Formative Assessment Tools That Work!

Formative Assessment That Works!
A Post by AJ and Jamie Bianco 

In a time where our students are constantly being assessed, teachers and students often times avoid the new “A” word at all costs. It takes up valuable class time and often the results come too late to provide intervention to students in need. However, Formative Assessment is valuable, does provide timely feedback and is fun and easy for students and teachers.

What is Formative Assessment?
Formative Assessment is one of those “buzzwords” in education that cannot be ignored. When used as a tool, Formative Assessment provides teachers with valuable feedback and allows the teacher to assess the understanding of their students before the final test. These tools gives students the opportunity to show what they know before it’s too late to receive intervention. As teachers, it drives us to do better for our students and, if used correctly, will help our students have fun in class while still effectively learning the content that is being delivered. It has the ability to turn a mundane classroom into a class full of intrigue, excitement, and of course a little competition.

Why is Formative Assessment important?
While we constantly throw this term around, many people are still not exactly sure what Formative Assessment is and how we should use it in our classrooms. Formative Assessment should take place during the learning process so that teachers are able to monitor their students’ learning, and to provide feedback that will not only improve how they teach, but also how their students learn. When used correctly, teachers are able to work with their students so that they can take time to answer questions, review content that is hard to understand or to add new concepts on top of what was previously learned.

Educators have to understand that Formative Assessment focuses on our students’ at various points throughout the learning process, and because of this, the results often times should not be graded. By using Formative Assessment tools, we are allowing students the opportunity to show what they know, and have the confidence to say they don’t understand before the consequences of a final grade or project. When we show our students that we are interested in what they know early on, we give them the power to ask for help and place value on their effort throughout the learning process. Summative Assessments are to be used at the end of topics, chapters, or units, when teachers want an overall view of how well their students understand something as a whole.

High-Tech vs Low-Tech
While we always are looking for the newest and greatest tech available to use in our classrooms, we have to remember that not every school has the technology available to students on a daily basis. In addition, the technology based Formative Assessment tools often take time to setup and Formative Assessment can, and often should be a quick tool. It is because of this that we have included some incredible and easy-to-use non-tech tools, which are just as effective as any technology you can use.

Our Favorite Tools
Poll Everywhere - A great tool where you can set up different questions for students or participants to answer about a topic. This is an excellent way to start or end class. Participants can text in their responses or enter their answers via a user specific website, which is through Poll Everywhere. The results show up on the screen in real time and students get excited when they see their responses pop up on the screen.

Readiness Cups - This is a great low-tech tool to use with any age group. As students are working in groups, using Readiness Cups allows teachers to see how students are progressing through the given activity. All that is needed for this to be incorporated in your classroom is three different colored solo cups. The three cups will help you identify whether students are working well, have a question or are struggling.

Google Forms - We love Google Forms! Creating a form is easy and it can be used in so many different ways. Teachers can create surveys, exit cards, short answer responses or multiple choice questions. Using Google Forms helps teachers gather specific information about what their students know and where they need improvement.

Doodle It - Have students take a few minutes to draw what they know about the topic that you are learning about. Students can get specific, in depth or can be very basic. By having your students “doodle” what they know, they are able to open their minds and enhance their creativity.  

Kahoot! - This high-tech tool is a favorite among many teachers. By using Kahoot, students are able to compete against each other to show what they know. Students will answer the questions, and the quicker they answer, the more points that they receive. Teachers can create their own questions, or feel free to dip into the public Kahoots that are available.

Heads-Down, Eyes Closed - One of the fastest tools and most honest! Students put their heads down and close their eyes. The teacher asks students, “If I were to give you a quiz right now, how would you do? One finger = A, two fingers = B, etc. This FA tool asks students to evaluate themselves without the pressure of other students seeing their responses.

Think-Pair-Share - An oldie but goodie. Students have the chance to think about a question that is asked, turn to a partner or partners, and share what they are thinking. This is great for collaboration and allows students to listen to different points of view about different ideas. Teachers can use this to start their classes or after a concept has been learned, to check understanding and give students time to hold a small group discussion.

