The Early Warning Radar System: Meaningful, targeted, and responsive formative assessment that busy teachers can actually use
By definition, formative assessment is supposed to provide data that teachers use to identify needs, modify instruction, and provide support.
Formative assessment refers to a wide variety of methods that teachers use to conduct in-process evaluations of student comprehension, learning needs, and academic progress during a lesson, unit, or course. Formative assessments help teachers identify concepts that students are struggling to understand, skills they are having difficulty acquiring, or learning standards they have not yet achieved so that adjustments can be made to lessons, instructional techniques, and academic support. (Glossary of Education Reform)
But how many teachers actually do this on a regular basis? How many teachers can? I'm not talking about a token event that occurs just every now and then. I'm talking about consistent formative assessment that is conducted throughout the year and across the entire curriculum of a course. That proposition takes a lot of time, and time isn't something that teachers have in great abundance. Nonetheless, I am here to report that, with the right tools, consistent and comprehensive formative assessment can not only be done, but it can be fun and motivating as well.
The tools I'm going to discuss in this post include: Google Classroom, Kahoot!, and Google Email. Let's get started.
To implement this system, you will need to use Google Classroom to post comprehensive lesson plans, complete with objectives and instructions, as well as links and attachments for any required resources. It is important to understand that the "Assignment" is the best option for a lesson plan, as it can be associated with a Google Calendar date. (Although it will appear as a "due date," which isn't necessarily ideal.) It is also important to note that you can quickly obtain and copy a URL that will send students to a specific Google Assignment post (i.e. lesson plan). More on that later.
Anyone who knows me or who follows my blog knows how much I love Kahoot. I have developed a Kahoot for virtually every concept I teach. (I won't just have a big Kahoot for a unit review. Rather, if a unit has eight concepts, then that unit will have eight Kahoots.)
I therefore use a Kahoot to provide a quick check-in at the end of each topic. I usually run my Kahoots at the end of a class or at the beginning of the next class. They take about 15 to 20 minutes, and they provide both the students and the teacher with excellent and immediate formative feedback. They are also well designed to allow the teacher to provide timely, targeted remediation on any points of confusion revealed by the check-in. After the results for a given question have been revealed, the teacher can even expand an image that may have been used in that question in order to examine the issue before moving onto the next question.
At the end of the Kahoot, the teacher can download a comprehensive spreadsheet of the class results. For this reason, it is imperative that students sign in using their real names. I make a habit of downloading the Kahoot results, and then quickly seeing who might have failed the Kahoot. Anyone who failed a given Kahoot will receive an Early Warning Radar Bulletin from Google Email.
An email can be sent out from within the Google Classroom, or from with Google Mail. I simply copy, paste, and modify a version of the email presented below, and send it out to anyone who failed the Kahoot. If the circumstances warrant it, I might also carbon copy the parents. I've also been known to send out motivational emails to students (and, at times, their parents) who demonstrate exceptional brilliance within a Kahoot. I should point out that the email will contain live links back to the lesson plan that resides within Google Classroom. If you recall, that lesson plan will contain attachments to any resources associated with the lesson.
As I have often pointed out, setting up technical infrastructures such as Google Classroom lessons and Kahoot check-ins do indeed require a lot of time up front. However, the dividends they pay are great, and the teacher will get to draw those dividends for years to come. After that, this outstanding form of formative feedback, timely remediation, and student/parent communication can become a practical, realistic, and regular part of a teacher's program.
Give it a try, and let me know how it goes.
Early Warning Radar Bulletin
If you are receiving this email it is because our recent Kahoot check-in indicates that you could benefit from reviewing the material on consumer and producer surplus, socially optimal outcome, and market intervention (price ceilings and price floors).
I'm going to suggest that you review this material at your earliest convenience, and then try doing the Market Intervention Quiz in the Mastery Learning Lab. [Unit #1: Economic Theory & Consumer Behaviour --> The Mechanics of the Market System --> Market Intervention Quiz].
