Wednesday, September 21, 2016

How Will I Know?

Happy (I-made-it-up) Formative Assessment Month!

Image result for bee girl blind melonI was the kind of kid who was forever putting on shows for whoever I could con into watching.  Dance routines, plays, synchronized swimming with my best buddy.

I realize this explains a lot about my personality to some of you who just went “Yup. I can see that”.

I went through a huge Whitney Houston phase one spring in late elementary school. I had a dance routine to every song on the Whitney cassette tape. I think I literally wore it out.

One of my favorites was “How Will I Know?”. If you aren't  familiar, the lyrics to this piece of pop perfection ask “how will I know” if he (a boy) really loves me?”

As a fourth grader, I had no idea how a person would know if a boy liked her. This was a definite mystery to me, so I could really wonder along with Whitney Houston.

As a teacher, my “How Will I Know?” question is less about dance routines and boys -- and MORE about what my students are learning.

Seriously -- how DO we know? We could wait until we give  (and GRADE) a quiz....

But I would argue that that would be too late. I need to know now -- THIS CLASS PERIOD -- how well my students are mastering the material. Otherwise, how can I adapt my lesson?

One more strategy for you to try with formative assessment is this -- Text Graffiti.

It works like this.
  1. Find something you’re going to teach. Maybe it’s a quote or excerpt. Maybe it’s an image. Maybe it’s a map. Maybe it’s just a phrase to get them thinking.
  2. Actually, find a couple of those. Maybe 4 or  5 for your class?
    1. For example, for the “key figures of the colonial era” you can have a stimulus for each of four different colonial figures.
3. Now, write or gluestick those stimuli to a piece of chart paper, in the middle.
4. Put a big question or some directions on the top
5. Have your kids go around at the BEGINNING of class in one color of pen or marker and write what they know about the topic.
6. Then, teach your stuff. You know, the way you do.
7. At the end of that chunk of content, have the kids go around in a DIFFERENT color and write on the chart paper what they LEARNED. They can draw arrows or connect to other pieces from before.

There are a couple of benefits (other than getting the kids up and moving)
  • First, you can see where the kids are at the beginning of the lesson, like a pretest, but more creative and flexible.  You can adjust your instruction from there.
  • Second, you can see the progress they made during class from ‘first-color” “before-learning” to “second color” “just-learned-it”
  • Third, you just have  to LOOK and adjust your instruction there, in the moment. You don’t have to GRADE ANYTHING (hooray!)
  • Finally, you can see whether, overall, your class mastered the content. Did they get it or not? You can learn a lot about how the lesson (or lesson chunk) went if they all wrote the same thing, or if they all threw out “important” vocab terms without explaining them, or if they were just as lost at the end as they were in the beginning.

Try this as ANOTHER formative assessment strategy. See what they know when they walk into your class -- and what they know after your instruction.

Bonus -- it may actually make you feel good to see what they learned. Or it may tell you exactly how to tweak your next bit of instruction so you can get your kids just that little bit further.

The more you know (about how your lesson went) ... the more THEY know (about your content).

All this needs is chart paper and markers or something. You can even do it on your board if you don't have chart paper (just take a picture of it at the end to refer to later).

What do you think? Are you up for ANOTHER formative Assessment strategy? Try this one and let me know how it goes. As always, I love to hear about your formative assessment -- and your love of Whitney. Email me at

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