Another formative assessment which is simple and quick--letting you know immediately how well the students are understanding the concepts is the thumbs up and thumbs down technique. Just ask them how well they "get it" by giving a thumbs up or thumbs down sign. I also allow them to show degrees of understanding by putting their thumb anywhere on the spectrum between up and down (hence the "all-around" in the title).
Other variations, that I've heard teachers use, are to put the sign right up against the chest, so that others in the classroom have a hard time seeing it or having students close their eyes when they do it. These may be necessary in the beginning of the year, in some cases, but should wain as trust builds in the room and students learn it's all right to admit they don't understand something or that they are wrong about something.
It's quick. It's simple.There's no reading involved. It's just an easy way to check for understanding and let the teacher know if she can go on or if she has to change tactics on the fly and take a different approach. And that's what formative assessment is all about-changing things up so that all the students get it in the end.
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Ever have a problem differentiating between the definitions of formative and summative assessments? Well thanks to Debra Dirksen in her article "Hitting the Reset Button: Using Formative Assessments to Guide Instruction," she offers the following image from the work of Robert Stake (Scriven 1991:169): "When the cook tastes the soup, that's formative: When the guests taste the soup, that's summative." "As the cook, or teacher, we need to stop and taste the soup before we move forward with instruction. We need to design instruction so students can press the reset button and go back to learn what they missed the first time. We can use many techniques to assess student achievement and understanding." This is a powerful image that clearly delineates between the two concepts and helps to cement them into the mind. It's also reminds us of the power of using metaphors, similes, images and figurative language in our teaching practices.