Know Before You Go: The Power of Formative Assessments

signA few years ago, not long after I first learned to drive, a family friend allowed me the opportunity to borrow his car.

The rule of the road was “if it has two digits, it goes around the city in a circle and you can’t get lost, it’ll always bring you back.”

When I began driving with my friend, I noticed I was a bit lost, but was fortunate enough to see the I-95 sign. It had two digits, the 9 and 5, so that must have meant it would loop around and I’d be back in no time. An hour later, I pulled off at an exit to ask for directions, to find I was now an hour and a half away from home.

How did this happen? What he meant by two digits was 9A, which is the city loop, not I-95, which is the actual interstate. What he said to me made sense to him, but I interpreted incorrectly.

Since this time, technology has caught up and we now have GPS devices and apps. Had I had a GPS at that time, it would have told me when I made a wrong turn and guided me to my destination.

This is a lot like how an effective classroom should be run. It is critical that educators move away from a “did you make it?” approach to a “will you make it?” approach. This is a mind shift from analyzing data at the end to determine effectiveness to actively assessing in the moment to determine if a student or group of students are on track to meet a given standard or goal.   Formative Assessments are generally non-graded assessments to determine the level of understanding. This can be anything from a non-graded quiz, an exit ticket to a question and answer period. It allows the teacher to form and mold instruction to meet the needs of our students.

How do we do that virtually? One of the ways I have begun implementing this idea is to utilize different technologies and deliver an “exit ticket” at the conclusion of each direct instruction lesson. The goal is to confirm comprehension before the student moves ahead. One of the primary technologies used to achieve this is Socrative. Socrative is a web-based system that allows the instructor to collect open-ended responses from students in real time. This allows me to determine whether or not the students understood the concept. It provides real-time data for instructors to determine which students need additional interventions/remediation, enrichment, or changes in the instructional approach.

It’s time to unify in our efforts to guide students through the learning process towards a mastery level of understanding. In order to do that, we need to ensure that we are using formative assessment tools to determine where are students are in comparison to where they need to be. This way, we can implement the appropriate instructional strategies to make sure that each student achieves individual success.

If you are an educator, tell us how you use formative assessments to improve student success!

Post by Shawn Wigg, Former Lead Teacher and 2014 FLVS Teacher of the Year

2 comments on “Know Before You Go: The Power of Formative Assessments

  1. Mawi Asgedom

    Great post, Shawn. One question: have you seen any formative assessments you like for leadership skills such as goal-setting, grit, and time management.

    1. Shawn Wigg

      Hey Mawi,

      Thanks for the kind words! I have been playing with a new tool called “My Big Campus” ( It basically is a virtual portfolio that kids can use and an educator/caretaker/parent can monitor. It’s a great formative assessment tool, in the sense that students can clip pictures, files, etc to show their level of understanding. For example, if you do a section on “Goal Setting,” students can put certificates, courses, pictures, documents, etc. that show their progress towards that goal. A student, for example, who wants to become a computer analyst may get a certificate for completing Microsoft Word training. They could then upload that to the portfolio on goal-setting or progress. It shows that they understand the specific steps towards reaching that goal. It’s still in “beta” mode for me personally, but I am loving what I am seeing. If all works out, I will likely do a training on it and would be happy to email you the training so you can see how it’s used if you’d like to see it in action.


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