Snow, Vance and Associates

Formative Assessment Blog

Find Someone Who

Ms. Devereaux describes how she uses formative assessment with young students who are learning to write their letters.

Talk a Mile a Minute

Mr. Ford describes the impact checking for understanding has had on engagement and student success.

Printable ABCD Pinch Cards

Give each student one pinch card. Students "pinch" the dot that represents their choice and hold the card for the teacher to see.

Promoting Student Success and Ownership for Learning through Learning Targets and Rubrics

Living rubrics provide students the opportunity to reflect on their understanding of learning targets, as well as track progress.

Ms. Groves, middle school science educator, designed an interactive space for students to indicate their current understanding of the learning target using clothespins, pocket folders and a rubric.

The design of the living rubric reflects best practices in rubric development and use:

  1. Clarity of Learning Targets
  2. Student Friendly Language
  3. Reflection on Learning
  4. Student Accountability for Learning

Watch the video to learn more.

Using Formative Assessment to Build Literacy Skills:

Peer Assessment in the Pre-Kindergarten Classroom

Walk into a middle school classroom and you may see students working in pairs to peer assess. Imagine seeing the same type of interaction among students who are four or five years of age! Ms. Devereaux, a pre-kindergarten teacher in Fort Worth ISD, has her students interact with each other in an engaging and meaningful way that is designed to build literacy skills. She uses a technique called "Find Someone Who" in which students find peers who can show how to write capital and lowercase letters.  She describes the design of the work and what she learned about her students' understanding in this video. "Find Someone Who" is a powerful technique that promotes student accountability and reciprocity while the learning is taking place. Students are provided with a grid consisting of three to seven questions. As students move around the room, they find a partner who can provide an answer to one of the questions. They will partner with as many students as necessary to complete all the questions in their grid. The technique is applicable to any content and every grade level. The technique becomes a formative assessment when teachers use their observations from the work to determine the next steps in instruction.  More examples of "Find Someone Who" can be found on the Educators Resources page.

November 26, 2013

Blending Assessment, Instruction and Engagement to Create Powerful Learning Experiences
What do you get when an educator designs learning experiences that involve engagement, checks for understanding, opportunities for visual representation and teacher feedback? A recipe for student success.
One educator, Mr. Ford from Monnig Middle School in Fort Worth, Texas, created a powerful learning experience that resulted in students wanting to discuss science at a conceptual level. Eighth grade students in Mr. Ford's science class participated in a strategy called Talk a Mile a Minute. The strategy, which is played like the game Password, was originally introduced by Robert Marzano and serves as a means to build content vocabulary.

In Talk a Mile a Minute, students pair up and face their partner. Words are projected on a screen so that only one partner can view the vocabulary words. The partner facing the words provides clues to enable his partner to identify the word(s).  This process continues until all words have been identified.  Partners switch places when time is called.  New words are projected and the process continues.  Mr. Ford seamlessly blended instruction and assessment by using this strategy to check for students' understanding of wavelengths, among other vocabulary words.To support differentiation for students and to add another means for Mr. Ford to check for understanding, students used whiteboards. The whiteboards allowed students to supplement their oral clues with visual representations. At the same time, the drawings on the whiteboards provided Mr. Ford with the information he needed to provide feedback. __________________________________________________________________________

October 14, 2013

Assessing FOR Learning: Being Intentional with Multiple Choice Questions

Transform multiple choice questions from assessments OF learning to assessments FOR learning.

In education, we have an abundant supply of multiple choice questions
designed to assess what students know. The questions are typically given as part of a summative assessment, after instruction has occurred. When incorporated into the beginning of a lesson, the same questions can serve to promote student learning. The value of multiple choice questions in promoting student growth increases when educator strategically embed one or two standards-aligned questions in the design of a lesson to intentionally drive instruction while the learning is taking place. 

Selecting a multiple choice question that aligns with the curriculum and learning standards is essential for intentional lesson design. When comparing the verb(s) in the learning standard to the content of the multiple choice question, does the level of complexity in the question align with the verbs in the standard? In some instances, the question chosen to launch the lesson may be at a lower level of complexity in an effort to build to a higher level thinking during the lesson. When the question aligns with the curriculum, the question is more likely to lead teachers and students to the next steps in instruction. 

