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  • Josh Arnold

Frequent Formative Assessments

I teach civics. My classroom is mandated to cover 35 state standards on the subject. Students are given an end of course exam worth a significant amount of their final grade. This means that I spend some of my instructional time teaching students how to prepare of this.


One useful practice I have gone to over the course of the last few years is formative assessment.


For too many years I would teach a unit and after a few weeks give a test or quiz only to have many students get less than satisfactory marks. Despite my best efforts to conduct in class reviews, give students a study guide, and announce quiz dates ahead of time students still were not getting the material. I chalked it up to “they aren’t studying enough at home” or “they aren’t engaged enough in the content” or possibly test anxiety. While these are plausible and worth exploring on their own there is much more to offer students. So this year I switched to offering frequent formative assessments.

My planning for each unit is to introduce a standard each week. Through unpacking and exploring key terms students unlock what they are supposed to learn. Then I offer several resources for students to explore the ideas from the standard. Resources include textbook readings, videos, online tutorials. Students are given an example of how to take notes and record the main ideas from these resources. After students have had a few days to look at the material I begin the formative assessment process.



In my class I have access to computers each day so I use online tools to conduct my formative assessments. However, plenty of low tech options are available such as ticket out the door, answering an inquiry question, or just chatting with a few students about what they learned that day.


While low tech might be your only option having online tools has advantages such as quick data collection. Using this data I like to teach students frequently missed words while conducting our vocabulary formative. I use Quizlet and Quizlet Live for this. The next day I have students conduct another formative on the main concepts of the standard. This allows me to see which concepts students are connecting to the larger ideas in civics. For this I will use Quizizz since it gives more data at the end of a game. This is good for reviewing the concepts with students.


Each formative I conduct in rounds. For example, I have students take the vocabulary formative using Quizlet Live and in between games I talk to students about words they missed during the game. While playing Quizizz I follow the same idea stopping in between games to talk to students about the concepts. It’s also a good idea to pause and allow students to ask their own questions about concepts or to discuss with partners any concepts that I explain to the class.


Here’s the big kicker for students: none of this impacts their grade. I don’t put points in the gradebook for any of this work. This has the advantage of offering practice without any consequences to their grade. For many students this eliminates anxiety which plagues them on quiz day in the classroom. At some point students will take a summative quiz which will end up in the gradebook but these are less frequent. When that quiz comes up they will have had plenty of practice answering questions on the content through frequent formative assessments.

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