Let me preface this by saying that I have a deep appreciation of every teacher who uses digital formative assessment in order to “expedite their ability to provide student feedback in real-time” (Nu-man and Porter) – I’ve never found that digital tools expedite my formative assessment process, it expedites the feedback my students offer each other and creates new opportunities for summative assessment.
I should probably inform on my context before going further: I teach a grade 7/8 split, 30 students in total.
So, I have this problem with formative assessment technologies: I know what they are and how to use them, but I very rarely do because I find that the majority of my formative work comes from conversations with students. I’ll start with math, I do not use paper and the tech I do use are tools that enhance the concrete learning experience; for example: great math tool and calculators. My room is covered in whiteboards, and by the end of September every scrap of my floor has been covered in math (and poetry). My regular lesson structure is 10 minute group teaching, and then the rest is guided inquiry through small student groups (3 students in a group max). We emphasis problem solving, listen to Disney soundtracks, and most days Math lasts for two to three hours.
For the majority of my other subjects, I focus on project based assessments wherein I typically utilize a program that students will keep track of their progress, be able to present it on-the-fly, and I can offer quick feedback through conferences. Even when we went online, I scheduled conferences via zoom to check in and ran my formative work that way.
What are my epistemological beliefs and assessment values? I’ve always been drawn to story – the qualitative aspect of teaching. I understand that assessment websites develop engagement, but I’ve never been a 5 minute fill out a quiz kind of learner. I utilize programs like Kahoot, but my questions are frequently outrageously sarcastic and have very little do with the content because a) I don’t rely on the kahoot to tell me where they are at and b) I find that my students couldn’t care less about a digital assessment that asks them authentic learning questions because they are going to randomly click anyway.
Thomas (2019) in her article writes: “No matter which tools you select, make time to do your own reflection to ensure that you’re only assessing the content and not getting lost in the assessment fog”. There are so many options out there and they do a variety of things which is wonderful, but there has never been a time where I have purposefully chosen a formative digital assessment over having a conversation with a student one-to-one.
Now, all that being said I will return to my previous statement about the expediency of students offering each other feedback. In my class before any piece of written work is submitted, it must undergo 5 edits, and 5 revisions (editing is for mechanical errors while revision is for thematic and conceptual conversations). This may sound like a substantial amount, but by December my students get upset if I do not allow time for these discussions. Technology has streamlined this process because they can comment and edit through whatever productivity tool that they utilize – if even a choice though they would still prefer to sit in a small group and converse face-to-face (or via zoom). In the future, I would like to partner with a separate school and assign feedback groups that way so that perhaps it is more meaningful to use the commenting and editing features that way.
Sometimes I feel like there are just too many options, and they all basically do the same thing. In order to combat the constant evolving flow of technical possibilities, I tell my students that if there is a different method of product or process they want to create, they just have to tell me. I find students are better at finding ways of digitally representing their knowledge than I am.
I love technology and I love having my students utilize it, but I’ve never been able to build a relationship through a digital formative assessment the same way I have in performative and conversational assessment through story.