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5 Ways to Use Formative Assessment Data to Guide Learning

Friday, September 23, 2016 -- McKenna Wierman

Some things are easier said than done. For instance, it’s very easy for me to say that I’m going to read a Russian novel, but it’s quite another for me to actually find the time to sit down and read one. The same can be said for many teachers looking to find a way to make use of the data they are collecting through formative assessment in their daily classroom activities. It’s one thing to gather the information and another to figure out what to do with it.

Simply put, using the data you gather during your formative assessments means being intentional about planning what actions you will take to make sure that your instruction is matching students’ needs. You’ll need to select learning activities that close the gap between students who are struggling and students who have mastered the lesson material. It may seem like a lot of work, but using formative assessment data to guide learning doesn’t have to be difficult. In fact, there are plenty of simple ways in which you can easily integrate formative assessment data into your lesson plan on the spot. Here are five of our favorite tips:

1. Iron out all the details

After initially administering a formative assessment, your data might not be totally precise. If you feel like there are any gray areas, clear them up by talking to your students. Using a formative assessment approach requires students to become responsible in part for their own education. Engaging your students in open conversations regarding how they feel about their learning will not only help them realize the importance of active participation in their education, but it will also help you make effective adjustments to your instruction.

2. Be quick on your feet

Formative assessment is all about timeliness. Taking an immediate approach when gathering student feedback is one great way to make sure that your class isn’t latching on to the wrong idea about a lesson. Let’s say you are teaching a lesson on gerunds, and after a quick thumbs-up, thumbs-down poll, you realize your class just isn’t understanding. Don’t wait to change up things! An immediate approach allows you to modify your lesson on the spot by either explaining the concept again, coming at the topic using a different instructional method, taking time to work on practice problems with the class, or walking through an activity and observing students. By reacting to students’ level of understanding quickly, you can make sure that they don’t develop any “bad habits” surrounding the lesson.

3. Get crafty

Everyone loves to color, regardless of grade level or age. Crafty and creative projects are a great way to not only engage your students but also allow them the opportunity to explore the mechanics of a difficult lesson in a way that stimulates their minds. Let’s say you are giving a lecture-based lesson on the rock cycle to your 8th grade science class, and students just aren’t getting it. A hands-on activity could be just the thing to move the needle. Have students draw out a diagram of the entire rock cycle or split them into groups that are responsible for creating a visual representation of a certain component. This allows students the opportunity to really dissect what they are learning and gives you a chance to walk around the room and provide one-on-one assistance to those who might be struggling. Plus, art can help relax your students in ways pop quizzes and worksheets just can’t quite achieve.

4. Go Greek

Every teacher knows what it’s like to reach the end of a lecture and hear crickets chirping. That silence is even more irritating when you know that your students aren’t understanding but won’t ask questions. Maybe they’re shy or afraid of being made fun of for not grasping the concept, or maybe it’s just the end of the day and they’ve already checked out. In any case, that quietness isn’t helping anyone.

You can combat the lull after a lecture by opening up a kind of Socratic seminar in your classroom. This inquiry-based discussion format encourages students to think critically and share ideas and simultaneously helps you gather immediate feedback on a lesson and offer clarification where needed. You can use a variety of question types, including application or open-ended discussion questions and logic-based questions. If you want, you could even turn a Socratic seminar into a graded assignment by scheduling a day in class where everyone is required to participate. Just be sure to prepare students by handing out a rubric with assignment details and requirements beforehand.

5. Divide and conquer

If a student or small group of students still seems to be having trouble with a concept when the rest of the class has moved on, have a strategy to incorporate some one-on-one time with these students while the rest of the class practices their skills. For example, plan a class activity that students who have mastered the material will have no trouble completing on their own (creative and engaging projects, such as a picture dictionary or word search, are always good options). While most of your class is working independently on the activity, you’re freed up to work directly with your struggling students in a more direct manner. You’ll be able to provide the targeted instruction they need, and they’ll feel more comfortable asking questions or expressing their frustrations in the more personal environment.

Ready to get started putting your formative assessment data to use? Online programs can be a great tool to collect and interpret your student data. Find out more about how you can achieve success with proven, data-driven solutions from Edmentum’s Study Island here!