The education landscape is littered with a million different strategies, tricks, and tips that teachers should try, implement, and eventually move on from. Think, learning styles teaching, popcorn reading, cold calling on students, extensive note taking, whole language, the list goes on and on. I have personally seen hundreds come and go throughout my teaching career. Usually, teachers are skeptical of them at first and eventually try them at the insistence of administration, and finally after a few years – they fade away.
One exception to this in my experience is the use of formative assessments. When I was first introduced to them – I’m not going to lie – I was skeptical. I mean, don’t I need to teach the concept, have our students’ practice (a lot), then test them? That’s the way we have always done it and it seemed to be working well (for the most part).
BUT, after using formative assessments for several years – I am convinced – that they are a game changer for the math classroom. There are two main reasons I am a huge fan of using formative assessments: they can drive and inform your instruction, and it’s a quick and easy way to assess students. Let’s dig a little deeper.
Teachers use standards to plan instruction. We get pretty good at knowing what our students need to learn. We plan out the number of days we will spend on each standard, what tasks we will use, and what summative assessment we will give at the end of the sequence. But what if our students don’t actually need that much time to master a standard? Maybe they are going to need more time. Do we wait until we grade the summative assessment to find out if they even learned what we wanted them to learn?
How many of us have sat down to grade an assessment and been crestfallen to find out our students bombed it? Then we are in a panic because now we have to go back and re-teach, find new tasks, and re-test.
What if we gave formative assessments during the instructional sequence? Wouldn’t that information help us adjust our instruction in the moment? The answer is a resounding YES!
Here’s the thing. A formative assessment doesn’t take a lot of time. One carefully selected problem that is aligned to the standard will tell you quickly who has got it and who does not. That is gold right there, because you will know exactly how to adjust your lesson for the next day – not a week later. In order to adjust instruction appropriately, I have to know what my students learned.
Student learning is a complicated thing. Every student is different and acquires their knowledge, information, etc. in different ways. That’s why I love small group instruction. It gives teachers the opportunity to tailor instruction to their student needs. Formative assessments are the key to creating small groups that focus on helping students master math standards. Why? Small groups should be static, based on who needs help, not on who is “low”. If you use formative assessments for any length of time and keep track of your data – you will find that sometimes “high” kids don’t get a concept, and sometimes “low” students do. That’s why our small groups should be organized based on standards mastery needs.
Here’s what I do with my formative assessments:
1. I determine what will be required for students to
master the standard, what might be considered
“almost” meeting the standard, and what will be
way below the standard.
2. I sort the formative assessments into one of the
above 3 categories.
above 3 categories.
3. I determine what my students in each group were
able to do and what their needs are in order to
master the standard.
4. I plan small group instruction based on that data.
This sorting and planning helps me get a clear picture of exactly what my students know. If I have a large percentage of my class who is below or far below the standard – I will adjust my whole group instruction for the next day. If a large percentage show mastery, I may plan a small group for those who are below but move on to a new standard in whole group. There is no need to continue teaching a standard that the majority of the class has already mastered. They don’t need to continue practicing while you try to bring the rest up to mastery. You might plan to have extension activities for your class that helps them apply this knowledge, while you work with small groups too.
WHAT TO USE FOR FORMATIVE ASSESSMENTS
Depending on what the standard is and what math resources you have available, formative assessments can be easy or hard to access. The assessment has to align to the standard and sometimes problems in math workbooks and worksheets do not. You have to make sure you are assessing what you want to know. The problems shouldn’t be multiple choice because you can’t see what students are thinking and that is key to planning for small group remediation.
This year-long formative assessment resource is a quick and easy way for you to have two assessments for every 3rd grade standard at your fingertips. Each assessment is a half-page, so you will save copy paper.
If paper is really a problem – it’s also available in a Power Point version.
If you would like to try a few of these formative assessments – here’s a freebie that has a few printables and a few slides.
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No matter what you decide to use to integrate formative assessments in your classroom, I am sure you will see a big difference in how you plan instruction and how your students master the standards!