metryx, LLC with the support of the Highlander Institute.
Once the application was created, Rubin and the Highlander Institute partnered to test, develop and promote the app. Over the course of this year, 40 elementary and middle school teachers piloted Metryx to help shape and evolve the app to its current Beta form. The app has received rave reviews from teachers around the world, including Australia and Mexico. A research team from Brown University is currently analyzing data from Year 1.
The demand for digital assessment tools has been validated in the marketplace by the emergence of several competitive products. However, it is also important to consider the competitive role of legacy formats like paper and pencil and excel data entry.
For a digital formative assessment model to become teacher approved it must function more efficiently than these legacy formats, yet provide the same security, accuracy, and system wide integration.
The Highlander Institute has been working on just such a system using mobile applications on the iPad as well as other tablets and Smartphones. Below is a visual step by step guide to the “Highlander Model of Formative Assessment”.
Step one: Always start with the skill you want to measure. It doesn’t have to be one skill, but it must be a skill and not an activity. Build the lesson around that skill so you are certain what formative data you want to track.
Step two: Teachers must have extensive knowledge of each individual student’s needs at the skill level to begin to build lessons that can target the student in a more personalized way.
This becomes increasingly challenging in classrooms with multiple students with multiple needs in multiple skill areas.
At this point, the technology becomes an integral tool for helping teachers to differentiate instruction around so many diverse learning needs.
Step 3: The model continues with a process of ongoing and targeted, formative data collection. Without ongoing assessment each subsequent lesson loses it’s power.
This model is challenging to say the least.
It requires an incredibly skilled and dedicated teacher along with extensive training.
but the ability for a teacher to combine skill based teaching with differentiated instruction is crucial for increasing student performance. And technology is the key to making the entire system manageable.
Teachers can pull this off. Let us train you on the hardware and apps you need to pull this off. We have the tools and the solutions to help.
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org today!