Monthly Archives: February 2018

Formative Assessment -> Follow-up Action


During a conversation with @druinok this past weekend – about an upcoming PD session she is co-leading, I was reminded of this post…

Using In-Class Formative Assessment Effectively

After re-reading it a couple of times, I almost think I should set a reminder to revisit is every few weeks.  All the things I thought I knew about Formative Assessment in the past years, I am finally having a break-through of understanding what its really all about.

Don’t get me wrong – I’ve had the knowledge and said I agreed.  I know it benefits learning when used to inform instruction.  I’m just not sure all of my actions have been supported by a true, internal understanding.  The how-to’s, why’s and other questions I’ve muddled through in recent years are finally sinking in.

As I mentioned in the linked post, for years I’ve searched for FA strategies – but the session with Dr. Kanold last summer helped me realize all I found were the tools I would use to gather the evidence from students.  The Formative Assessment is none of those things – the FA is the planned Follow-up Action.

The follow up action is something I’ve been aware of for years… look at this “old” unit organizer… the peacock blue highlight on the right side.  self-assessment

What I have internalized about the Follow-up Action is that students in 9th grade may have not developed an internal self-check, as the teacher, it is my responsibility to help them develop this habit.


The couple of months, I have been re-reading Embedding Formative Assessment with @druinok and some big a-ha’s for me.  She has a great post to sum up when I’ve realized with feedback here.

The only thing that matters with feedback is the reaction of the recipient.  No matter how well designed, if the student doesn’t act on it, then the feedback was a waste of time.  And..

Don’t give feedback unless you allocate class time for students to respond.  If it’s worth your time to generate the feedback, it’s worth taking instruction time to ensure students respond.

If I give them feedback, and I want them to act on it, then I must provide them with time / structure to do so.  Is the feedback given in such a way, they can respond to it?  This semester, I have been very intentional with this.  It may seem like a generic structure, but it has given us a starting spot…

  • A couple of silent minutes to read / process the written feedback.
  • A couple of minutes to respond / redo / revisit the learning task / assessment question in writing.
  • A couple of minutes to discuss with their shoulder partners.
  • Then ask questions of me.

The Follow-up Action is the essence of Formative Assessment.  I am guilty in the past of doing formative assessment, but never using it to inform my instruction.  Yep, check that off the list, formative assessment complete.  Yikes.  I don’t think I am the only one.  We feel chained to the pacing guides, like we must keep moving.  That is the failure of education.  We have let this steal our students’ opportunities to learn.  I must keep reminding myself often –

Less can be more if I do Less better.

If I am serious about student learning.  If I walk my talk.  I am no longer doing for the sake of doing.  I am no longer adding a task to my lesson plan to check off the box for admin to see.  I am choosing intentionally.  I will plan those Formative Assessments, and truly use the information they have gathered.  I will allow myself the room / time to go off the lesson plan and pacing guide and do what’s best for my kids.

In doing this, I believe it takes away some of the anxiety students experience.  I believe it opens the classroom to becoming a safe environment for making mistakes and learning.  In the past I’ve claimed to celebrate mistakes as learning experiences, but I am not sure that message has transcended to my learners.

I will plan a purposeful, intentional follow-up action, then allow my students time to react/respond to it…  I am giving them time to process, make sense of and iron out those misconceptions, redo their mistakes, making note of them – allowing them to see, observe quality student work and examples – providing them with models to help build better understanding.


How I Quit “Wanting to Do It All” #MTBoSBlog18 February


Earlier in the year, a colleague and I created a shared a folder on drive to collect our resources for Algebra I.  The really was not new – we’ve had dropboxes, shared folders in outlook, etc. before.  The shared folder had sub folders for each unit of study.  The problem was, when we started dumping files in – well, I knew which ones were mine and what they were for – but I had no clue what the shared files were all about.  And the same on my colleague’s end as well.

After meeting, we agreed to creating sub folders in each unit:  Lesson Notes / INBs – foldables;  Practice tasks/ Skills development;  Formative Assessments; Summative Assessments / Projects.  We devised a file naming system – targeted the Unit Name, Lesson / concept title, what the task was specficially.  Though it has helped, it has really brought to light something I struggled with years ago.

I began feeling overwhelmed – sometime during the peak of Pinterest – Oh that’s so cool, I’ve got to do that!  I love that idea – yep, gotta add that to the unit.  Yes!  Another game or sorting task – add it too!  Add them all!  And that is when I began falling.  I had become a hoarder teacher – what?  Yep, I wanted to collect AND use ALL of the activities.  And at some point, I believe I really tried to do just that.  Noone questioned me.  Noone asked the tough questions – of why / purpose of the task.  I just did everything that looked fun.


