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Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Using Formative Assessment in Math Class Part 1

What is formative assessment?  I was first introduced to the idea of formative assessment when I read this book:

Here is what amazon has to say about this book
"The starting point of this book was the realization that research studies worldwide provide hard evidence that development of formative assessment raises students' test scores. The significant improvement in the achievements of the students in this project confirms this research, while providing teachers, teacher trainers, school heads and others leaders with ideas and advice for improving formative assessment in the classroom.

Assessment for Learning is based on a two-year project involving thirty-six teachers in schools in Medway and Oxfordshire. After a brief review of the research background and of the project itself, successive chapters describe the specific practices which teachers found fruitful and the underlying ideas about learning that these developments illustrate. Later chapters discuss the problems that teachers encountered when implementing the new practices in their classroom and give guidance for school management and LEAs about promoting and supporting the changes.

This book offers valuable insights into assessment for learning as teachers describe in their own words how they turned the ideas into practical action in their schools. "

Since reading this book, I have taken a course on formative assessment, used it in my master's degree thesis and taught workshops to other school districts on the concept.  It has completely changed the way I teach and look at student work.  Much of what I use are quick and easy things that you can create yourself.  I also highly recommend a series of books by Paige Keeley who I first heard of from a science teacher friend but have recently picked up her book Mathematics Formative Assessment.  It takes some of her ideas from her science books and applies them to math.  A great resource if you are just getting started or are looking for more ideas around formative assessment.

How I Use Formative Assessment in the Classroom

Exit/Entrance Tickets

 When I plan a math lesson for any grade, I often think about what the essential skill is I want kids to get out of the lesson.  I then write a question that students can answer in under 2 minutes that would show me who does or does not have the essential understanding.  I give this question at the end of a lesson (or at the beginning of the next one if I run out of time!).  I have kids hand it to me on their way out the door or as they transition to the next activity.  If time is up, I just collect what they can get done in a limited amount of time.  Then I simply sort the set of work into two piles.  One pile is for the students who got the essential understanding and the other is for students who didn't.  I admit I occasionally have 3 piles when a question or a response warrants an almost got it or a got it with error pile.  The size and make-up of my piles tells me if I can move onto a new topic the next day, if I need more whole group instruction on the matter or if I need to do some small group work around different ideas.  Here are a few examples from various grade levels on exit tickets.

Here is a formative assessment prompt I wrote to follow up a game from my first and second grade fraction unit Fourths or Not Fourths?.  It is given after the students are finished playing a game and helps me see who has the big idea and who needs a little more instruction or practice.
A 2 question prompt that follows my set of second and third grade fall themed task cards.  These help me see what strategies students have for solving 2 digit addition and subtraction word problems.
 As much as I would have loved to create these fancy looking exit tickets for every single lesson I teach, there just isn't enough time in the day.  I often will just think of a problem and write it and place it under the document camera.  I keep a basket of scrap paper around and often have students just grab a piece of scrap paper and write their answer and name down on that.

Check out Part 2 where I discuss call sticks, white boards and ABCD cards

How do you use formative assessment in your classroom?


  1. I LOVE exit slips! Having frequent snapshots of data is so much more valuable than huge, time-consuming tests that take hours to mark! It is so much easier to "tweak" your teaching to what the students really need! Thanks for sharing!

    Mrs. Beattie's Classroom

    1. Hi Erin
      I agree that frequent snapshots of data is much more valuable. It took me a few years to convince parents of older students this! It really helps me make sure kids are learning what I want them to rather than just "covering" the curriculum.

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  2. This is definitely something I need to work on. Most of the time, it's just guess work as to who has the idea and who doesn't. Thanks for making me consider a better option.

    ❀ Tammy
    Forever in First

  3. Hi Tammy,
    I see about 90 kids per day and it has really helped me monitor the progress of all of them. Stay tuned for part 2 (an possibly 3) where I will be talking about other formative assessment strategies. Some of which are easier to implement than exit tickets for some people. I also think the Paige Keely book would be worth adding to your reading list if it something you are interested in trying.

  4. As an intervention teacher, running records have to be one of my most valuable formative assessments. They give me so much valuable information. I try to make a conscious effort to give them regularly.

    Eclectic Educating

    1. Running records are a great example of formative assessment! Quick, easy and full of good information. They really help you target kids areas of need.

  5. I nominated you for a Liebster award. : ) You can check out my blog if you want to accept it. Best of luck with your blog! Thanks for all the great info.
    Kids Math Teacher