Tips and ideas for teaching high school ELA

In today’s educational sphere, data is king. And while “data-driven decision making” may not be the buzzword catchphrase it used to be (I’m looking at you 2013ish), it’s still in the forefront of every educator’s – and every administrator’s – mind.

When I first started teaching, “formative assessment” was just a fancy way of saying quiz. Vocabulary quiz. Chapter quiz. Act quiz. Maybe a small project. Formative assessments were something you gave during the course of a unit to gauge where you students were with understanding the material. They happened every few weeks (except for vocabulary quizzes, which in my class were every Friday). 

Then, I moved to a different state. And was shocked and a little concerned to hear that my admin wanted a formative assessment after every. single. lesson. Cue panic. However, after the initial anxiety wore off, I realized that their definition of formative assessment and mine were quite different. To them, a formative assessment can be a full-blown quiz, sure. But it can also be a quick check for understanding. Polls. Exit tickets. Quick review games. Discussion boards. Anything that will give me a real-time understanding of where my students are at that moment in the lesson. 

Regardless of how your admin defines “formative assessment”, the following four tools will make data collection a breeze. And they can be used in-person or with distance learning, which in this crazy time, is a huge plus. 

Tool #1 - Socrative

Socrative is especially great for creating exit tickets and other quick response questions such as True/False. Like Quizlet and Kahoot!, it also includes a competition based feature called Space Race, where students can work in teams to answer questions. 

Socrative comes with a practice quiz that shows the different types of questions and formatting options available. 

The biggest downside to Socrative is that you are only allowed one “Room” with a free account, so you’re not able to assign a different section to each class. You can rename the room, but that’s about it. 

EdPuzzle is a fantastic tool to use with your visual learners because it allows you to assign videos from a range of places – YouTube, Khan Academy, National Geographic, and more. 

You can find videos on almost any topic you’re teaching. 

What sets EdPuzzle apart from say, just giving the students a link to the video on YouTube, is the ability to edit the video. You can cut the length of the video so that your students only see the relevant parts. Great for chunking large amounts of content. You can record a voiceover explaining the concept or giving directions. And my personal favorite – you can embed questions. No more just mindlessly watching a video. Students can now be held responsible for the material they watch. Videos won’t continue until students have responded, so no more watching a video and just not completing the question handout either. 

You can even find videos created by your colleagues, making collaborative planning that much easier. 

Many of you are probably familiar with Padlet. However, if you’re like me, you’ve always chosen the basic “Wall” format and run with it. But there are so many other things that you can do with Padlet. 

I recently discovered the awesomeness that is the “Shelf” format. My students have been practicing writing argumentative essay introduction paragraphs.

For a recent assignment, each group was given an article from Upfront magazine. Each student was put in charge of a specific part of the paragraph. They had to write their response on the Padlet, color-code it, and then rearrange the responses so that they had full paragraph. (I can’t include their actual responses because of student names, but here’s the general idea). 

I think I had more engagement from some of my students than I’ve had all year. I had one group talk about how much they enjoyed the collaboration. Win! 

Two other formats that I found interesting were the Backchannel and Timeline. 

First up – Backchannel. This could be great for discussion board type conversations. Or maybe an assignment where the students have to compose a series of text messages between characters. 

The timeline format would be great for plotting the course of a story or the trajectory of a movement. Main battles of a war. Key points in an author’s life. The process of completing a lab. So many great options. 

I’ve not tried either of these yet, but am definitely already brainstorming how to do so. 

The biggest downside I see with Padlet is you’re only allowed a certain number (4 or 5) on the free version. The paid version is $8/month. However, Padlets can be downloaded as PDFs and then archived, so you can easily clean off your space. 

Last but certainly not least is GoFormative. I waver constantly on which is my favorite on this list – Padlet or GoFormative. I love them both for different reasons. 

GoFormative is perfect for longer assignments, such as quizzes or tests. When I taught in my previous state, I’d upload the released versions of the standardized tests for the students to use as practice. 

There are some features that are only available on the Pro version, but I’ve found that the free version more than met my needs. 

Where GoFormative really shines is in its ability to provide you with real-time, color-coded (for those visual people such as myself) for each class. 

On the home page, you get a quick overview of how many students in each period have completed an assignment. 

By clicking on the lightning bolt, you can see the responses for each class. 

In about two seconds, you can see which question(s) each class struggled with. Incredibly helpful when you’re trying to determine is you students have mastered a certain concept or skill.  

You can then break it down further, examining the data for each individual class. 

Our department are currently using these for our Bell Ringers. Within 10 minutes, we know which student(s) have mastered a skill and which ones still need more practice. This data becomes one of the driving forces behind our small groups. (And, it looks awfully impressive when the principal drops in one of your collaborative planning meeting. Just sayin’.)

So there you have it. My top 4 favorite tools to use for formative assessments and data collection. 

Drop a comment below to let me know which one(s) you’ve used and which one(s) you’re going to try. And of course, any success stories! 

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