Formative Feedback: The Way Digital Tools Are Used Can Make the Difference

  • Formative Feedback: The Way Digital Tools Are Used Can Make the Difference

    By Cathy Yenca, posted January 18, 2016 –

    Have you read NCTM’s position statement on formative assessment? This brief read was both energizing and affirming for me. Currently serving in year 4 of a one-to-one iPad® initiative, I’m still learning and growing in applying formative assessment “best practices” in my own classroom. However, the role that technology has played in promoting student discourse and providing timely feedback is significant.

    I’ve shared assessment anecdotes and aha! moments with colleagues as well as through blogging. In my experience, all teachers experience their own formative assessment epiphany with their own students in due time. And once a teacher “sees the light,” it can’t be unseen and often becomes a regular part of instruction. I hope the next few blog posts inspire you to try something new with your own students so that you may have your own formative assessment aha! moment.

    Consider the following statement from NCTM’S Formative Assessment Position:

    …by applying formative strategies such as asking strategic questions, providing students with immediate feedback, and engaging students in self-reflection, teachers receive evidence of students’ reasoning and misconceptions to use in adjusting instruction.

    When I read the 20th post of the Blogarithm, I immediately thought about my own students’ experiences exploring how zero as an exponent and negative exponents “behave.” Since all of my students have iPads, I walk them through patterns to help them generalize while giving every student a “voice” along the way. I like to ask students questions using the “teacher-paced” mode on, a free Web-based tool (that also has a free app). In this example, the questions in Socrative ask students to simplify 53, then continue with 52, 51, 50, 5-1, and so on. I project the teacher-view screen at the front of the classroom, and as each student enters his or her response to each prompt, anonymous entries remain hidden until I reveal them, and discussion ensues.

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    The “teacher-paced” mode of Socrative ensures that authentic error analysis, discussion, and necessary re-teaching occur before moving on to the next prompt, thus emphasizing student accuracy and not speed. It’s amazing what rich mathematical discourse happens when every student’s thinking is made visible for the entire class to consider! I firmly believe that this information is valuable not only to the teacher but also to students, in that students greatly benefit from seeing what their peers are thinking. Having the opportunity to compare class thoughts to one’s own thoughts can help create a classroom culture in which making mistakes is an acceptable part of learning mathematics. Errors become teaching and learning opportunities when we can talk about them right away. Student misunderstandings become understandings right before our eyes!

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    In my experience, tools like Socrative are typically used to give quizzes to individual students, possibly at the end of a lesson. Leveraging such a tool instructionally, to plan and present “strategic questions, provide immediate feedback, and engage students in self-reflection,” is a simple way to empower all students in the class, not just the eager volunteers.

    What other math topics would work well as a “teacher-paced” Socrative lesson?

    Want to view or use my lesson example? Go to, sign up for a free teacher account, and import this quiz: SOC-8904661

    For another Socrative classroom example, check out this post.

    2016-01 Yenca pic Cathy Yenca, [email protected], is a math teacher in Texas. She tweets at @mathycathy and blogs about teaching mathematics in a one-to-one iPad classroom at