What’s working

Last week was my first week trying to purposely incorporate Formative Assessment into m teaching. Here’s what’s working.

1. Collaboration- My students love that I am having them talk to each other often.  They appreciated the opportunity to share and I assume to feel their opinion is valued.  As I walked around to monitor the vast majority were talking about what I asked them to and contributing to the group.

2. Discipline- The students were so involved in the activities presented to them this week and the discussion that I had fewer behavioral issued to deal with this week.  Let’s hope this is a continuing trend.

3. Thinking- Though sometimes a struggle the students are beginning to explain their thinking.  They back up their ideas with examples from the text.  The times when student had difficulties with this I could directly link a part of the lesson that wasn’t designed clear enough to provide a proper expectation for them to meet.

4. Clearer planning- Spending extra time on planning definitely paid off.  The clearer the expectation the better the results.


I had an unexpected family event take me from the classroom Friday. I planned a summative assessment in Comprehension to see if my detail lesson plans resulted in positive test scores.  When I know I’ll let you know.  But for now Formative Assessment techniques and careful planning have definitely paid off for me and my students in one week of experimentation.  Now for the next week.


I love this Formative Assessment Idea

Exit Slips as Practice ( reblogged)

April 19, 2013 by John Scammell

There are several ways to use exit slips as formative assessment tools. One way is to simply have the students complete 2 or 3 questions based on the lesson that was done in class. I use exit slips in this manner to avoid giving homework. I believe that some practice in math class is necessary. There are certain things I need my students to be able to do, and some students need to practice these things. I do not, however, believe that students should be practicing these things at home. Home is for family, community soccer, dance class, piano lessons, and all the other important things that our schools are eliminating.

I’m going to tell you a secret now. The students who don’t need to practice math will go home and do every single question you assign. It’s a waste of their time. The students who need to practice math will go home and do none of the questions you assign. Then you will argue with them, call their parents, and devise elaborate schemes to collect and grade homework. It’s a waste of your time. If I am not going to assign homework, I need to build places into my lessons for students to practice a little.

I do not grade these exit slips. I do not put any marks on them. I look at them and get feedback about how my students did with today’s material. I sort them quickly into three piles: Students that got it, students that partially got it, and students that didn’t get it at all. Based on Dylan Wiliam’s 5 key strategies, I would classify this use of exit slips as providing feedback that moves learners forward. Based on how the students do on their exit slips, I can adjust my instruction as necessary. I start the next day’s class with activities that allow the students also receive feedback.

Here’s how the old John’s math classes usually looked (based on 80 minute block schedules).

  • 20 Minutes – Go over homework questions on the board that a few students had tried. Some students listened and copied down the solutions.
  • 40 Minutes – Teach new material.
  • 20 Minutes – Students had time to work on questions. Those that didn’t finish were expected to take their math home and complete the questions.
  • Wash, rinse, and repeat 80 times per semester.

The old John typically assigned 10-15 homework questions. Very few students ever did more than a couple of them.

Here’s how exit slips as practice can really activate students, involve far more students in the practice component, and frankly, be a much more efficient use of class time.

  • 20 Minutes – Students are grouped based on the previous day’s exit slips. Those that got it are sitting in small groups working on a few extension and/or application questions. Those that partially got it are in small groups correcting the errors on their exit slips and then working on a few practice questions that build to the extension and/or application questions. Those that didn’t get it are in small groups working with me. We do some re-teaching as necessary, and some practice. I don’t make up those questions. I just assign them from the textbook like I would have before.
  • 40 Minutes – Students learn something new. (Notice that the old John “taught” something new, but the new John gets students to “learn” something new.)
  • 20 Minutes – Students complete an exit slip with 2 or 3 questions based on what they were supposed to have learned. These slips are sorted quickly and used to begin the next day’s class.

In a method like this, every student does between 3 and 8 practice questions. That’s far more practice than I used to get them to do when I assigned homework regularly.

First hurdle knocked down!

Freed! Getting started already taught me several lessons. I didn’t jump the hurdle I knocked it down. This is the process of trial and error. I have erred. My errors were biting off too much to chew and not having a clear plan of attack. I now have a new goal (and a clear plan of attack) .

Jumping into the middle of a curriculum unit and trying to find the goal and teach to the goal is not helpful in trying to identify a specific learning intention, or target, for your students. It effectively truncates the trajectory you are trying to map out for your students.  Mapping this trajectory is a huge task to undertake and is definitely not the goal of a weekly lesson plan. The better way to approach this, I think, is to start with the Standard as your main goal and map out the skills it will take to reach that goal adding the sub-goals to your main goal as you go along, backward mapping. In other words, scaffolding the learning to hit the bigger target. Doing this allows you to break that big goal into lesson sized chunks thereby providing your day-to-day lesson goals. This doesn’t happen in the middle of a unit. And it doesn’t happen with the weekly assessment as the goal which is what tried to do at first. It is a long-term plan. Not a short-term plan. I bit off too much at once. Not only that, I tried to bite the apple core bypassing the peel all together. No wonder it was so hard!

