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Five Ways to Utilize Formative Assessment in the Virtual Classroom

Oct 27, 2023
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It’s safe to say that using formative assessment in the classroom is an indispensable component of teaching. Checking for understanding – especially using quick pulse checks throughout learning – helps teachers understand if their students grasp key concepts. A lot of this type of assessment is done on the fly, tapping into teachers’ abilities to observe and interpret their students’ actions and responses in real-time. So, how can you adapt formative assessment to a virtual classroom environment without sacrificing productivity? Below, we discuss strategies educators can use to bring this assessment method to life, even from afar.


What is Formative Assessment? How Can You Use it in Virtual Education?


Formative assessment typically involves a combination of informal and formal testing methods educators use to monitor student learning and adjust teaching strategies to improve outcomes. Exactly what formative assessment looks like can vary, but each method under its umbrella shares the same goal: to give teachers insight into how much their students are learning or how well they understand a topic.


Before the COVID-19 pandemic, many educators could use a quick pen-and-paper pop quiz to see which students were mastering the material. Even a quick glance at their learners’ faces during a lesson to see if anyone was distressed or uninterested could be enough to make a difference. However, since the rise of virtual education solutions has reshaped how many reach their students, traditional “pulse checks” are not always so straightforward.


Before you panic, this does not mean that teachers need to reinvent the wheel and start from scratch! Many tools already used in brick-and-mortar classrooms can be modified to work in an online environment.


Five Ideas for Utilizing Formative Assessment in a Virtual Classroom


Here are five familiar formative assessment concepts that have made their way into the virtual teacher’s toolbox:


1. Virtual Bell Ringer


Bell ringers are nothing new. While they are usually used during in-person learning, they can easily be adapted as virtual tools. Teachers can ask about students’ feelings about the previous day’s learning at the start of class. Students can then choose to chat in a simple emoji “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” response or even go as far as writing out an answer in the chat window. 


This is a quick and easy way for teachers to gauge overall understanding and decide where to steer the day’s learning.


2. Post-It Parking Lot


Just as you can start the day with a check for understanding, you can also end the day with one! A popular exit ticket strategy that many educators use is referred to as the “Post-It Parking Lot,” where students answer a posed question on a sticky note and leave it in a designated area on their way out. 


In the virtual setting, teachers can look to the platform Lino for a virtual sticky note board. You can also simply use a group Google Doc where students can enter their answers. With the Google Doc method, teachers can also decide if they want students to be able to respond to each other’s “Post-it notes.” For older students, this is a great way to facilitate discussions and collaborative thinking.


3. Journal Jotting


Not all students process information at the same speed, and many do not like to raise their hands to address their understanding publicly. Reflections that can be completed after class as a journal entry are great for those who need additional time to digest their learning in a private setting. They can also give you a tool to gauge student knowledge. 


Students can keep a running Google Doc journal to respond to individual prompts or engage with a digital version of a K-W-L (know/want to know/learn) chart regarding that day’s lesson. Because Google Docs are collaborative, teachers can leave feedback for their students to refer back to throughout the unit.


4. Mock Tweets


This concept does not necessarily mean that each student needs to have a Twitter account. Rather, this method involves challenging students to mock up a “tweet” that gives a quick summary of what they learned in class that day. 


As an extra challenge, encourage students to stay within the character limits of real tweets (currently 280 characters). This is a great way for students to get creative, and it draws on what many students are already familiar with—social media. Once students have their “tweet” drafted, they can chat it into the discussion for their classmates to read.


5. Game-Based Group Sessions with Study Island


One of Study Island’s most popular features, Group Sessions, is perfect for on-the-fly formative assessment. With the ability to create Group Sessions in five minutes or less, Study Island allows educators to set up competitive and fun checkpoints, challenges, and races, all of which check for understanding using standards-based topics. 


Best of all, students can use their own devices to participate, meaning that no matter where students are, everyone will receive an equitable experience. Once the session ends, the results are instantly stored in a report teachers can use to dig deeper and plan for future instruction.

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