Instant Feedback in the Classroom

Author's Note: This article originally appeared in St. John's Prep Today. I had the privilege of working with co-authors Director of Communications Elizabeth Forbes and Digital Learning Specialist Julie Cremin to put it together. Follow St. John's Prep on Twitter @stjohnsprep.

In Alexandra Horelik’s history class, the iPads are open and students are intently reading about the first European colonists in New England and responding to questions. Look a little closer and you’ll see that as they read, Alexandra and her students are getting instant feedback about their progress.

Alexandra Horelik's laptop displays her students' answers
instantly, making it easy to adjust lessons on the go.
From grade 6 through 12, students like Alexandra’s are engaged, teachers are able to assess students’ understanding in real time, and the classroom experience becomes more personalized. All of this is happening at the Prep thanks to formative assessment, a teaching and learning technique that takes advantage of the apps, software and other educational technology being used in classrooms today.

“Our teachers know their students better because of the ways they are using formative assessment. Students like learning this way too,” says Kerry Gallagher, digital learning specialist.

Active Voice

English teacher Andrew Fondell often uses a formative assessment tool that incorporates video. He explains, “it allows me to select just about any video I can find online to use as a lesson for my students.” When his students experience this “lesson,” they are not only more engaged by the dynamic videos he chooses, they’re required to demonstrate learning when an embedded question, designed by Andrew, pops up on the screen. He says, “It only takes a few of these questions to convince my students that they need to watch and listen actively.” Using their iPads, students are able to work their way through the video and the questions at their own pace.

As his students carry out these activities, Andrew can see how they are doing with live data on his teacher screen. This is when the real magic happens. “I can get results to students when they are still pertinent to the current learning task,” he says. When he shares the data with the students, they are encouraged to ask questions and seek out extra help before the next test. Andrew has found that “students actually begin to crave formative assessments.” The evidence from the video activity shows them that they are learning.

Seize the Moment

Glenn Blakney’s favorite formative tool lets his Middle School students to solve math problems by drawing them on their iPads. “My students can open it right up in the classroom, and we can project their work live on the board for discussion. I can modify the questions on the fly, or probe their thinking in real time to correct misconceptions.”

Glenn has seen long term benefits to tracking student learning with formative assessment tools, as well. He explains, “This information can be displayed anonymously for class discussion, and it can be stored, tracked, and analyzed over time. I can feed it right back into my unit and lesson planning, adjusting my class as we go to meet my students’ needs.”

Group Dynamics

Alex Gousie '17 is ready with his iPad to answer the
questions Elizabeth Solomon incorporates into her
Latin class presentations.
In her High School Latin classes, Elizabeth Solomon uses an iPad tool that allows her to embed quick activities and questions into her slide presentations. “I embed questions within an existing presentation so that students remain engaged and participatory throughout a class which was, traditionally, much more passive for them,” she says.

And Elizabeth’s students agree. “It’s a great way to have more interactive learning,” says junior Alex Gousie. His classmate, Nat Boyce, adds, “It’s feels more like a game. It’s like the teacher and the students are all working together even though we are all on our own devices.”

Elizabeth also knows she is meeting students’ learning needs faster than ever before. “Because the questions are distributed throughout a presentation, I can recognize immediately when the class understands something and is ready to move on to the next step in the lesson. And if they don't understand, I don't overwhelm them with additional information that they are not ready for.”

Another Latin student, junior Jackson Heath, says he better understands how he and his classmates are doing. He notes, “When I enter answers, even if I’m not 100% right, at the end I get to see everyone’s answers anonymously and check the trends. It helps to see that I’m not the only one making a mistake and to see how everyone is doing.”

Immediate Insights

Nicole Prince shows her students some feedback
form an exercise they did in class.

Eighth graders Ryan Hart, Dylan Freddo, Noah Dorsey-
Sorofman, Conor O'Holleran and Kyle Watts react to their
personalized results in Ms. Prince's class.
Nicole Prince likes to make formative assessment more like a game with an app that uses colors, shapes, and exciting music to get her Middle School science students up and out of their seats. “These apps can engage and excite the entire class, and they allow me to identify and address misconceptions immediately.”

Digital tools also create the data on student understanding instantly, so now it is easier for Nicole to give her students this kind of feedback more often. “Using technology has increased the number of formative assessments that I can give without requiring me to correct more papers.”

Focus on the Big Ideas

High School history teacher Alexandra Horelik gives regular reading quizzes using an easy iPad interface. “It has helped my students focus in on the big ideas of the reading. It allows me to get immediate feedback on how well students understood the material. I can also reflect and shift my teaching in real time to meet their needs.”

She got creative with one formative app recently when teaching students to write thesis statements. Instead of having the teacher determine the best answer, students did. “Students submitted their thesis statements, and then were able to see their classmates’ work anonymously and vote on which was the strongest. All of this happened on their iPads. This again allowed me to give specific feedback to the class based on the work of the students.”

Two digital learning specialists help teachers and students make the most of the range of digital tools open to them, including those used for formative assessment. Julie Cremin and Kerry Gallagher both taught at the middle school and high school levels before coming to St. John’s. Their own experiences in the classroom give them valuable insights into how technology can support good teaching.

“There’s nothing more rewarding than seeing a lesson unfold in ways that could not have happened without the tools we have available today,” says Julie.


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