In Closing
Not all Formative Assessment tools work for all teachers, students or subjects, but each of these tools mentioned can become a valuable part of your teacher toolbox. They can add variety to your typical day and assist you in making informed decisions about what to do next. They are the “diamond in the assessment rough” and should be used to help benefit teachers and students alike. So now, thumbs up, thumbs down - Are you ready to make Formative Assessments fun?

A Review: BCASA/EdSurge Tech for Schools Summit

There is such a wide array of educational conferences available that you never know what to expect when you walk through the door. Some conferences are filled with "Sit and Get" PD for educators, some are un-conferences where you can choose what you want to learn throughout the day, and some highlight best practices in schools.

On Friday, February 26th, teacher leaders, school leaders and superintendents from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, gathered together at Ramapo College in Mahwah, NJ. At this event, we were able to look at educational technology that could immediately benefit our students, classrooms and schools.

As educators, we want to be on the cutting edge of what is best for our students. Over the past few years, the focus has been on technology integration and the tools that we can use to allow our students to find success. The problem however becomes filtering out what is best for our students since there are so many amazing tools available.

At the Tech for Schools Summit, we had the opportunity to meet a variety of vendors and choose tools we were most interested in. This is different from other conferences because the vendors were there for us to meet with, explore their product and learn about what makes them standout from the crowd.

Here are some highlights from this outstanding day of learning:

1. Tech for Schools - While other EdTech conferences have a lot of technology represented throughout the day, many attendees don't choose to meet with the vendors. At the Tech for Schools Summit, the goal was to walk around and find the tech that best fits your classrooms and your schools. As attendees of the conference, we chose the technology that we were interested in and had the opportunity to meet with vendors to hear more about their product.

I was impressed with a variety of the ideas that were shared between the vendors. There were a number of vendors at the conference who were demonstrating technology for the math classroom, improving the writing process, bringing an interest to reading with new techniques, and individualized professional development. As I walked around, I wanted to make sure that I met with a variety of the tech vendors so that I could find something that I would use in my classroom, or find ideas that I think would benefit other teachers within my building, district and online learning community.

My favorites for the day: Kids Discover - teachers can find and share non-fiction reading materials to use in their classroom. The best part about this service is that you can find a number of great titles and change the reading levels based on your grade or student needs. Kyte Learning - an online service where you can find Professional Development that is interesting to you. Kyte Learning is adding new material quickly and the best part is, you can complete different programs at your own pace. Turnitin:Revision Assistant - students are given a writing prompt through Turnitin and as students write, they can turn in their work and have the revision assistant check over their work to match it to specialized rubrics for the prompts they are working with.

2. Student Involvement - The best part of the day was absolutely the Student Panel. We had the opportunity to listen to a variety of high school students from various Bergen County schools discuss their passion for tech, how they use technology in their lives and what is happening within their classrooms. The students were taking questions from the crowd and were very truthful and straightforward with their responses.

What made this special was the fact that the students were helping the teachers and school leaders better understand what they expect with technology. As educators, we think that just by putting technology in our students hands they are happy, however what our students want is for us to use the technology better. Students don't want the tech to replace the teacher and they don't want the tech to be the center of the lesson. Students were saying how much they enjoy using the tech for different learning experiences, but there are too many times when the tech becomes too much of the focus and the content is missing.

3. Creative Conversations - As an educator, we need to be able to meet, collaborate and share ideas about what we do in our classrooms and schools. We had several opportunities throughout the conference to meet with people from different districts to discuss what works for our teachers and what we could do to better support them. It was the amazing conversations that left people excited to get back to their schools, and share the new ideas that they learned.

While technology is great and will help improve instruction, it is the collaboration that occurs between educators that makes the tech integration more meaningful for our students. Putting technology in their fingertips is only half of the excitement. The other half is seeing what our teachers can do with it. It is the passions that our teachers are sharing and their new experiences with the technology that makes their teaching more effective.

I am already looking forward to next year's Tech for Schools Summit, where we will have the opportunity to learn about more technology and listening to the success stories from our students and teachers.  Additionally, the opportunity to collaborate with teachers and school leaders, so that I can learn new and exciting ways to bring innovation to my students and school has me counting down the days.

I Took a Chance...

I took a chance, I rolled the dice, I gambled...

