These are incredible. I’m going to use these every day in my class!
–Me (every time I do a Formative Assessment Lesson)
It is my dream to teach inquiry and performance based math tasks in my classroom every single day. I am a big follower of Dr. Jo Boaler and her work at Stanford and youcubed.org. Her book Mathematical Mindsets really made me change that way that I view making mistakes in my math classroom. In her work, Dr. Boaler preaches that math tasks should be open ended and that students should be given time to work through them at their own pace. I see that the work by the Mathematics Assessment Project at map.mathshell.org as being an essential resource for teaching in this way.
Formative Assessment Lessons (FALs) are like mini projects that are meant to be completed towards the end of a topic. The intention is for students to reinforce their understanding and reengage in the material in a different way. I like to do FALs when I am done teaching new material on a topic but before I start reviewing for the final assessment. Most FALs provide the following materials:
- Pre and Post Performance Based Assessments.
- A collaborative activity – usually cutting/pasting/matching and creating a poster.
- Powerpoint slides for whole class discussion.
- A detailed teacher implementation guide.
Seems pretty great, right? Unfortunately, a lot of these tasks are extremely dense and can seem rather daunting the first time you see it. For instance, the PDF for one of my favorite FALs is 25 pages long! Like most things I encounter as a teacher, I usually skip all of the implementation mumbo-jumbo and scroll right to the resource masters to try to figure it out myself.
I absolutely love FALs! Some of the best times in my class have been during these activities. I don’t really have any real excuse for not doing them more often – especially when there are so many of them. Regardless, here are some “mental road blocks” (excuses) that I usually have for not doing them more often:
- I have a curriculum to follow at my school, and I’m being forced to teach a certain way.
- I have to keep up a certain pace and we don’t always have time for exploration and inquiry based learning.
- If I’m not teaching the material explicitly, the students won’t retain the information.
- The tasks are sometimes really difficult – maybe too difficult for all of my students to comprehend.
Here is the reality though:
- No one is watching my class every day and forcing me to teach in any particular way. I work for a great school and district that allows for freedom of exploration in the way that I teach. Though I have a curriculum to follow, I already pick and choose what I use anyways. It is much easier to just copy a worksheet of extra practice than to do a Formative Assessment Lesson, but what will be better for my students in the long run?
- The question of pacing actually brings up an existential question about teaching – Why do I feel stressed about having to rush through the standards at a certain pace? Shouldn’t the students needs and understanding set the pace? Taking more time so that we do more valuable tasks shouldn’t be a trade-off. Maybe I’m afraid of doing something different because I don’t want my test scores to go down.
- I have already realized that there is a benefit to exploration and personalization through blended learning rather than explicitly teaching everything all of the time. The issue with retention is an ongoing problem, even when I teach at the front of the room. My gut says that the students will retain more if they are doing something relevant that requires deeper thinking.
- I’ll be honest and say that I think a lot of the Formative Assessment Lessons are pretty tough for my students. I usually modify them in order for my students to be successful, and I sometimes differentiate them even more for my students that struggle. Just like anything else, it is a resource and it is up to my discretion to implement it the way that I choose. I shouldn’t shy away from hard tasks. As Jo Boaler says – “All students are capable of learning math at high levels.”
Formative Assessment Lessons in Action
I’ve saved some student samples of FALs I’ve done in my classroom over the years. Keep in mind that I sometimes modify the originals to fit what I think my students can handle. Also, most of my student samples are just the collaborative poster activities. I don’t have a lot of the pre/post assessments saved. You’ll have to go and check out the links I’ve provided to see the whole thing for yourself.
- 7th Grade: Solving Linear Equations
- Students match word problems to equations to steps to solving them with an emphasis on there being more than one way to solve equations with parentheses.
- As seen in the third picture, I modified the word problems to make the collaborative task easier for my struggling learners
- 8th Grade: Estimating Length Using Scientific Notation
- This is a really great activity that makes students consider the size of real life objects expressed in scientific and standard notation. Also, the pre/post assessment for this FAL (not pictured) is fantastic.
- 8th Grade: Interpreting Distance–Time Graphs
- A great way to have students think of different ways to represent real life scenarios that involve distance and time.
- 8th Grade: Matching Situations, Graphs, and Linear Equations
- It has been a while since I’ve done this, but I’m pretty sure I made this one up completely myself because the FAL guide online is nothing like the student sample that I saved. Just goes to show that you can do whatever you’d like with these when it comes down to it.
- 8th Grade: Classifying Solutions to Systems of Equations
- This was a great way to reinforce systems of equations – a topic that is hard for a lot of 8th graders to understand. I remember this being a great lesson.
- 8th Grade: Comparing Lines and Linear Equations
- This was an interesting way to look at how the slope and y-intercept relate to rates and starting points in a real life situation.
Over at map.mathshell.org there are many more Formative Assessment Lessons than the few that I showed above. Even though these are pencil and paper tasks, they are great as a collaborative task in any blended learning classroom. So, be brave and try it out yourself!