Help Students Thrive in Remote Learning Environments with Formative Assessment

Photo by Julia M Cameron from Pexels
By: Amanda Vass
The COVID-19 pandemic changed many districts’ standardized assessment plans last year – a trend likely to continue this fall. As educators plan to address learning loss, many are viewing formative assessment as vital. Research has shown that formative assessment can lead to academic gains, increase equity of student outcomes, and improve students’ ability to learn.

According to professor and author W. James Popham,formative assessment is a planned process, which involves a series of carefully considered, distinguishable acts on the part of teachers or students or both. Some of those acts involve educational assessments, but the assessments play a role in the process—they are not the process itself.

Formative assessments support the learning process throughout the school year and provide valuable data to help teachers support students as needed. Formative assessments also help students gain a better understanding of their strengths and challenges.

As students head back to remote, hybrid and in-person classrooms, it’s crucial that educators are prepared to remedy any learning loss that has occurred and help every student succeed.

Here are some strategies for incorporating formative assessment in elementary school classrooms.

Step #1: Where should students be?

Learning is much more than students moving from point A to point B. Helping students meet their goals and achieve subject mastery takes thought and effort. Identifying learning targets and goals for students throughout the learning process is an essential step. When clear learning targets are defined, educators, students, and families alike have a guide to look towards, which works to ensure that students are headed in the right direction.

Step #2: Where are students currently?

Measuring students’ understanding during each lesson, for every subject, throughout the school year is at the heart of formative assessment. The formative assessment process includes gathering evidence of student learning during instruction, which provides data for feedback and determines the progress students are making toward learning targets.

Step #3: What’s needed to close the gap?

Once you identify where students are currently (and where they should ultimately arrive), you can focus on what’s needed to close any learning gaps that exist, and use formative assessments to help get there.

Formative assessment data can provide continual, immediate feedback on your students’ learning progress, helping you adjust and improve the quality of instruction for guiding your students to success. By leveraging online tools and resources while also emphasizing the importance of communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity, you can foster a positive, engaging learning environment.

Leverage digital tools.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought more awareness to the importance of accessible resources for teachers, students, and families. Technology is a powerful tool, but it’s important that we understand how to properly leverage it.

There are several paid and free resources available to help educators facilitate formative assessments with elementary-grade students. Here are some suggestions:

Itematica: A comprehensive K-12 assessment solution that equips educators with a robust assessment authoring tool, including 65,000+ standards-based assessment items and multiple delivery options, and the ability to track standards mastery via formative assessment data.

Poll Everywhere: Use Poll Everywhere activities to take attendance, give quizzes, and gauge understanding whether your students are near or far.

EdpuzzleA web-based interactive video and formative assessment tool that lets users crop existing online videos and add content to target specific learning objectives.

QuizletQuizlet is an online database of nearly 300 million study sets created by students and teachers. Data sets include both text-based and visual study materials. Educators can use Quizlet Live to engage students in a face-paced, fun quiz game.

Flipgrid: A website that allows teachers to create “grids” to facilitate video discussions. Each grid is like a message board where teachers can pose questions, called “topics,” and their students can post video responses that appear in a tiled grid display.

Google Forms: Use Google Forms to build surveys, measure student success and administer quizzes.

Formative Assessment Sample Activities

Observe, Listen, Check

This one’s simple, yet effective. After discussing a topic, place students in pairs or small groups. Next, observe your class, and listen. When you hear comments that suggest an understanding of the discussion topic, place a check by the names of those students.

Tickets to Enter/Exit

Entry and exit tickets are short prompts that can provide instructors with a quick way to gauge student understanding of course material. These exercises can be conducted through a poll, survey, or learning management system. Brown University provides an effective model for using entrance and exit tickets, which I’ll use below.

Entrance Tickets: At the beginning of class, give students a prompt related to either a current or previous lesson.

Example: “Based on the readings for class today, what is your understanding of ___________?”

Exit Tickets:Exit tickets collect feedback on students’ understanding at the end of a class and provide the students with an opportunity to reflect on what they have learned.

Example: “What questions do you still have about today’s lecture?”

Twelve-word Summary

After a lesson, have students write a summary of what the main point was in 12 words or less. This will help you see if students have grasped the main thrust of the lesson or if they were distracted by ancillary points.

Directed Paraphrasing

Have students choose a partner. Next, have them turn to their partner and paraphrase the meaning of a vocabulary term you may have used during a lesson, or retell an event or a key point.

Why? Think and Explain

Introduce a problem, and propose an incorrect solution. Have students explain why the answer is wrong. Another option is to provide several answer choices (with one being correct), and then have students select a response, and provide reasonable support for their choice.


Invite students to respond to the following prompts (or similar) verbally, via chat or a classroom message board:

  • “I used to think ___, but now I know ___.”
  • “One thing I learned is ___.”
  • “I still wonder about ___.”

Moving Forward

As we plot a path forward, teachers have an opportunity to use these unusual circumstances to place the focus back on learning – not on evaluation. The pressure of evaluation that has been a part of schools for decades is lessening. Now, there is more room to prioritize high-impact and simple formative practices.

I encourage you to harness this newfound permission to get creative and find new ways to engage students in the learning process.

For more, see:

Amanda Vass holds a Masters Degree in Curriculum & Instruction and is passionate about using technology to unlock opportunities and ignite curiosity in students. She is the Customer Success Manager at Mentoring Minds, after spending 12 years in the classroom.

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