As much as I see it (and so does my wife) as a fault of mine, I am a person that enjoys and embraces CHANGE! I like to try new things. I get excited when something new comes out, especially if it is something that I can use in my daily life. Sometimes, however, taking a chance and making the change that you want is not always the best thing for you in the long run. 

It is because of my desire for change that I took a chance and decided to leave the comfort of my classroom to become a Professional Development Coordinator at another school district in August of 2015. After a short time in this position, I came to the realization that, while this job is a fantastic opportunity for growth, it is not where I want to be right now. Don't get me wrong, I'm completing my MA in Educational Leadership and I still have aspirations of becoming a school leader but for now...

I'm a TEACHER! I knew I wanted to teach (or play for the Yankees) since I was 12 years old! I absolutely love working with and interacting with students, seeing the pride in a student when they accomplish a task that they never expected to complete and especially trying new and exciting things in my classroom

It is because of my passion for teaching, that I simply could not shake the fact that I NEEDED to be back in the classroom. Luckily, I get that opportunity once again. 

Starting January 4th 2016, I get another chance to rock the classroom, teaching 7th/8th grade Social Studies. Follow my students' journey as we learn, grow, innovate and change the world together - @MrBiancoHPSD.  

I can't wait to be back doing what I absolutely love to do! 

I'm a Spartan! 

What's your WHY?

What is your Why? This is a question that has been asked so often lately, and it is something that I think about on a daily basis. For me, I have had my WHY since I was a kid. I knew I always wanted to part of the education profession, but lately the WHY has been changing. My thoughts, passion, motivation and desire has been different as of late. 

Ask any teacher, why they teach and they will tell that they are passionate about what they do; the content they teach, the students' lives they touch daily and their love of being in front of a class, making a difference in so many lives. 

Many of us find something that we are passionate about and start to chase this passion and find a way to incorporate it into our lives. Some of us may chase a passion, and when we find it, many of us want to grab it by the horns and make it our own. However, sometimes that thing we are passionate about, doesn't always last when we start to follow it. 

I leave you with this... What's your WHY? Take time and think about this. It's a simple question with a tremendous impact on our daily lives. 

** I recently was recommended that book Start With WHY by Simon Sinek and immediately ordered it. I can't wait to give it a read! If you have read it, I'd love to hear your thoughts! ** 

Making Moves...

Every single year, I get excited as educators across the country get geared up for the start of school. We start to see that new excitement, nervousness and confusion about the first day set in - and that's just for the teachers! Every year we create a list of what we want to do for our students, how we want to stand out and step up and be the best educators that we can be. It's amazing to see.

This week kicked off my 11th year in the field of education. Over the past 10 years, I have been a Social Studies teacher and loved just about every single aspect of teaching. The thrill of teachers and students on the first day of school, the enjoyment our students come across when they are learning about something that interests them, the debating and arguing that takes place when a student knows they have a correct answer or the start of a great thought, and of course the amazing bonds that are built over a school year between teachers, students and colleagues.

As I start my 11th year, this is the first time that I will not be at the head of a classroom working with my students. I have recently started a new position, where I am the Professional Development Coordinator of a school district in Bergen County, New Jersey. This is a major change in my career, but something that I felt I could not pass up. I view this position, in a way, as a leadership role. This position allows me to work closely with teachers to help them better integrate technology into their classroom activities and lessons. Education Technology is a passion of mine, and I love the new and growing opportunities to use technology in the classroom to get our students ready for real world situations. I am very excited to work with teachers to get them excited about the things that they can now do with their students to get them engaged and excited about new topics they are learning.

I believe that we all need to take chances when it comes to our lives and careers. This is that first step for me to become the Educational Leader that I want to be in the future. In this new position, I am able to work with teachers to help them integrate new technology into their classrooms to engage, entertain and bring the most out of their students. This is a demanding position and I am up for the challenge. I have been told that the expectations have been set high for me, based on what I bring to the table and the person that I am replacing.

One thing that I understand as a connected educator is that I am not doing this alone. It has been so great to have so many people by my side pushing me to take the risk. There will be times where I don't have the answer and will have to turn to my amazing support staff to help, I just hope that when I signal them, that they answer the call.