Formative Assessment Definition - The Glossary of Education Reform." 29 Apr. 2014, http://edglossary.org/formative-assessment/. Accessed 11 Oct. 2017.
To my mind, the field study is the new essay. Don't get me wrong, I remain a staunch advocate for teaching essay writing (see the 80-Minute Challenge, the Art of Argument, and The Decline of the English Language), but I believe that students must understand how so much of the knowledge they are taught was actually generated in the first place. I think this will not only help them become better students, but critical thinking members of society as well.
The benefits of teaching students about field studies, as well as involving students in the development of their own field studies, has itself been the topic of scholarly investigation. Dr. Barbara Manner published the results of her own investigation of field studies as a pedagogical approach back in 1995. She discovered that involving students in the creation of original field studies revealed many benefits. "For students, field studies create opportunities for first-hand experiences that encourage critical thinking, long-term retention, transfer potential, positive attitudes towards science, appreciation for nature, and increased scientific curiosity" (Manner, 1995).
I have integrated field studies into my economics programs for at least a couple of decades now. In more recent years, I have implemented a more comprehensive field study project across all of my courses. I find that my students not only enjoy the field study project, but they become far more comfortable with the basic scientific method involved in designing a study, collecting data, and then drawing inferences from that data.
Over the years, my students have discovered so many interesting - even shocking - phenomenon through their own field investigations. Student field studies from my courses have generated data that would suggest:
These are just a few of the interesting inferences my students have discovered for themselves over the years. More importantly, while these students have been designing, implementing, and presenting their studies, they have also been examining and critiquing each other's studies in an effort to isolate possible flaws in study designs, such as post-hoc fallacies, false directions of causality, and composition errors.
Naturally, developing and implementing a field study is not something that students can do overnight. It is critical to first teach students what field studies are, and what they are not. In my program, I focus heavily on five main components of the field study. To my mind, these include the issue, methodology, findings, inferences, and directions for further study. I have included a link below to an activity that helps students explore and summarize field studies before they set about designing their own study. This activity encourages students to listen to online interviews between journalists and researchers discussing the findings of a new study. I have opted to pursue this approach because it requires students to listen to an entire discussion without searching for, or cutting and pasting, information from a web page. Moreover, this activity helps students differentiate between field studies and other things that might easily become confused with a field study, such as an experiment or mere anecdotal observations.
Consider implementing a small field study activity or even a larger field study project in your program. You may be surprised what your students will discover.
Barbara Marras Manner (1995) Field Studies Benefit Students and Teachers. Journal of Geological Education: March 1995, Vol. 43, No. 2, pp. 128-131.
A Star Chamber is a modified fishbowl discussion activity wherein students in the class discuss a topic, and slowly get persuaded to join one side or the other as the discussion ensues.
The topic of the discussion is given ahead of time (this can be a matter of just minutes, or days). Brief articles may be provided outlining each position on an issue. However, students do not need to limit themselves to the material provided in their preparation for the discussion.
The Star Chamber starts out with a small group of students (relative to the class size). These students either volunteer for the first round, or they are chosen at random. The Star Chamber sits within an inner circle of chairs (anywhere from two to six chairs, with even numbers on each side). Only the students in the Star Chamber may speak. Students outside the Star Chamber must listen off to the side in the gallery until they are persuaded to join one side or the other. Once persuaded, a student may seat themselves within one of the two backbenches of the Star Chamber (see diagram above). After six minutes of discussion, an alarm will sound, and students on the backbench will trade places with their representatives on the Star Chamber.
As students enter the Chamber, they hand their Star Chamber ticket to the teacher (The Star Keep). Students earn a Round 2 ticket every time they coax students from the gallery to join their side’s backbench. (A pat on a shoulder indicates which student persuaded the newcomer.)
All Round 1 tickets must be redeemed before Round 2 tickets can be redeemed.
The side with most participants at the end wins.
See the attached PDF below for blackline masters of the classroom setup and the Star Chamber entrance tickets. Enjoy!
The New Learner Lab
Exploring the ever-changing, often challenging, and always controversial world of teaching.