Did They Get It? 5 Formative Assessment Strategies You Can Do in 5 Minutes or Less

Here are five formative assessment strategies you can do in five minutes or less to engage students in flipped classrooms and active learning environments.

By design, flipped classrooms and active learning environments offer continuous opportunities to assess learning. That's why I call flipped and active learning classrooms "assessment in action."

Every day when you are working with students, you immediately see what they know, what they don't, and where they are confused.  You see their learning in action every day and you can make immediate corrections or offer clarification when they need it.

Formative assessment is a way of informally gathering feedback about students’ learning. Unlike summative assessment, you don't wait until the end of a unit or module to test for mastery and understanding. You do it in the moment, during class time.

When you’re walking around the classroom talking with students, listening to their conversations, and providing support when they ask questions, you’re engaging in formative assessment.

Unlike summative assessment, formative assessment is "low stakes" and allows you the opportunity to check in with your students so you can provide additional support or resources if needed. Typically, this type of assessment is not graded, but it is collected or reviewed to determine what “sticks” and what doesn’t. It helps you see if your students "got it" and they understand the information.

There are literally hundreds of formative assessment strategies, and you can use them at any moment during your class. You could use a formative assessment strategy as a focusing activity, conversation starter, or icebreaker to begin class.

You can add a formative assessment strategy in the middle of class to help students re-group or re-energize. Or, you can add one to the end of class to determine which topics need more discussion or explanation.

Finally, formative assessment does not have to take much class time or prep time to be effective. Let's take a look at a few formative assessment strategies that take less than five minutes to do:

5 Formative Assessment Strategies for Flipped Classrooms and Active Learning Environments

1. Ticket Out the Door

Plan 2-3 minutes at the end of class for students to answer a question about the day's class, write a response, solve a problem, fill in the blank, or plan the next step their project or paper.

After they fill in their response on a sheet of paper or index card, they must submit them to you before leaving class that day. You can quickly review their responses before the next class session and address any areas of concern or confusion. Or, you could post a response or summarize their ideas in the online discussion forum prior to the next class session.

2. Three Things I Learned

Ask students to write three things they learned in class. This strategy is interesting because it also allows you to see what types of activities and topics create the most interest.

Do students only remember what you explained during the first few minutes of class? Do they mainly recall the activity or demonstration you used? Did they get the main point of the lecture? This strategy can give you insight into the pace or structure of your lesson as well. Do you need to mix things up or re-order how information is presented in class? Do you need to add more group discussions or videos or diagrams? Do you need to save important announcements for the end of class?

When you analyze the findings from this activity,  you’ll see more than just what students learned. You’ll also see what types of activities, examples, stories, and moments are most memorable in terms of retention and engagement.

3. Clearest Point, Muddiest Point

Here’s a popular classroom assessment technique from Angelo & Cross (1993). At any point during class, most likely at the end, ask students to write one concept they clearly understand or remember from today’s class (clearest point). Then, ask students to write one concept that is still confusing or something they are uncertain about (muddiest point).

When you review their responses, you will most likely see themes emerge in terms of what “sticks” and what doesn’t when it comes to the types of teaching and learning strategies you used in class. It also boosts students’ confidence because they can explain what they know while also allowing them the opportunity to ask for additional clarification about something that is still causing confusion.

4. The One Takeaway

After an experiential activity, discussion, or lecture, give students time to write the one concept they took away from the experience. What is their one takeaway? What’s the main idea they learned? What do they remember? This can be written as a reflective blog post or journal entry, or students might post it on a discussion board so they can share their ideas with their colleagues.

5. One More Question

No matter how much time you allow for questions, it seems there’s always one more question someone didn’t have time to ask. Here’s their chance. At the end of class or before the next class, ask students to write one remaining question on an index card. Then you can review these for continued discussion, or you can distribute the index cards randomly in the next class and see if other students can answer the question written on the card.

You could also adapt this technique for a homework assignment or group activity. These five formative assessment strategies are designed to give your students an opportunity to practice without being graded, and they allow you to get feedback without waiting until final projects are due or exams have been graded.

Try combining a couple of these together, and try them during random moments during class and throughout the semester. Be careful not to overuse them or do the same one too often. Mix it up – if you use the same one all of the time, they will lose their effectiveness. If students know the assessment is coming, then the point of the activity will be diminished.