Formative Assessment Turns into Review

“Can we do the white board thing again?” asks one.

“Seriously?”  Typically they’re so reticent about committing their answers to the whiteboard and I’m surprised they’re actually requesting the activity.

“Yes, it’s really helpful” bursts out the entire class in unison.

My favorite formative assessment has just been requested as a form of review by my IB students. For my purposes, during the course of a unit such an activity determines how well students understand concepts.  A series of well-prepared questions that are informative regardless the answer given are posted on the Smart Board and students commit to answers on individual “white boards” (clipboards with a sheet of paper covered with left-over laminating material).  They record their answer, without letting their peers see (and boy are they protective of their answers) and then they hold up the boards high so I can see all the answers and know at a glance where the entire class stands.  If I formulate the questions properly, misconceptions are exposed, understandings are revealed, and weaknesses are identified. I immediately attend to the gaps or I plan the next lesson according to the needs.

What was revealed before was confirmed once again, that this process also helps the students. It gives them confidence in what they know and it helps them to realize what they need to further work on. 

The trouble is coming up with good questions on the spot.  But they are begging me.  So, I pull out the textbook and look at assessment statements. The questions start coming and the students start writing. “Can you ask some more on Topic 5.4 because there are things I’m still unsure of?”  “Sure!”  Within an hour we’ve covered the entire chapter.  “Was that helpful?” I query.  “Yes. Definitely” comes back the response.  Echoes of  “Thank you so much” filter towards me as they all depart the classroom.

It’s so interesting how we as teachers assess in order to know where to take the class next.  However, it seems the assessment can also aid the students in deciding the direction of the class: move ahead or review some more.  It is exciting to see the students take these assessments as opportunities for self-reflection.  I continue my advocacy of formative assessment but I am changing my tune on its purpose.  It clearly serves both teachers and students.  Any other good formative assessment techniques or experiences out there?