Bethany: Sarah Brown Wessling, who does videos for the Teaching Channel, has this great formative assessment strategy that she uses, called Text What You Learn. At the beginning of the class, students come in and use their cell phones—this is a high school class—and text in a response to a question that Ms. Brown Wessling has presented through the Poll Everywhere software.

She projects those responses on a SMART Board, and this gives students the opportunity to see what their peers have learned and self-assess. And then she takes those text messages and drops them into a word cloud generator. What this does is, it summarizes the qualitative data of all those text messages in a single visual, where Ms. Brown Wessling can lead them in a conversation about what the most common terms were. It’s really engaging for students, and it gives you really good information as a teacher on how to move forward.

If you don’t have that level of technology in your classroom, you can do a “quick write” at the beginning of your class. Ask students to provide you with a summary of what the homework was about, or what the key point in the reading was last night. They can either hand these in to you, or you can have students share them with the person next to them—all to really understand where we need to start today’s lesson.

Joel: How can instruction be differentiated in response to formative assessment findings?

Bethany: Formative assessment is an ongoing, fluid experience [that] can help teachers understand which resources to direct to which students. When we analyze student work, [we can see] what pieces of the process students might not be understanding.

Formative assessment is a spontaneous, on-the-fly process, as long as you’ve done your preparation ahead of time—you know the content that you’re going to cover, and you have an understanding of the progression you want your students to make.

Joel: What types of formative assessment are most effective for assessing student understanding and nurturing retention?

John: I want to address not what are the types that are most effective, but what are the elements of a good formative assessment system.

[One thing] I would look for is [a system] that helps us effectively communicate the same information in a consistent and easy format to students, teachers, parents, and administrators in real time.

We have this odd situation in education, where the same information is described differently to those different audiences. I think formative assessment really gives us a framework to change that.

To hear the entire conversation, you can access the archived version of the webinar here.