Somewhere along the way, looking down at a never-ending list of activities on our unit organizer one day, I asked myself – what has happened? How do I eliminate from the list?  All I wanted was to engage learners.  But were they really learning what I had intended to teach?  I over planned – too much stuff.  But I loved it all.  So much of it was truly effective – or so I thought – but there simply was not enough time to  Something had to change.  It was me.

I began asking myself several questions as I scrolled through the lists –

  1.  Does this really teach/help students learn a target?  Or it is just something I love doing, its fun, but does it really focus on a given standard for my course?
  2. How can I reorganize the task – in a way that allows it to efficiently help students work toward our given goal?
  3. Do I have real evidence that this task is truly impacting student learning in a positive way?
  4. What exactly will students know and be able to do / better understand after completing this task?
  5. Does this task have a good reflection built in?  Do I need to create one?  How can we revisit the big ideas of the task and make connections both mathematically, between student ideas and even to contexts outside of math class?
  6. When I have two equally good tasks – how do I choose between them?  The answer is simply – look to my students.  Chances are I have used the tasks in the past – I know which type of learner a task is best suited for.   Heck, I may use one of them during 2nd block and the other one during 4th.  It really is whatever is best for students.

Though it has been difficult to let go, I have slowly begun to choose more purposeful tasks when planning the unit.  But I’ve placed the “old” tasks in a digital folder within the unit – which will give me another resource, should my choices not benefit a particular group of students.

A true backwards planning has helped me follow-through.  My colleague and I have a list of targets – we tweak and update versions of assessments – to ensure we have the end in mind.  Every question falls under a section titled with the intended learning targets.  We discuss the purpose of every question and what we are wanting to see about student learning – is it assessing what we think/thought it was?

It is from here, I can begin analyzing a task, before I add it to our unit schedule.  And I start with this question –

What is the purpose of the activity? 

 Is it for learning?

    • A foldable for summarizing notes / big ideas?
    • A foldable / other INB insert to organize some examples of situations / problems to solve?
    • A vocabulary – activity?
    • An investigation?
    • Scaffolded discovery activity?
    • Problem solving task for small groups?

Is it for assessment?

    • A check for understanding that leads to formative assessment?
    • If so, how will I know that they know if I choose to use this task?
    • What is/will be the follow up action if they don’t know?

Is it for practice? 

    • Skills development?
    • Applying vocabulary?
    • Transferring ideas to other contexts / learning?

When I decide the purpose of the activity, I am more able to know where it should be placed in the sequence of learning.  It is true, many of these tasks have multi-fold purposes – now I specifically note what I will use it for and how it will inform my instruction, what actions should follow in certain situations.

In doing this, I have had to let go of some of my favorite tasks from years past because they were not doing what I needed them to do.  I did not dispose of them completely – because with work, I believe some will be worthy and more purposed for using again.

The other tough thing is – when I do run across an amazing idea – I have to let something else go.  Will this new task be better than the old one?  How will it get across the big ideas?  How will I know students have learned?  But the reality is, I cannot do it all.

Now, when I look at an activity and run through these questions – I try to figure out why I used it to begin with and is it able to move students in the right direction.  Now I am becoming more aware of the the differences in activities and their purposes.  I can be more confident in the usefulness of what I am choosing and have greater impact on student learning.

What challenges have you run into when planning your lessons and units?  How do you determine the better learning task?  What suggestions would you make to someone who is trying to “use it all”?

Something Old, Something New…


I used to keep a large poster up for our INBs table of contents.  For whatever reason, I got away from that last year and did not even do it last fall with those classes.  However, the poor attendance, numerous snow days have demanded I do it again…  to help students get / stay organized / catch up and for my own sanity!  When they ask…I can point to the poster…


Something new…  I am a believer in literacy strategies.  Students often are not taught how to take notes from what they read.  Most of us vomited highlighter all over our textbooks…  without discerning the needed, important information, we would just learn ALL of it.

So, here is what I did…  Students are 4 to a table, so I cut the review / summary notes into 4 sections.  I asked students to divide their pages into 4 sections with labels.

Each person at the table gets a different section of summary notes / examples.


This was over domain and range of continuous graphs.  With a snow day making a long weekend, I thought it was a great way to review.

1 minute to read.  1 minute to jot down important BIG ideas.

Rotate summary notes.


Some may think 1 minute was not enough time – but since this was a review of last week’s work, I felt it was fine.  If introducing new material, I may feel differently.

After the first round, I observed students writing during the reading time.  I shared my reasoning – the first time was to read – no worries about grabbing information to remember.  The second time was to skim / write big ideas… that way they were accessing the information at least twice.

After every student has read / written for all 4 sections.  They share out 1 BIG idea they wrote down with their table.

I asked for questions, but none.  So, I think next time I will have a post-it available to reflect…  something I learned, realized, was reminded of OR still have a question about…  they tend to ask when its written and anonymous.  I get that.

What summary, literacy, reading strategies do you use in math class?