The silver bullet for closing the achievement gap these days seems to be formative assessment. In simple terms, formative assessment is any ongoing activity that helps teachers gain information about student learning—information they can then use to adjust their instruction and provide more specific feedback to students who are then motivated to reach their learning goals.
Although the definition is relatively simple, the complexity in practice is challenging—good formative assessments provide feedback, are motivating, allow for instructional adjustment, and are ongoing. That's a lot for any classroom teacher to do and to do well amidst the chaos of a room full of seventh graders during the month of May.
Digital formative assessment tools can help you motivate students to practice learning goals as a natural and ongoing part of their daily workflow.
Here are eight free tools to help you integrate technology into your classroom, motivate students to learn, collect some data, and reduce your Tylenol consumption bills during spring—or for that matter, throughout the school year! For step-by-step how-tos for integrating each of the different tools into your curriculum, visit https://goo.gl/jpmele.
Tool 1: Padlet
Padlet (padlet.com) is a virtual wall that students use to express their thoughts on a topic. In addition to written expression, you can embed audio and video and have students respond in the form of a threaded discussion. With password protection, you can use different padlets for different classes or groups of students.
For example, I have students define key terms and discuss areas of agreement and disagreement with what their peers have written.
Tool 2: Recap
Recap (https://app.letsrecap.com) is a video-based formative assessment tool that allows you to pose a question, have students respond with a short video they've recorded on their cell phone, then provide them with feedback.
In the math classroom, have students explain how to solve a problem and then give them strategies they can use to improve their accuracy. Or if you are feeling a little daring, share the class videos and have students identify incorrect answers and analyze where the computations went wrong.
Tool 3: Today's Meet
Today's Meet (https://todaysmeet.com) is a type of "backchanneling." Backchanneling is a conversation that takes place alongside an activity or event. It's perfect for use in the classroom when you are showing a video and want to find out what the students are thinking. Simply show the class a video clip and have students respond to a question via their device; students can even pose questions to you as they are watching.
Use it in the science classroom as a way to track understanding during a lab procedure. For example, ask students what will happen before they add chemical A to chemical B.
Tool 4: Active Prompt
Active Prompt (http://activeprompt.org) looks like a website from the early 1990s, but its power is amazing. Upload any image of your choosing and ask students a question about it. Students move a dot on their device to indicate their answer.
For example, in social studies, you might show a map of Africa and ask students where they think the Nile River is. In language arts, display a complex text and have students indicate where they found their textual evidence.
Tool 5: Google Forms/Sheets and Flubaroo
Flubaroo (www.flubaroo.com) is a great plug-in for Google Sheets that will help you quickly score student quizzes. Design a Google Form, share the link to the form with students, and have them answer the questions. When they are finished, go into your account and have Flubaroo grade students' responses in less than a minute. Use the report feature to get all kinds of quick data about the students' responses.
In the classroom, use this as a quick warm up and then break students up into stations with differentiated activities based on performance.
Tool 6: Zaption
Zaption (http://zaption.com) allows you to take already-made videos, such as a YouTube clip, or your own videos, and publish interactive lessons and track student understanding.
Simply add questions to a video clip: multiple choice, check boxes, free response. You might even have kids draw a response. If you're doing a whole-class lesson, you can use the Live mode so students can ask you questions while you are presenting. Want students to complete independently? No problem! Give students a link.
Use the reporting feature to analyze the data and find out where you are headed next in your lesson. (Please note that the free account gives you a limited number of reports.) You can also use Zaption's database to find premade lessons.
Tool 7: Nearpod and Pear Deck
Nearpod (www.nearpod.com) and Pear Deck (www.peardeck.com) are similar tools that allow you to embed interactive formative assessment elements into a slide deck. Take an existing PowerPoint, Keynote, or Google Slide show and add upload it to the app. Give students the link—from your end, you can ensure that all students are on the same slide. In Pear Deck, you can even add a question on the fly. Question types range from drawing answers to multiple choice (the paid app gives you a few more choices).
Want to increase student involvement? Have them create the slideshow on a topic (a great review for final summative exams) and present to the class. You can use the data reports to track student mastery.
In PE, try uploading the steps to throwing a perfect curve ball. As students watch each step, ask them to demonstrate the step, then use the questions you've created to get their thoughts about the technique and why it will improve their pitch.
Tool 8: Quizlet Live
Teaching vocabulary? Using Quizlet Live (http://quizlet.live), students practice teamwork and communication skills while you check their understanding of important academic vocabulary.
Simply create an account, search for a premade deck of vocabulary terms or create your own (a minimum of 12), and give students the link. The app will group them into teams once they have logged in. Press "go" and the teams will compete to show their understanding of new terms. Students must be careful, as one wrong move sends them back to the beginning.
Fun and Informative
In my own practice as a teacher and curriculum director, I have seen the power that formative assessment can bring to improving student success in the classroom. Using digital tools such as these not only motivates students, it also gives teachers valuable information with which to diagnose student learning.
While I can't promise you that these digital formative assessment tools will close the achievement gap entirely, I can promise that you will have fun interacting with your students.
Bryan R. Drost is director of educational services for Firelands Local Schools in Ohio.
Published in AMLE Magazine
, September 2016.