10 ways to adjust instruction based on formative assessment data




You’ve collected exit slips, spot checked students’ homework, skimmed their Google Doc, seen the results from a Google Form,  Pear Deck, Formative or Socrative. What do I do next?

In this era of student centered-learning and data informed instruction we know we should be formatively assessing our students frequently. However, what should we do after we administer the formative assessment?

What do I do with that data? 

Here are 10 easy to implement strategies to help you make changes to your instruction and meet your students where they are at:

1.Plan branch activities for students to do at the beginning, middle or after class: if you feel comfortable with X then you should do Y, if you’re struggling with X then you should do Z.

2. Create a resource area on your website or in your classroom where students can review key topics & skills (preferably organized by objective) so students can easily review concepts they’re struggling with.

3. Have students discuss & defend their answers with partners & groups before presenting them to the class. This leverages peer feedback in a low stakes environment before creating opportunities for students to learn from each others’ mistakes while presenting to the class.

4. Bunch related lessons together and turn them into a project so students have a menu of activities they complete at their own pace while you help students individually or in groups.

5. Post answer keys around the room and write the next steps students should take if they get the answer wrong or right.

6. Allow students to self-select groups based on which skill/concept they need to review the most. Create station rotations see Caitlin Tucker’s resources here.

7. Solicit the help of their resource/study hall teachers. Email them review activities/ links to help students review concepts & skills they’re struggling with before a quiz/test.

8. While helping students who need extra review, have other students complete quick but complex challenges that ask students to think strategically and apply what they learned to real world problems. Extension activities don’t always have to mean doing a lot more work (for the student or the teacher!)

SOURCE: We are Teachers

9. Ask a student or small group of students to come in before/after school to get 1-on-1 help. Often, helping a student for 5-10 minutes outside of class is more effective than trying to help 30 students for an entire class period.

10. Prioritize objectives, if all students won’t be able to reach a level of mastery for every single objective in the same amount of time, which are most critical for students’ success in future lessons, units & courses? Plan subsequent lessons & units to continue to reinforce those critical objectives. You can’t do it all in one day!


Teacher’s Sanity: Late Work, Re-Takes, Pacing

Progressive teachers for decades (perhaps centuries!) have long advocated for deemphasizing grades, developing various methods for re-learning concepts & skills, and providing students multiple opportunities to demonstrate learning.

These  ideas have found a renaissance of sorts with the the recent movement towards standards based grading, mastery learning, competency based learning, and allowing students to submit assignments late without penalty.

I am an advocate for being flexible in how students learn and demonstrate their learning, but doing so has raised a number of practical and philosophical issues:

  • Personalized learning helps meet students where they are at. However, at what point does a class become too individualized? How do we balance personalization with shared experiences like whole-class discussions, debates, and simulations that are critical for building community?


  • Students learn at different rates. Can we expect all students to master the same number of objectives in a defined learning period? Should some objectives be required and others be for enrichment? What does it really mean to hold high expectations for all? Are some objectives (or some courses) more important than others? Who decides?


  • Define a learning period. A class period? A week? A unit? A semester? If we truly implement mastery learning, should teachers or students move on to the next lesson, unit or class even though some students haven’t mastered some of the objectives? What percentage of objectives or students? What level of evidence is required to demonstrate “mastery”? Should a student be asked to stay in a course until they demonstrate mastery of the required objectives even if stretches into the summer or next school year? Should all students be required to stay in a course for a full term even if they demonstrate mastery of the required objectives sooner?


  • Mastery learning & teachers’ sanity. How do teachers manage providing multiple opportunities for assessments to different students at different times? Should teachers have firm deadlines after which they will no longer will accept work or re-takes? Do schools’ grading policies push them to do so? To what degree is it the teacher’s responsibility to ensure all students master required objectives? To what degree is it the students’ responsibility?

These are some of the questions I’m grappling with as I try to emphasize feedback & mastery instead of learning for a grade in the courses I teach and with teachers I coach. I look forward to reading about, thinking about and discussing these questions further and share my reflections with you.

SAT v. Grit: What matters in life?


Another season of SAT, ACT and AP testing is upon us.

Teachers and administrators are beginning to stress whether their students are prepared for the tests and how students’ scores will reflect on their performance.

Students are worried the tests will reveal how smart they really are and whether they will be a success of failure in life  based on their scores.

SAT & ACT scores do correlate with some intelligence tests. However, as we consider what role the SAT (or any intelligence test for that matter) should play in our schools, it is important to remember:

Verbal reasoning, in which students have to analyze complex texts, can help gauge how prepared students are to tackle challenging readings in college. For example, the following question assess not just students’ ability to literally comprehend a passage but to analyze it for broader messages.

nullSOURCE: College Board

However, what this type of test does not assess is students ability to persevere, get help and seek creative solutions.

The SAT does not assess if a student, who may be a slower reader that initially found a reading confusing, could re-read a passage and use strategies to discern greater meaning. (The time constraints on the SAT & ACT, as any junior in high school will attest, are notorious for leading students to skim passages and guess on questions instead of thoughtfully engaging with the text.)

