As a teacher, the words optimal, effective, most suitable, best, efficient, maximum and greatest often catch my attention. I have discovered early in my career that time is of the essence. Time is something that I always need, and most often, not have enough of. It is something I want to redeem and not waste. There is always more to do, more to explore, more to teach, more to discover, more to accomplish, more to learn. If only I had more time… is what I often find myself muttering after a long day of hard work and not having enough time to accomplish all I need to do for the day.
In searching for digital tools for gathering valuable assessment data, I have found that there are many digital tools available for both educators and students to explore. But how do we decide which is the optimal tool? Which is most effective? Which one is most suitable for what is needed?
ISTE Educator Standard 2.7 calls upon educators to be analysts: Educators understand and use data to drive their instruction and support students in achieving their learning goals (https://www.iste.org). More specifically, standard 2.7.b indicates using technology to design and implement a variety of formative and summative assessments that accommodate learner needs, provide timely feedback to students and inform instruction.
A core component of this standard is choosing the appropriate digital tool for the job. With the abundance of digital tools, what is the best way to pick the right tool? How do I know which tool gives me the data I need to inform my instruction and adapt it to achieve student goals? Before choosing which digital tool to use, teachers have to consider the why(purpose) behind the what. I like how Beard (2020) uses these 3 important terms to determine the purpose(s): engagement, morale, and community.
When choosing a digital tool, we need to consider the tool’s ability to promote student engagement for all learners. We need to ensure that students can access the content using different entry points. The digital tool(s) we choose to use should develop morale and confidence among our learners. These tools make room for varying learner abilities so all students can experience success and be motivated to do more. Lastly, the digital tools we choose should encourage collaboration with peers, and hence, build community. Learning with others, learning from others, and learning to teach others enriches the community and helps build a positive collective mindset towards progress and achievement of goals.
Another important component of choosing the right tool is its alignment with learning objectives or learning goals (Beard, 2020). Learning goals or objectives are informed by state standards, unit goals, essential questions, core understanding and other terms that different schools might use. Once the tool is aligned with the appropriate learning objectives, the process of collecting data and information about students’ knowledge and understanding becomes clear and consistent.
Learning goals and skill objectives can be categorized into the following four groups: knowledge, reasoning, real time demonstration and product (Beard, 2020). Using these groupings can help select and finalize the digital tool or tools you will use for a specific lesson or activity.
What is formative assessment?
Formative assessment can be described as low-stakes assessments (Alber, 2017), used to improve learner outcomes (Bjørkli, 2015), and actions done by both teacher and students to gather data used for feedback to guide teaching and learning (Dayal, 2021). I see formative assessments as frequent checkpoints along a unit of study to gauge student understanding. Formative assessments are ongoing, consistent, meaningful and intentional. The (in)famous line that kids ask their parents when traveling on a long journey, “Are we there yet?” comes to mind as a constant reminder to parents that they should be going the right way and that the final destination is getting closer and within reach. These checkpoints serve as reminders: are students getting closer to where they need to be? What can we keep doing, or modify if needed, to enable students to achieve their learning goals? Formative assessment can be viewed as an “in-the-moment” process, whereas summative assessment gives a “rearview mirror” perspective (Firn, 2016).
In a report called “4 Formative Assessment Practices that Make a Difference in Classrooms” (2016), NWEA defines formative assessment as teachers and students who are involved in this ongoing process of data and evidence collection, and uses this information to inform their learning. Three important questions that need to be asked when conducting formative assessments:
Where is the learner going?
Where is the learner now?
How does the learner get there?
What are the 4 formative assessment practices that should be in every classroom teacher’s toolkit?
- Clarifying learning – identifying learning objectives make way for students to have a clear path to achieving the learning objectives
- Eliciting Evidence – gathering evidence of understanding as well as misunderstandings provide valuable information that can inform instructional decisions
- Providing Feedback – there should be open lines of communication among teachers, students and peers. Timely and constructive feedback empowers students to set personal goals and monitor their own progress.
- Activating learners – involving students in their own learning journey and giving them the opportunity to stand as resources for their peers
Here are some tools that you can use to conduct formative assessments in math.
Moodle (https://moodle.org/) is an online learning platform that is free and easily customizable. It uses open-source technology, which makes it accessible to the public and can be adapted and modified to suit the needs of the users (Trajkovska, 2020).
Math skills are not always easy to gauge online. Moodle has an online multiple-choice quiz option that can yield data on student understanding as well as misconceptions. According to Lakin (2018), different versions of the same question can be generated and multiple-choice answers can be specified in a way that includes common mistakes by students.
A teacher review on Common Sense Media (https://www.commonsense.org/) describes Moodle as user-friendly, easily adaptable and great to use for home learning.
