[Formative Assessment] How to Take the Pulse of Your Classroom with Study Island Group Sessions

Tuesday, November 1, 2016 -- Stephanie Abbott

As educators, we have all been there. You are in the middle of teaching a lesson and you suddenly have a strong sense of how things are going. You might be thinking “They got this”. Or, it might be that sinking feeling of “Am I getting through to them?”. The question then becomes, should you trust these gut feelings and adjust instruction accordingly, or stick to your original plan? How do you make that decision? And how do you know if you have chosen the right direction?

In the days before tech-filled classrooms, you probably had to rely purely on your instinct and experience. Maybe you had your students do a quick exit activity at the end of class to get a ballpark pulse, or you depended upon a homework assignment to check for understanding. These approaches work, but they’re not necessarily accurate or timely.

Lucky for today’s teachers, technology has the capacity to be a game changer. Instructional technology can make the process of assessing students’ understanding significantly quicker, easier, and more efficient. Digital activities are easy for teachers to create and are typically scored automatically, providing student data in real time. The only question left is, “Does technology make learning an isolated, impersonal experience for students?” It can if students are simply put in front of a device and left on their own. However, there are tools that can help maximize the benefits of technology while also preserving the interaction between teacher and students that leads to the deepest learning.

When I was in the classroom, my personal favorite tech tool to support this kind of interaction was my “clicker” set, those hand-held devices that record a student answer during instruction. As dynamic as clickers are, there were always some frustrating quirks: multiple software packages don’t necessarily play well together, batteries die, pointing at the receiver is harder than it should be, etc. But, when everything came together, teaching and learning with clickers was a magical combination.

In an effort to minimize the quirks while maximizing instructional magic, Edmentum has developed an innovative practice option by integrating clicker-style response technology within Study Island’s Group Sessions feature. Instead of an extra device, students and teachers can work together directly through the Study Island program. In a 1:1 program, teachers and students can seamlessly collaborate on their own devices. Or, if there aren’t devices for each student, teachers can make use of other classroom technology like interactive whiteboards and projectors.

Over the past several months, while working with customers to help them get the most out of their Study Island implementations, I have picked up some great Group Sessions best practice tips from our innovative customers. Here’s three of my favorites:

1. Warm-up or exit activity: You will know immediately if students remember what you previously taught or understand what you just covered. Use Group Sessions to pose five quick questions, view student responses instantly, and make an instructional decision in real time.

2. Homework Analysis: Customers frequently ask me how much time students should spend working in a software program like Study Island. I usually say the more often the better, suggesting Study Island be used for homework. You might believe this isn’t a possibility if many of your students don’t have Internet access at home. However, the paper worksheet option in Group Sessions removes this road block. Simply print out worksheets to send home with your class to complete. Students bring their worksheet back to school and answers can be clicked in when you relaunch the Group Session. Student answers are recorded in a simple table so you know what questions were problematic, setting the stage to offer immediate intervention.

3. Test Prep Coaching: Many teachers find that their students know the content but have difficulty answering new question types that require more critical thinking and familiarity with technology. With Group Sessions, you can set the pace of learning for your students, as well as model effective test taking strategies, and know instantly if students understand the approach.

In a time where there is so much on every teachers’ to-do list, any tool that facilitates efficiency, effectiveness, and time-savings is a winner in my book. With a few quick set-up steps and just a bit of practice, Study Island Group Sessions can spark some magic in your classroom.

Want to find out more? Check out this video for details on Group Sessions, or if you’re already a Study Island customer, get started with our Power User Program to become a Group Sessions rock star in no time!