In evaluating the appropriateness of a question, ask, "Will the students' responses to the question help determine the next steps in instruction?" Here, teachers will discover the importance of evaluating
the response options. Response options should be plausible answers. All but one response, the correct response, could be chosen based on faulty reasoning or students' misconceptions about the concept. 

An aligned multiple choice question with meaningful answer choices can serve to both assess student understanding and launch the learning for students. When assessment is blended with instruction, the idea of assessment FOR learning becomes a reality in the classroom.

Below are several strategies for launching the learning with multiple choice questions.

Student Response Cards. Each student receives four index cards with the letters A, B, C and D written on the cards in large, bold print. The teacher shows a question and the answer choices to the students. After the teacher shows the question, students choose their answer independently and silently. (Think time is critical.) Students select their chosen answer card from their "deck" and hold it to their chest until everyone is ready. When the teachers says, "Go", students flip their card around to show the teacher their response. After discussion/further instruction, the teacher asks students to respond again in the same manner, but they may change their answer based on new information. Each time, students should be prepared to explain their answer. (To the right, find two free versions of ABCD cards available to download.)

Commit and Toss. Students anonymously respond to the question on a sheet of paper. Students crumple their papers, stand and use an underhand toss to throw the crumpled papers to each other. The activity continues until the papers are sufficiently mixed among the students. When the teacher calls time, the students can go to Four Corners or Human Bar Graph (see below).

Web-based Student Response Systems (e.g., or Student response systems provide a quick way for teachers to collect students' answers to a question. The teacher may repeat the question and the process after students have had the opportunity to discuss their reasoning and obtain more information.

Apps. Many web-based response systems also have apps designed for iOS and Android devices. Socrative has an app that works similarly to the online product. Another app that ranks high on our for usability is Plicker. Only one person in the room, the teacher, needs smartphone or tablet. Students hold up a sheet of paper, pre-printed by the teacher, to indicate their response. The teacher scans the room with his/her device and the device reads the responses.

When students are given the opportunity to elaborate on their choices,
share their thinking orally with the class and reconsider their answers,
assessment becomes more about growth and less about the right answer.

Below are strategies that provide students an opportunity to explain
their thinking (and rethink their answer).

Four Corners. Post the letters A, B, C and D in the four corners of the room. Students move to the corner that matches their response. Students should be prepared to explain their answer choice. The teacher randomly selects one person to explain his/her thinking. Students can move to the responding person's corner if they agree or
students may stay with their first answer. Students who stay may be called upon to explain their thinking. 

Human Bar Graph. The human bar graph is similar to Four Corners, but the letters are hung side by side on one wall and students form a line in front of the answer they believe to the be the best answer. During the discussion, students may change to another "bar" if their thinking changes. As with the previous assessment techniques, students are given the opportunity to explain their thinking. It's during the explanation that the learning occurs. 

Whether using Four Corners, Plicker or the Human Bar Graph, ask
yourself, "Who is this assessment for?" If you answered 'the teacher',
you are correct. If you answered 'the student', you are correct. If you
answered 'everyone in the room', you are correct. Assessments such as
the ones described above are for everyone in the room -- students,
teachers and in the event of a walk-through, the administrator.
Assessments FOR learning--assessments that promote learning-- are for
all stakeholders.

When students are given the opportunity to elaborate on their choices, share their thinking orally with the class and reconsider their answers, assessment becomes more about growth and less about the right answer.


October 7, 2013

The Role of Formative Assessments
in Promoting Metacognition

“Study without reflection is a waste of time; reflection without study is dangerous”, Confucius

In his recent book, Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning (2012), John Hattie provides a comprehensive analysis of the impact of various interventions on student performance. Among the strategies producing the greatest positive effect on student performance (in terms of gains beyond typical growth) were formative  assessment, feedback and and the use of meta-cognitive strategies. The impact of the latter strategy, meta-cognition opportunities, on student performance is supported by decades of research in cognitive psychology. 

The importance of levels of processing on student performance dates back to 1969 in the seminal research conducted by Hyde-Jenkins (1969).
Students who were instructed to form word associations that involved
affect outperformed students who were instructed to memorize trivial
facts about words (e.g., number of letters, occurrences of the letter 'e'). Providing students with the opportunity to "make meaning" of the content through associating the content with prior knowledge, or
eliciting prior knowledge, results in better student performance.
When students are given the opportunity to be active participants in
their own learning, they perform better than when they passively receive information (Schwartz, Son, Kornell and Finn, 2011).