Dreambox (https://www.dreambox.com/) is an online math resource for K-8 students. Dreambox is a complete resource for schools: it has a component for teachers, administrators and families. Dreambox can personalize math learning for each student, adapting to what each student needs and providing games and activities that keep students engaged. Dreambox lessons and activities are aligned to state standards and Common Core Standards for math. It also has a Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) component that helps kids set goals, build stamina and persistence and celebrate milestones when students achieve goals. Dreambox can be used to track growth, provide additional practice when necessary, assign new work when students are ready and use real-time data to set goals with students.
A teacher review on Common Sense Media (https://www.commonsense.org/) highlights Dreambox’s feature that allows you to assign individual lessons to students for differentiation but notes that lessons do not include any direct instruction.
Nearpod (https://www.nearpod.com/) is a K-12 digital resource that helps teachers teach using interactive lessons that are highly engaging. It makes use of interactive videos, gamification, quizzes, polls, open-ended questions, collaborative whiteboard, drawing tools and other fun activities. These features can be used as formative assessment tools to gather real-time assessment data that helps teachers monitor student progress and varying levels of understanding. For example, if your class is working through a unit on data collection, you can simply use a quiz or poll to ask students a question, gather their answers in real time, and interpret the information with the whole class. You can choose to integrate elements of Nearpod to your existing lessons on PowerPoint and Google slides, as well as worksheets and videos. Or you can explore Nearpod’s massive library of interactive lessons, and edit and adapt them to your own classroom needs.
An instructional technology teacher review on Common Sense Media (https://www.commonsense.org/) emphasizes Nearpod’s interactive features as opportunities for deep learning during teacher-directed lessons.
Plickers (https://get.plickers.com/) is a free and accessible educational online tool that is used to assess students and collect real-time data in the classroom. Plickers makes use of unique cards that students use to answer questions. How does Plickers work?
There are main 3 stages:
- Before class: Prepare classes and questions
- In class: Play questions and scan student cards. Students respond by using Plickers cards (see below) and orient them in a certain way. The Plickers app will scan their cards to collect their answers.
- After class: Review student responses. Student reports and score sheets are accessible and can be used to check student work and monitor progress over time.
An instructional technology teacher review on Common Sense Media (https://www.commonsense.org/) highlights the use of Plickers as a way to engage the class with a thoughtful question, quick warm-up or check in, or to do an exit slip at the end of class. It scored middle of the range for its level of engagement as well as its pedagogical value.
Alber, R. (2017). 3 ways student data can inform your teaching. Edutopia; George Lucas Educational Foundation. https://www.edutopia.org/blog/using-student-data-inform-teaching-rebecca-alber
Bjørkli, K. (2014). The impact on learning outcomes in mathematics of mobile-enhanced, combined formative and summative assessment. International Journal of Technology Enhanced Learning, 6(4), 343. https://doi.org/10.1504/ijtel.2014.069025
Beard, E. (2020, December 3). How to pick the right digital tool: Start with your learning goal. Teach. Learn. Grow. https://www.nwea.org/blog/2020/how-to-pick-the-right-digital-tool-start-with-your-learning-goal/
Dayal, H. (2021). How Teachers use Formative Assessment Strategies during Teaching: Evidence from the Classroom. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 46(7), 1–21. https://doi.org/10.14221/ajte.2021v46n7.1
Dyer, K. (2018, March 06). The Ultimate List – 65 Digital Tools and Apps to Support Formative Assessment Practices. Retrieved from https://www.nwea.org/blog/2018/the-ultimate-list-65-digital-tools-and-apps-to-support-formative-assessment-practices/
Firn, G. (2016, March 24). What is Math Formative Assessment? – DreamBox Learning. www.dreambox.com. https://www.dreambox.com/resources/blogs/what-is-math-formative-assessment
Lakin, S. (2018). The use of Moodle for Formative Assessment in Mathematics. Compass: Journal of Learning and Teaching, 11(1). https://journals.gre.ac.uk/index.php/compass/article/view/719/pdf
Luchin, B. M. (2016, September 14). Exploring Formative Assessment in the Mathematics Classroom. www.voyagersopris.com. https://www.voyagersopris.com/blog/edview360/2016/09/14/Exploring-Formative-Assessment-in-the-Mathematics-Classroom
NWEA. (2016). 4 Formative Assessment Practices that Make a Difference in Classrooms. Northwest Evaluation Association.
Trajkovska, G. (2020, October 19). Keitaro – The role of open-source software in education during Covid-19 pandemic. www.keitaro.com. https://www.keitaro.com/2020/10/19/the-role-of-open-source-software-in-education-during-covid-19-pandemic/