Formative Assessment in Action

I’m still subbing for an advanced academic reading course and really enjoying it. I still don’t love following someone else’s lesson plan or having only one class session in mind while I teach, but it’s worth it to be back in the classroom for a bit.

They’re reading the novel A Man Called Ove, and there was a quiz ready on Canvas for the students to take last week. It was just four short-answer questions that would quickly show if anyone hadn’t done the reading.


I warned them about it first session last week, and then second session I handed it out and gave them about 15 minutes to complete it. I intended to quick grade them as they were handed in.

That “quick grade them” plan went out the window almost immediately when I made several discoveries:

  1. Some students were flagrantly borrowing their neighbors’ work. I did the usual to get them to stop, including rather ostentatiously watching them take the quiz and not doing anything else. Is it just me, or is a short-answer quiz really not the ideal format for the stealthy copying of answers?
  2. There were many “gray area” answers, which are very subjective to grade. I didn’t think that as a substitute it was my place to make judgment calls about the specifics of scoring.
  3. There were enough wrong incomplete answers, and enough people sneaking answers from the folks next to them, that it was clear that many students did not have stellar comprehension of these 23 pages.

So instead of grading, I reigned in and closely monitored the “quiz by committee” proponents while planning in my head how to adjust the lesson plan. I changed it to address the evident confusion about what happened in the novel’s first three chapters.

A pretty classic case of formative assessment providing feedback that allows the lesson to meet the students where they actually are.


Photo Credit: mer chau on Flickr

You’re reading Formative Assessment in Action, originally posted at


Activity Corner: Exit Tickets

(I thought it might be helpful to readers and myself if I described some of my favorite activities from time to time. See all my ESL Activity Corner posts here.)


Did your students learn what you think they learned today? Ask them a brief question at the end of class, and have them hand it in on a post-it on their way out the door.

Checking for Understanding

You can use exit tickets to check for understanding. For example, if one of the session’s main objectives was working on thesis statements, exit ticket questions might be,

What is a thesis statement?

Write one example of a thesis statement.

If you’re working on the grammatical form of Present Continuous, you might say,

Write a sentence in Present Continuous.


Supporting Metacognition

Alternatively, the exit questions can be metacognitive:

What was the point of today’s lesson? might elicit interesting and/or sassy responses.

What was the most difficult part of today’s lesson? might also be illuminating.

Another useful one might be, Do you need to improve any technology skills to be more comfortable in this class? Which ones?

After handing back a major assignment, something like this might help a few people find time to head to the tutoring center: Are you satisfied with your essay grade? If not, what is your plan to get additional help to improve your results?


Some teachers use this activity at the end of every class session, and others just sometimes. Give it a try and see what you find out!


Photo Credit: Dean Hochman on Flickr

You’re reading Activity Corner: Exit Tickets, originally posted at

Journal: Pictures, A Play, and An Impressed Teacher

Happy Valentine’s Day!  Today I had 23 students.  One of the women who was also in my class last semester brought me a beautiful pink rose!  🙂

We tried a new warm-up activity today: conversations about pictures.  I put a few questions on the board (Who is in the picture?  What are they doing?  What else do you see?  When was the photo taken?) and then projected a photo onto the screen for five minutes.  I had the partners discuss their answers.  I used a picture from the last day of last semester, a picture of my husband and I cutting our wedding cake, and a picture of my friends dancing at my wedding.  The pair conversations were surprisingly thin even though the large-group discussion that followed was pretty rich.  Maybe the pairs felt awkward? Maybe it was that I’d never given this type of assignment before?  I think it’s worth repeating in a couple of weeks, maybe with small groups instead of pairs.

We’ve been studying Simple Present vs. Present Continuous.  I modified a short play out of a book – I really liked the punch-line.  The way I tweaked it, it now deals nicely with both tenses.  We did a read-through as a class.  The goals were to see what a play was, that there were characters and roles, and that there was a second page on the back.   I didn’t really push comprehension at all; that’s for a different day.

There are 12 characters in the play, so I split the class in half.  Two groups received their roles and began practicing today.  They seem engaged: they know what to do, they remind each other when it’s time to say a line, and they seem open to practicing their lines for a few minutes everyday.  The plan is to practice for a little while everyday this week, culminating in a final performance.  I’m hoping that they’ll be willing to perform for the class next door; right now, they’re a bit to shy to do that.  Still, I’m glad it’s off to a promising start!

We did a little grammar work based on a student error on the homework blog: Present Continuous vs. the type of Future that uses “going to.”  When I checked for comprehension, I saw that a few people were still confused, and I was able to talk to them individually between normal class and computer time.  One student who’s pretty quiet in class had a lot of questions for me, so I told her we could talk more during computer time.  At computer time, we sat down, she opened her book, and proceeded to methodically write several example sentences and check with me which tense each was in.  I was completely floored at how organized she was in honing in on her problem and creating a solid framework of examples with which to improve her understanding.  Six well-chosen examples and boom, she got it.  I wasn’t her teacher then, just her super-impressed English resource.  After, we had a nice conversation in which she told me a bit more about herself.  It was so nice to get a moment with a typically quiet student and to watch her mind piece this crazy language together!