Formative assessment strategies that promote student meta-cognition
through guided reflection serve to maximize the positive effect on
student learning as described in Hattie's work and the work of cognitive
psychologists. For example, one formative assessment strategy, CASH Out, requires students to reflect on a reading passage, article, video or presentation using four guiding questions: 

(1) What did you learn about ...? (Cognitive) 

(2) How did you react to ...? (Affective) 

(3) What surprised you about ...? (Surprising) 

(4) What idea about ... was helpful to you? (Helpful)

In the CASH Out technique, students respond individually to each
of these questions after reading a passage or viewing a video, thus
providing an avenue for student meta-cognition. CASH Out followed by

Timed Pair Share in which each partner has one minute to share his or her responses to each question with a partner provides another opportunity for students to self-assess their level of understanding.

When the observations from CASH Out are used by teachers to
provide constructive feedback to students and determine the next steps in instruction, students receive the opportunity to revisit and
strengthen their level of understanding of the content through
intentional lesson design.


August 14, 2013

Exit Slips: Finding Time for Student Reflection Supports 
Assessing FOR Learning and Student Achievement

With the broad scope and profound depth of the curriculum educators are expected to cover within a school year, it is not surprising that little
class time is available for students to reflect on their learning.
Given the time constraints, how can educators provide students with the opportunity to reflect on their learning and in turn, collect critical
information to guide the next steps in instruction? 

Here are a few examples of quick and simple assessment tools that serve as a reflection for students, an avenue to provide feedback and a means to collect data to guide instruction.

I Used to Think…But Now I Know. I Used to Think…But Now I Know
asks students to compare their ideas from the beginning of a lesson to
the ideas they have at the end of a lesson or unit. Students write their
responses in a reflective journal, on an index card or on a slip of
paper and leave them with the teacher. To provide feedback, teachers
write brief comments next to each response. To incorporate technology,
teachers use or the app lino. Younger students may respond orally.

Plus (+) / Delta (∆). Plus/Delta is a way for students to verbalize the concepts they feel they understand (a plus) and the areas where they want to change their understanding (delta). The area for change (∆) may reflect a need for the information to be taught in a different way or experienced differently. Plus/Delta can be used any time feedback is needed -- during the lesson, end of class, or as a benchmark during a project. Students write one thought per sticky note.

At the top of the sticky note, students write a plus (+) or delta (∆)
symbol and elaborate. Teachers dedicate a space on a wall or board and divide the space into two sections – one section for + and one section for ∆. Students post their notes in the appropriate spaces. The feedback from students is used to determine the next steps in instruction. 

Muddiest Point. This simple technique is a way for students to quickly reflect on their learning and indicate the one concept that is most unclear or the muddiest. Students respond on a sticky note or slip of paper. The teacher groups the muddiest points and incorporates the information gleaned from the assessment into the design of the next lesson. 

When used intentionally to inform instruction, these quick and simple
assessment tools serve to augment student learning and make the most of instructional time.


August 5, 2013

"Sticky Walls" Support Formative Assessment

What is a Sticky Wall? An amazing surface for posting student work with the intent of checking for understanding.

When working with educators, we often use the "sticky wall" in
combination with an assessment tool to assess educators' current
understanding of a recent concept. The sticky wall is made of a fabric
(rip-stop nylon) sprayed with re-positionable adhesive. The sticky wall
provides an adhesive surface for workshop participants to leave
responses written on paper. The sheets of paper containing participants' responses can be repositioned on the wall to group the responses into categories.

One assessment technique used in conjunction with a sticky wall is
called QIC. The acronym QIC stands for Questions, Insights and
Connections. In the classroom, the teacher divides a sticky wall into
three sections -- one for Questions (Q), one for Insights (I) and one
for Connections (C) -- and gives students the opportunity to respond to arecent lear ning objective. Because the information is visible to
everyone in the classroom, the assessment serves not only to guide the
educators' next steps, but it also supports peer- and self-assessment.

Building Capacity in Formative Assessment