New online formative assessment tools with game-like qualities combine real assessment and fun.
by Jim Schurrer
As technology’s role in education increases exponentially, the ease with which teachers can frequently assess their students’ learning also rises. As Catholic educators, frequent assessment of student knowledge is one of the most important responsibilities of our job. It is not enough to wait for the unit test or quarter exam to discover how much our students have learned. Head nods should not suffice as an acceptable check for understanding. Instead, formative assessment must become an integral part of the curriculum. We are called to help all of our students grow as unique individuals, and practicing formative assessment will cultivate a culture of growth and mutual learning.
By successfully pairing effective technology tools with formative assessment, educators can achieve three significant outcomes in their classroom. Primarily, this practice will significantly shorten the feedback loop, providing data to students and teachers instantly. This will then allow teachers to assist each student based on individual needs. Secondly, students’ level of engagement with the content will increase, as this can be a highly participatory activity that reaches all learners. Finally, a consistent and intentional practice of formative assessment will challenge teachers and students to practice continual self-reflection and growth.
A Shared Vocabulary
Traditionally, two types of assessments exist in schools: summative and formative. While summative assessment seeks to measure student growth over time (such as a unit test or final exam), formative assessment seeks to enhance student learning as it occurs.
Specifically, formative assessment can be defined as “a process used by teachers and students during instruction that provides feedback to adjust ongoing teaching and learning to improve student achievement of intended instructional outcomes” (Coffey, 2009).
When properly used, formative assessment allows students to thrive and challenges the teacher to pay attention to the learning of each student. Gone are the days of grading a stack of quizzes and lamenting the students’ poor performance.
In their 2007 Policy Brief, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics claimed that formative assessment “required changes in the role of the teacher, changes in the role of the student… and changes in the relationship among the teacher, the student, and the subject discipline.” In order for formative assessment to be a truly effective means of enhancing student learning and transform the classroom, it must be used consistently, not as a “once-and-done” strategy.
With appropriate technology tools, any teacher can use formative assessment to transform the classroom environment and encourage meaningful student learning.
Process of Implementation
What follows is a discussion of three free technology tools that I use in my classroom that are adaptable for most ages and content areas. These tools are exceptional in helping teachers quickly identify their students’ needs and provide intervention, as necessary. I share these products not as an endorsement, but to show concrete examples of how technology can assist in the integration of formative
While teaching Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, my students’ frustration and lack of understanding grew daily. To check their understanding of the content in a different way, I decided to try Socrative, an online quizzing tool. Because each of my students had access to an electronic device, I created a three-question assessment to use the next day. Immediately, I was struck by how quickly I was able to see my students’ performance and realized the potential of this tool both for gathering student data and engaging students.
Socrative’s power lies in the ability to create an impromptu quiz. When students seem confused, a teacher can ask the students to go to Socrative’s virtual classroom, orally dictate a question to the students, and have them respond via Socrative. Immediately, a list of all the student responses is populated for the teacher to use at his or her discretion. I’ve used this feature and then shared the responses with my class. This often prompts a meaningful discussion about the content and the misunderstandings.
Because it is a free web-based tool, there are some strengths and drawbacks to Socrative. Students enjoy the immediate feedback and are engaged when this is used in class. Creating an account is free and easy, and Socrative works on all types of devices. A teacher can write quizzes in advance, create impromptu quizzes, or use Socrative’s Exit Ticket template. When writing a quiz, images and math symbols can be inserted into the text. Once a quiz is given, graded reports are available in an Excel format.
However, if you plan to use this for a graded assessment, be aware that students can easily forge their names. I recommend a second identification question, such as a school ID number to establish the legitimacy of the quiz. Finally, Socrative only allows 50 users per quiz. As a result, the quiz must be closed and re-launched before each class. While not a deal breaker, this extra step can be easily overlooked.
As others in my building have experimented with Socrative, it is clear that it is an effective tool, helping teachers create activities to improve student learning.
I first used Poll Everywhere as an exit ticket after a particularly challenging lesson on argumentative strategies. As the students submitted their answers to the single question, I was immediately able to assess the class’s collective understanding of the content. This quick activity took less than five minutes and provided valuable information regarding the students’ grasp of the content.
Poll Everywhere is designed for single-question polls in which participants can submit their answers via text, Twitter, or web link. The tool has great potential for classroom use as a start strategy or an exit ticket. Students are excited by the interactivity of the tool, and the live representation of the results creates an engaging and competitive atmosphere. Further, the teacher receives summary data of the entire class’s answers.
Poll Everywhere is easy to set up, quick to deploy, and works on all devices including basic cell phones. For those who use PowerPoint presentations in class, a poll can be downloaded and added to a PowerPoint as a slide for ease of use.
However, the limitations of Poll Everywhere make it a less versatile tool than Socrative. With the free version, teachers can neither download the results nor collect individual data, as responses are anonymous. Users are limited to only one question per poll. To use this as anything more than a start strategy or exit ticket requires careful planning and consideration.
Launched in 2013, Kahoot is a free online tool that leverages game-based pedagogy with formative assessment. Students compete against each other and earn points based on their answers as well as how quickly they respond. Racing against the clock, students enjoy the competitive atmosphere and are eager to show their knowledge.
Although my students view Kahoot as a game, it is an effective method of formative assessment as it allows teachers to grab data on their students’ performances, both as a class and individually. Quizzes are simple to make in Kahoot, and there are no limits to the amount of questions and the participants in a quiz. Like Socrative, all results are graded and can be instantly downloaded in an Excel format. This tool works particularly well as a class review game before a summative assessment.
However, a significant drawback to Kahoot is that it is not designed for short-answer questions, as students are too intent on answering as quickly as possible to earn more points. Although teachers can access individual data, Kahoot functions best as a whole-class activity in which access to summary data is most important to the teacher.
Paired with a teacher who is committed to creating a culture of assessment in the classroom, tools such as Socrative, Poll Everywhere, and Kahoot can be used to gather real-time data on student performance. Utilizing technology to improve learning can transform a classroom into one where teachers are continually adapting their instruction to best fit the needs of all students.
Coffey, H. (2009). Formative Assessment. Retrieved from learnnc.org/lp/pages/5212.
National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (2007). Assessment Research Brief. Reston, VA: Author.
Schurrer, J. (2014, April). The Power of Formative Assessment. Paper presented at the National Catholic Education Association Conference, Pittsburgh, PA.
Source: Today’s Catholic Teacher, March 2015
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