Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Technology for Formative Assessments: Updated Post

In 2012 I wrote a blog post about using technology for formative assessments. It has been my post popular blog post by far, with over 14,000 views. Over the past few years, technology has continued to evolve and has made it even easier for educators to embed formative assessments into instruction and be immediately responsive to student learning needs. Today, I have updated my original post to include what I believe to be some of the most promising practices and tools for formative assessments.  

In my experience, teachers tend to rely more heavily on summative assessments (assessment OF learning) than formative assessments (assessment FOR learning). There is power in formative assessments and their ability to inform instruction and improve student learning. Take just a moment to reflect: How often do you go through this process?

1. Give end-of-chapter tests, unit tests, vocabulary quizzes, etc.
2. Record the grades.
3. Return the papers.
4. Move on.

Who benefits from this summative assessment process? No one. What if, instead, you give an assessment BEFORE the unit to determine what students already know and don't know and DURING the unit to track learning progress and make teaching adjustments? This formative assessment cycle feeds into planning and instruction and has much more meaning for both teacher and students.

Last semester, my pre-service teachers and I were discussing formative and summative assessments. I gave them a short quiz using Socrative and asked them to determine whether they would identify various assessment formats as formative or summative. Their results were mixed, which led to a meaningful conversation about what makes an assessment formative or summative. Through the discussion, my students came to realize that whether an assessment is summative or formative depends on what the teacher does afterward. Can a chapter test be formative? Absolutely, if the teacher uses the results to identify gaps in understanding and provide instruction to help students meet learning goals for the chapter. Can a pre-test be summative? You bet, if the teacher doesn't change his/her plans for instruction based on data from the test.

The beauty of formative assessments is that they can be informal and easy to implement. A formative assessment can be as simple as a ticket out the door or asking students to hold up 1, 2, or 3 fingers depending on their understanding of the lesson. Technology can make the formative assessment process even easier and provide tools for analyzing data quickly and painlessly. There are many free web tools that allow teachers to create and deliver formative assessments in just a few minutes and collect student results instantly. Keep reading to learn about a few of my favorites.


Formative has recently become the assessment tool I recommend most frequently due to its capacity to transform feedback from one-way communication into a two-way conversation. As with many online assessment tools, Formative allows teachers to design assessments that include a variety of question types and embed multiple types of content, including images and videos. However, there are a couple of great features that set Formative apart from the crowd. One time-saving feature allows you to upload an existing document and transform it to an online formative assessment with just a few clicks. This feature enables teachers to convert existing paper-based assessments, including handouts, graphic organizers, and other documents, into digital assessments with online data analysis capability. Teachers love this time-saving feature that prevents them from having to recreate an existing assessment in order to transform it to a digital assessment. 

But wait... there's more! The truly transformative thing about Formative (see what I did there?) is the ability for teachers to provide instant, real-time feedback on student responses while students are engaged with the assessment. Before a student even submits a response, the teacher can track the response in real time and provide feedback that immediately becomes visible to the student. During the assessment, the student can reply to the teacher's feedback and engage in a conversation about the work. By monitoring student responses on the assessment dashboard, a teacher can see how each student is responding and provide feedback to multiple students in real time.  This type of functionality can enable teachers to design truly personalized learning environments, where each student receives the instruction he or she needs at the precise moment of need.


Nearpod is not solely an assessment tool, but it includes great potential for formative assessment. One of the best things about Nearpod is the ability for teachers to seamlessly embed formative assessments into instruction. When I work with pre-service and in-service teachers on ideas around formative assessment, I refer to teachers as potters at a potters wheel, with two hands that work together to shape student learning. One hand is the instruction hand, while the other is the assessment hand. A potter doesn't stop using one hand while using the other. Similarly, master teachers don't stop teaching to assess, and stop assessing to teach. Nearpod is a tool that allows teachers to use both hands to seamlessly assess student learning and then use student responses to immediately adjust instruction. To do this, Nearpod allows teachers to embed assessment items (multiple choice, short answer, annotation) into a presentation that can include a variety of content types (text, images, videos, websites). During a Nearpod lesson, the teacher can track each student's response as well as track overall class progress. An additional feature allows the teacher to push a student's response out to all devices anonymously for analysis and discussion.