I needed clearer plan of attack so I could get started now not later. And I found one. I sat in on a staff meeting yesterday introducing us to the concept of “Close Reading” an element of the Common core. It miraculously provided me with a clearer plan. Creating my long-term goals, as I mentioned earlier, needs to happen and will happen, but at the beginning of a unit not in the middle. I am not beginning a unit so that is not my current plan of attack. Instead I need a short-term goal so I can get my feet wet, try a few things, and see what works. I have already decided to focus on comprhension. So I have created a smaller trajectory with the goal of simply understanding a reading passage.  I have a  a clear plan of attack

This is my new goal, clearly understand a reading passage.  I have a plan with bite sized lesson goals all aiming to help a student understand a reading passage. Smaller trajectory, smaller goals, clearer focus, still Formative Assessment. Pressure for CST testing is coming. This goal will help students be more successful on CST tests, become better readers, become better thinkers, and allow me to experiment with the Formative Assessment techniques that I have learned. These images show my idea of the trajectory and how it breaks down. This is the plan I will use for the next couple of weeks. I will keep you posted.

20130418-104234.jpg                            20130418-104246.jpg

Still attempting hurdle #1

ARGH!!  I am trying to finish my plans for next week.  And I have planning block.  Ironically my planning block is bringing about some Aha! moments for me.  I’m having trouble finishing because of the learning target part of Formative Assessment.  To clarify, this is where you clearly relate the learning intention to your students.   They should know exactly what they are learning and how they are learning it.  It is not just “This is what you are learning today”  it is not just the standard or even the objective of a lesson.  It is a goal for the students to aim for- a target.   I should be able to state what they should be learning TODAY in relation to the LONG TERM goal for the unit.  Marrying this with a scripted curriculum is a huge challenge for me because the curriculum  is written in a spiral,  little bits rotating with other bits that repeat here and there.  I’m still digging through this mess and will update as I go.

My Aha! moment is realizing why so many teachers may be  ineffective excellent teachers. It is because they are trying to do it all in every lesson.  This process is meant not only to focus the students on what and how they are learning (making them better thinkers) but also to focus the teacher.  To keep the teacher focusing on the same goal while teaching.  Not diverting.  Not teaching a little bit here and a little bit there hoping somehow the student will put it all together and be smart- like the curriculum says to.  So the AHA! is that to be an effective teacher I need to be just as focused as my learning target.  Well planned and deliberate.  Small goals that lead to bigger goals. This takes some serious thought.  Serious time.  Planning is becoming a marathon when it used to be a sprint.  I have to straighten out this spiral and make this curriculum more intentional. My lessons used to be loosely planned.  These pages on these days following prompts in manual to teach these  skills or this strategy, easily diverted as I went along.  Now I’m building a pathway to follow rather than meandering along. But the path is unclear thus my frustration.

I must get back to work now.

Hurdle #1- Getting Started

So the research is done. Now What? I took an afternoon with no students in attendance to plan my first week of Formative Assessment experimentation.  Before I explain how this went let me give you a little background.

Formative Assessment is a method of helping students be better thinkers.  A teacher should start with detailed solid planning.  The plan should include a detailed target telling students what their learning goal is, how to reach it, and where they currently are in relation to reaching it.  The plan should be to introduce this goal, model with well thought out questioning, performance of understanding (practice), feedback that feeds forward, and a golden second chance to correct themselves right then and there within the lesson.  Sounds great huh?

But as an elementary teacher I teach 8 subjects (word analysis, vocabulary, comprehension, grammar, spelling, writing, math, and social studies or science or art or music) every day. At least I’m supposed to.  So as I sat down to do this detailed planning I froze.  Am I really supposed to write a learning target with great questions, design/choose a performance of understanding for each one?!  Brick Wall!!!

So I decided to focus on one area at a time. I chose Comprehension (a great thinking subject) as my focus.  I have to get my feet wet, not necessarily jump into the middle of the ocean right??  So I examined the story and what students are expected to know by the end of the week.  I wrote 2 main goals for the students to meet by end of week.  Goals that follow this format; “I will be able to explain ____.” And then I asked myself how they would reach those goals, and how they would know they are reaching those goals. To further complicate matters, my curriculum is designed to teach reading strategies, reading skills, and analyzing what a writer does within each weekly story selection.  My learning target seems to be getting muddier and muddier rather than clearer. Should I change the goal to focus on strategies only? Skills only? Or the thinking goals I came up with that will help them on the weekly test?

So here is what I decided to do.  I hope it works(fingers crossed). With my original 2 goals in mind, I designed  sub-goals or sub targets that specifically deal with the strategies and skills for the week including a series of questions for each lesson.  Monday’s lesson will focus on my first goal using reading strategies as the tool to reach that goal.  The same will happen Tuesday with focus on the second goal.  Both days have a short written task to give me evidence of how close students are to reaching the goal. Then we will revisit the two goals and use the comprehension skill of the week to reinforce those goals Wednesday.  That is as far as I got. I have a target, a series of questions, and a short performance of understanding planned for each day. I don’t feel like it’s enough.  But that took me a few of hours. And I feel that I need clarity and/or distance before slogging any further.  Next step, revisit the research and finish next weeks plans.

This is not any easy process.  Complicated doesn’t quite describe it.  But the end product will be thinking students, who can come up with original ideas and back them up.  That will be a sweet day.  Trial and error.  This is my first try.  I’ll let you know how it goes.  It’s not the whole process of Formative Assessment, but it’s solid bite.