The SAT does not assess if a student has the initiative to ask a teacher or peer for help or use online resources to better grasp new concepts that his peers might have learned more quickly and independently.

The SAT does what it is supposed to do: provide an objective snapshot of a student’s reading, math and writing skills in the given time and testing constraints.

However, the SAT does not assess for traits far more important for success in life: self-efficacy and grit.

Rethinking the DBQ

Offering students productive diversity creates memorable learning experiences because they are tailored to students interests & needs. Productive diversity encourages learning activities in which students:

  • are designers of knowledge
  • work collaboratively to offer feedback
  • differentiate the process & pace of learning
  • reach similar but high goals

I recently tried to offer English Language Learners productive diversity while they studied the transatlantic slave trade. Instead of asking all students to analyze the same documents/primary sources and write the same Document Based Question (DBQ) essay, students worked in pairs to create first-person video stories about an African’s journey from Africa .  Students used a free online video editing tool (WeVideo), primary sources, and this rubric to create their videos.

For the most part, the project demonstrated productive diversity because

  • Students developed their own understanding of the slave trade by analyzing documents in order to come to their own conclusions.
  • They worked in peers to offer feedback on the storyline and historical details.
  • There was some differentiation of the pace but all students created a video.
  • There were different degrees of imagination, historical detail and audio & video editing students could tackle but they were assessed with the same flexible rubric.

Here is a sample video of the final product:

Formative v. Summative Assessment

I just saw this video by Rick Wormeli and found it to be a good refresher on the difference between formative and summative assessment. The most useful insight was the steps to effective descriptive/written feedback:

  1. Help student discover or point out what the goal of the assignment was
  2. Indicate where the student is in relation to that goal
  3. Plan how the student can close the gap between the goal and their current performance.

The impact of an assessment only has significant value if they get valuable feedback from it. This formative assessment should clearly and directly affect your curriculum and lesson decisions.

In addition, I read an article written by Wormeli in 2008 on the same topic. His most keen ideas were:

  • True formative assessment provokes: it compels a response in the teacher and student.
  • True formative feedback would be “contextualized and the student is given the opportunity to revise her thinking and subsequent performance in light of that feedback”
  • Students that struggle the most generally have the least awareness of the lesson’s goals and their progress towards achieving them. When they gain this awareness their performance improves
  • The format of the assessment itself doesn’t determine if its formative or summative. How we use the data from the assessment determines if it’s formative or summative.


  • As long as teachers use the data to revise their instructional strategies and allow for student improvement, the assessment can be formative
  •  Formative assessments focus on specific parts of curriculum for more targeted feedback
  • “Examples of useful formative assessments include half- to one-page quick-writes, exit cards, oral responses to clarifying questions, thumbs up/down, buttons pressed on audience response system “clickers,” metaphor/analogy generation, completing graphic organizers, observing body language and facial expressions, practice problems/sentences, skill demonstrations, and think-alouds.”
  • Formative assessments can be informal but shouldn’t be left to chance, they should be strategic
  • Formative assessments should not be marked for a grade.
  • Make notes on clipboard other note sheet during class
  • Self-assessment is key
  • Of particular importance today: academically struggling students have the most dramatic gains when teachers employ frequent formative assessment”
I need to more deliberately plan my formative assessment while making lesson plans. The most common that I plan on using is exit-slip note cards where students simply respond to the question: What did you learn today that added or changed your understanding of the essential question for the unit? What new question(s) do you have?
I will also ask students to more frequently briefly respond to what they read: what they learned, what they were confused about and what questions or connections can be created from the text.

An A+ Student Regrets his Grades & Finland

I just read an article, An A+ Student Regrets his Grades, that reminded me of my own schooling and reminded me what I aspire to be as an educator.

The passages that resonated with me most were:

Education is not confined to the walls of a classroom; it stretches well beyond that. Valuing success above all else is a problem plaguing the schooling systems, at all levels, of many countries including Canada and the United States, and undermining those very qualities that are meant to foster an educated and skillful society.”

The system teaches us that if you get ‘As’ across the board, you’ll be successful. And if you fail a course, you’ll be labelled incompetent or hopeless. These pressures force students to regard education as a mere schooling tenure where the goal is to input a sufficient amount of work to output the highest possible grades. We sacrifice learning for schooling. (emphasis mine) 

Finland’s nonconformist education system – the best in the world – should serve as an example of how students ought to see their educational experience. Finnish students don’t start school until they’re 7; they aren’t measured for the first six years of their education; and they rarely take exams or do homework until they are well into their teens. These students aren’t raised to see school as a measurement cycle where everything comes down to standardized testing, graded assignments and exams worth large portions of their final grade. Their educational culture is substantially different from the evaluation-driven Western world.”

I would like to see the documentary above. I know many critiques of their success point out how socio-economically  homogeneous the population in Finland is compared to America. However, I teach at a school that is more similar to Finland’s schools in demographics than an average slice of America.

I would like to keep growing as an educator to teach my students how “to learn how to learn – to become independent, innovative thinkers capable of changing the world.”