It started with generally clunky and overpriced “student clickers” by such brands as SMART Technologies and Einstruction, and over the past few years it has transitioned into slick apps like Socrative, Kahoot!, and Plickers. Time and time again we have seen these apps demoed during professional development sessions and written about on websites and blogs. Nevertheless, we need to be careful that we do not prioritize technology over pedagogy by referring to these apps as “formative assessment tools” when they are anything but.
When James Popham defines formative assessment, he states:
Formative assessment is a planned process in which teachers or students use assessment-based evidence to adjust what they’re currently doing.
In other words, if teachers or students are not leveraging results/data (from Socrative, Kahoot!, Plickers, etc.) to then differentiate instruction or learning, the app inspired dog and pony show does not qualify as a formative assessment.
Formative assessment is a process…not an event, questions on a piece of paper, or even an app. What makes an assessment formative depends on the context in which it is used.
I do feel that professional development that includes these apps can start with the apps themselves, as “cool tools” are an easy way to grab an audience’s attention, but they should be presented within the context of formative assessment or something like Total Participation Techniques. In other words, “Why are we learning what we’re learning, and how can it benefit our students?”
Since what takes place after the apps are used – the differentiated instruction – is what matters most, the majority of professional development time should then be dedicated to this stage of instruction and learning. In other words, “We have our results/data, now what do we do with it?”
Here are some ideas as to what this could look like:
- The presenter issues to teachers authentic student results from when one of the apps was used in her classroom. Some context is provided, and then the teachers are asked, “How would you modify your planning based on what you now know?” (In this instance, I would be particularly interested in any teacher questions that may arise to possibly gain additional context.)
- The presenter issues to teachers authentic student results from when one of the apps was used in her classroom. Some context is provided, and then the teachers are asked, “Based on the questions and answers, how would you revise the questions to learn more about what the students know/don’t know?” (This activity can go hand in hand with the first bullet point. In Part 2 of this post we will dive deeper into quality questioning.)
- The presenter uses an app to pre-assess teacher knowledge of a specific topic (possibly formative assessment). The results are immediately shared out and the teachers are asked, “Where should the professional development go from here?”
The idea is that the increased emphasis on “the after” during professional development will correlate with teachers thinking more deeply about “the after” during classroom instruction.
In the End
In the end, there is obviously nothing wrong with the tools themselves, but what matters most is the context in which they are presented during professional development, and ultimately the differentiated instruction that follows their classroom use.
None of these tools are that complicated, and any teacher can learn how to use them. However, what is complicated (and often times, messy) is what to do after the students’ results show up on our device. This is where our focus needs to be.
In Part 2, we will look at leveraging these apps to promote higher-order questioning and thinking.
What are your thoughts on these apps? What are some unique ways in which you have seen them used in the classroom and/or during professional development? How do you think they relate to the formative assessment process?
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