Thinking About Formative Assessment Differently

When I first started thinking about questions for the current module that I am in for school I was thinking about Genius Hour and how something like that might be incorporated authentically into a traditional classroom. I think my brain went there because I know from my own personal experience that oftentimes the excuses I hear when I suggest this are that there is no time, too many standards to cover, and students won’t be able to do it because they lack the prerequisite skills needed. So based on the ISTE Educators standards that my class is focusing on for this module, ISTE 5 and ISTE 7, I really thought my question was going to be centered around how to support teachers in doing things like PBL and Genius Hour within their classroom in authentic ways. While I still think this is a valuable question and one that I am still pondering, the more I dug into my research the more I found my focus shifting. I began to start leaning more towards the assessment part of ISTE 7 and specifically the formative assessment piece. So while I plan to continue to think about how to support teachers with PBL and Genius Hour, my main question for this module is centered on assessment.

What are the resources out there that support teachers in formatively assessing their students, specifically when it comes to students working on projects?

I began to gravitate toward this question because I started to think about what assessment means. Oftentimes when I think about assessment I think of something that happens at the end of a unit. Even with formative assessment I tend to think of it as something that happens maybe in the middle of a unit in order to gage where students are at in their understanding. However there is so much more to formative assessment. These assessments can take so many different forms. I was reminded that often what we need to assess within a project is the journey a student takes along the way.

Assessing the Journey

So how does someone assess the journey? While this may look different for everyone something that tends to be universally true is that we are always trying to assess understanding. So when I think about formatively assessing that during a project I start to think about different ways of engagement and questioning. This got me thinking about productivity, specifically for students. If I want to assess a student I need them to be able to tell me three things;

  • How they began: What were their initial thoughts, what first steps did they take, what question or goal are they hoping to answer? 
  • Where are they at: How is the project going so far, what steps have they taken, any adjustments to their project? 
  • Where to next: What are their next steps, have they needed to make changes or modifications, who else do they need to reach out to?

In order for students to be able to answer these questions, they need to have thought about them. Ideas that came to mind for supporting this are to have students document this process, either in a mind map, or Padlet, or something else. The idea would be that wherever students document this, it is shared with the teacher so that it can be used as a third point when the teacher meets with the student to assess how they are doing. This would just be one form of the assessment that teachers could take.

Other Ideas for Assessment

Something else that came to mind was how students can keep track of what they need to do and set due dates for themselves in order to monitor their own progress. I know this may not seem like it ties to assessment but let me explain. If students were to use some sort of project planning document this could also be shared with the teacher. Then the document could be used as yet another third point for conversations and would allow teachers to drill into particular aspects of a students project, for example if the student set a deadline for them self then the teacher could call that out asking the student if they were able to meet their deadline and any other questions related to it. Using a third point also takes the focus strictly off the student and the teacher. As a teacher it allows me to point to evidence that supports my thinking or question. It also gives the student something to point at and use when explaining their learning and where they are at in their project. This would allow teachers to assess skills such as goal setting, communication skills, problem solving, creativity, flexibility, productivity, and the list goes on.  So while the assessment might not be just assessing content knowledge it is assessing skills that students need in order to be successful. 

When I think about how all this might work together it excites me. I start to think about how it provides alternatives for how students might demonstrate their understanding, it allows for accommodation, feedback to students and teachers, and opportunities along the way for reflection.

Possible Resources for Assessing Productivity

Taskade – This is a project management app that can be used on multiple device types. It allows for collaboration with team task lists, notes, and even video chat. There is a chrome extension that allows for easier use of the tool. There are a variety of templates that can be used however when just starting out that might distract students for focusing on their project and take some getting use to. There is a free and a paid version, however in my experience the free version is all you might need. Something else that is nice is that users can invite people to their project and those that they invite do not have to sign up for Taskade in order to collaborate. Something to consider though is that navigating all of the different workspaces and templates can take getting use to. So users may want to consider building in time for exploration in order to get use to how the product works.

Trello – This is a project management app that is similar to Taskade and can be used on multiple device types. Users have a board that they use to organize their project. It is very similar to a cork board where notes, ideas, photos, etc can be pinned to the board and rearranged/organized as needed. Users can also invite others to their board which allows for collaboration. This way if students are working on a group project they can use Trello to organize their project plan, due dates, next steps, notes, etc.  There is a free and paid version of Trello. There does not seem to be a huge difference between the versions other than additional customization of boards and attachment size (10MB vs. 250MB). So depending on use the free version should work just fine. Trello seems to be a little easier to use as it has a more simplistic design and feel. There are templates that can be used and they are organized by topic which makes it easier for the user to determine which template might work the best. Inviting collaborators to the board is super easy however unlike taskade where others did not need an account to collaborate, in Trello they do. So that would be something to consider before signing up.

Workflowy – So in full transparency I have not fully checked out this resource yet. From my initial glances at it the app appears to be similar to the two above apps. Users can create a list, take notes, plan, or even outline a project. Everything is organized by bullets but users can zoom in on an individual bullet. Lists can be shared with others for collaboration which make it easy for students to collaborate and share ideas on a project. Like the other apps there is a free and a paid version. With the free version users can only create 250 bullets a month which depending on the size of the project might be plenty. When first signing up users are given the pro version for a week to use. I can see how that might be confusing once your week is up and you are limited to the number of bullets you can create, so helpful to know ahead of time. Similar to Taskade collaborators can be added without having to actually sign up for an account. This is nice as a student can share their list similar to how you share a google document, they create a shareable link that can then be emailed to anyone that they want to give access to.

All three of these resources seem like they could be good fits in the classroom. Since none of these apps were designed specifically for use with students, I plan on looking closer at each ones privacy policy before I actually use with students in the classroom.

Where to Next

I’m still working out how everything fits together and how to support teachers in providing opportunities for students to do more things like PBL and Genius Hour, but I feel like this may be a start. If we can at least begin to provide students with the opportunities to demonstrate their learning in different ways then we are taking a step in the right direction.


3 thoughts on “Thinking About Formative Assessment Differently

  1. Thanks for sharing this project management resources, Megan! All of these resources are ones I have not explored before, so I am really curious to do a deeper dive into them. I especially liked how Trello allowed users to collaborate and create helpful task lists like “to do,” “doing,” and “done,” and manage that work. While you mentioned that this digital tool requires creating an account, can you log in with Google accounts? I could see this digital tool having a lot of benefits still even with needing to log in if students were able to do that in an efficient way. I also appreciated your summary of Taskade and Workflowy. I have not assessed students’ productivity online in this capacity before, but it has me really interested to explore what this could look like with these tools in my 4th/5th grade classroom. Thanks for sharing!

    – Cory

  2. Megan, I enjoyed your post and I am excited to check out some of those project management apps. I love how your suggestion puts the responsibility on the students and helps them practice many skills they’ll need in a professional setting. I also think these project management websites fit well in a student-centric classroom where the teacher is a facilitator and guide in the learning process, not the one in the driver’s seat.

  3. Megan, I immediately was drawn into your blog post when you stated: “the excuses I hear when I suggest this are that there is no time, too many standards to cover, and students won’t be able to do it because they lack the prerequisite skills needed”. I 100% relate to this! I have always WANTED to do Genius Hour but have always struggled with those concerns.

    I am extremely interested in Taskade and the general aesthetic and layout of Workflowy is amazing.

    Thank you for these resources!

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