One way Nearpod can facilitate a shift toward student-driven, personalized learning is through use of the Homework feature. The traditional Nearpod lesson feature is teacher-paced. However, the Homework feature allows students to control the pace, reviewing and interacting with content as often as needed to master learning outcomes. The Homework feature can also enable you to "clone" the teacher by pushing out different lessons to different students and/or groups of students. For example, while the teacher works with a small group, the rest of the class can be working on personalized Nearpod lessons with embedded formative assessments. Imagine several different student groups simultaneously each engaging in unique, interactive lessons designed specifically for them while controlling the pace of their learning. While teaching a small group lesson, the teacher can also monitor student responses from other lessons and make immediate adjustments to instruction. 


Socrative has been my go-to online assessment tool for several years. This free web tool has lots of capability and works across devices. Teachers can create self-paced quizzes, exit tickets, and quiz games, or deliver stand-alone multiple-choice, true/false, or short answer questions. Students respond to questions using a computer, tablet, or phone. A variety of devices can be used during any given assessment. My favorite Socrative feature is the report that is generated immediately following each assessment. Each assessment generates a detailed report automatically and instantly. Teachers can download reports or have them sent via email. Learn more and get some great ideas by visiting the Socrative Garden.


Plickers is a low-tech formative assessment option that enables teachers to gather and analyze student responses in real time when student devices are not available. Most digital formative assessment tools require that students have access to devices, either individually or in small groups. With Plickers, only the teacher needs a device. Students respond to multiple-choice items by holding up cards that can be purchased or printed from the Plickers site. As students hold up their cards, the teacher scans the room with a mobile device, instantly collecting individual and whole-class data. A teacher can deliver a Plickers assessment in a minute or less, gathering real-time information about student understanding in time to immediately adjust instruction.  


Kahoot is a game-based assessment tool that appeals to students who love competition. To play Kahoot, students visit kahoot.it on their mobile devices and join the assessment using a code distributed by the teacher. Points are awarded for accuracy and speed, which turns a formative assessment into a fast-paced game. I have used Kahoot with elementary students, college freshmen, and adult learners, and it's always a fun experience. As with the other tools shared in this post, Kahoot provides teachers with the ability to quickly gather information about student learning and use that data to make adjustments to instruction. 

Poll Everywhere

Another assessment tool I use regularly (with my pre-service teachers and during professional development for in-service teachers) is Poll Everywhere, a free polling site that allows you to poll the audience with multiple-choice or open-ended questions. Students can respond via SMS, Twitter, http://pollev.com, or a private link. As you create a poll, you choose how you would like to receive responses. You can give students a few options or narrow their choices to one or two. When you display the poll, on-screen instructions will assist students with responding. Poll Everywhere saves your previous polls so you can review past results at any time. Following a poll, you can instantly generate a word cloud from responses. You also have several options for displaying your questions: embed in a blog or other website, share via Twitter or Facebook, share a live link, embed in PowerPoint, or download for Prezi.

Google Forms

Google Forms are my personal favorite among the types of Google Docs available to Gmail users. Google Forms allows you to quickly create an assessment with a variety of question types: multiple choice, short answer, checkboxes, choose from a list, scale, and grid. You can deliver an assessment via Google Forms by sending the Form through email, sharing the link, or embedding it into a website. The ultimate feature is that Google automatically generates a spreadsheet upon creation of a Form. As soon as you create and save the Form, Google Docs adds a spreadsheet to your Docs list. Each time someone fills out the form, a new row is entered into the spreadsheet containing that individual's responses. Data within the spreadsheet can then be sorted and analyzed quickly and easily. You can also view a summary of responses with just one click, which provides percentages and circle graphs of data collected. If you're interested in using Google Forms for formative assessments, be sure to check out Flubaroo, a script that will enable Google Docs to automatically grade responses to your assessments.


Padlet is another great choice for informal formative assessments. Teachers create a wall, post one or many questions or prompts, and share the link with students who then post their responses to the wall as sticky notes. Teachers have the option to moderate responses, which keeps all sticky notes hidden until approved by the teacher. Sticky notes can contain text, images, video, and links. These media options allow teachers to post image or video prompts or direct students to a website. Students can also include these different types of media in their responses, allowing them to respond creatively. Padlet works great as an exit ticket, a warm-up activity, a status-of-the-class, or a progress check. 

Each of these free web tools enables a teacher to create an assessment within just a few minutes, deliver the assessment through a variety of devices and platforms, collect data instantly, and analyze results to inform future instruction. While these are my top choices, there are many other web tools that would be a good fit for formative assessments. Please leave a comment and tell me about your favorite technology for formative assessments.