4-3-2-1 Formative Assessment

One of the key factors for time efficiency in the classroom is monitoring student progress routinely.   We need to know if our students are learning what we’re teaching.  Finding out on the test day is too late for the kids.  If they don’t know the content by then, they fail the assessment.

When time is at a premium, formative assessments become more valuable. Once they understand a concept, move on!  Don’t linger to beat the dead horse some more.  If they do not understand, however, it’s time to slow down and regroup.  Consider this extra time to address learning deficits an investment in in-depth learning.  Frontloading instruction pays off in the long run by eliminating bad habits, frustration, and learning gaps.

Periodic checks for understanding during instruction are essential to determine whether or not students are learning the material presented.   Formative assessments are quickly administered before and during the lesson to gauge learning.  Summative assessments are administered at the end of a lesson or unit to determine mastery.

My favorite check

As a quick exit ticket after a day’s lesson, I have my students write a journal entry in the mode of their choice.  It could be a paragraph or two, a list or outline, a drawing, whatever.  After the set time period, I ask a student to draw a card from my hand — ace, two, three, or four.

The assessment part depends on the card drawn:cards

  • Ace = everyone submits it for me to read and review.
  • Deuce = partners pair/share their journal entries.  Each partner revises individual entries to reflect new learning.
  • Trey = three volunteers read their entries out loud to the class while classmates revise and add information to their own entries.
  • Four = nothing!  Students put away the journals and the teacher will review them the next time journals are collected.

The cheat!

After using this method to check for understanding a few times, the students know what to expect.  You could rig the results you desire by stacking the deck.  If you want to hear what the students wrote, place four threes in your hand.  If you want to provide an opportunity for collaboration and reciprocal learning, place four twos in your hand.  All’s fair when it comes to teaching our kids.


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