Blended Learning in the 2020-2021 School Year: How to Measure Student Mastery of Virtual Content

by | Jul 21, 2020

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As our country continues to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, school leaders recognize that the 2020-2021 school year must involve some sort of a blended learning strategy. Last week, we highlighted some of the key reasons digital learning has the potential to fail various student groups, and offered some suggestions for building a successful blended learning strategy. This week, we want to focus on helping your school leaders and educators measure student mastery of content through online learning.

How Formative Assessments Help Measure Students’ Content Mastery

When students are engaged in online learning programs, teachers may find it difficult to keep an eye on their progress through each learning unit. Formative assessments allow not only teachers, but also school leaders, to track students’ achievement at several points during each learning unit. This way, school leaders and teachers can modify the curriculum as needed to support struggling students, and offer more enriching learning opportunities for gifted students.

Definition of Formative Assessments

Formative assessments have a different purpose than summative assessments. The Glossary of Education Reform explains formative assessments check “student comprehension, learning needs, and academic progress during a lesson, unit, or course.”

Note that formative assessments differ from summative assessments, which help assign number grades to measure overall student achievement at the end of a learning unit.

Examples of Formative Assessments in a Digital Context

When students are involved in an online learning unit, teachers should use formative assessments frequently to help track their progress and provide feedback quickly. Timely, specific feedback helps students relearn the correct way to work through the material and helps prevent struggling students from falling through the cracks.

Here are some examples of how to incorporate formative assessments into online learning plans:

  • If an online lesson plan is primarily delivered through a video lecture, teachers should break up the video into short clips to avoid overwhelming students. After each clip, students can complete a short formative assessment. The students should receive immediate feedback after each formative assessment, such as through pre-written explanations.
  • If an online lesson plan is primarily delivered through reading material, teachers should break up the lesson with interactive activities that double as formative assessments. For example, students could upload a 30-second video, drawing, or other form of media demonstrating their understanding of what they have just learned. Teachers should then provide feedback within one day to encourage students and reteach as necessary.
  • Regardless of the format of online lessons, the results from formative assessments should be tracked over time so teachers and school leaders can get an idea of the bigger picture. Which parts of the curriculum seem to trip up students the most, and how can these be modified in the future?

Our Favorite Virtual Formative Assessment Tools

NWEA offers a list of 75 digital tools and apps teachers can use to create formative assessments for students, but Andrew Miller recommends choosing between two and four tools total to use with students. This way, students have enough variety to prevent boredom, but won’t become overwhelmed by having to learn a full suite of virtual tools.

Some of our favorite virtual formative assessment tools we recommend for school leaders include:

  • Google Classroom — Teachers can develop their own learning materials (including slideshows, quizzes, and more) and moderate group discussions on the Stream page. Google Forms are also a handy tool to use for creating formative assessments, and Google even offers recommendations along the way to speed up the creation process.
  • Kaizena — This tool acts as an add-on to Google Docs, helping teachers provide real-time feedback on students’ written work. Teachers can offer feedback verbally with Voice Comments and embed “explainer” videos to help reteach concepts.
  • Nearpod — At the school or district level, school leaders can access Nearpod to develop curriculum with ready-made lesson plans that are designed to be culturally-responsive. This app also includes lots of reporting and tracking tools, collaborative message boards for teachers, and interactive activities for students.
  • ForAllRubrics — Your entire district can create uniform rubrics, and teachers can use the app to track and store student scores on formative and summative assessments. Students can log in too so they can check on their assessment results, self-reflect on their learning, and earn badges as they complete parts of each rubric.
  • Kahoot! for Schools — Kahoot! also helps teachers collect and store data from formative assessments, but has a more “gamified” system to develop formative assessments that are fun for students. Teachers can create student-paced challenges, host live “games”, and mix and match the types of questions used in each assessment.
  • Socrative — Teachers can engage students with polls, quizzes, and competitions, and then see data which helps them identify areas where students are struggling. The Pro version (made for district and administrative staff) allows teachers to import rosters, customize reports, and even have students “raise their hand” anonymously when they have a question they may be embarrassed to ask publicly.
  • Animoto Classroom Video Maker — Not only can teachers use Animoto to create free lecture videos, but they can also check student progress by asking students to create short video clips summarizing what they’ve learned.
  • Peergrade — Peergrade empowers students to learn from one another. Teachers are able to create rubrics and assignments, and then students are given an anonymous peer’s assignment to provide their feedback. Teachers and school leaders can then track the feedback provided.

How to Effectively Incorporate Formative Assessments into Your Virtual Learning Plans

Getting school leaders and teachers on board with new online learning plans can be challenging. You must earn their buy-in, create virtual learning content, and train everyone on how to use the most important features of your virtual learning tools.

The Center for Student Achievement Solutions uses evidence-based professional development strategies to implement a successful blended learning program in your district or school. We also customize every professional development tactic for your specific needs and students. Schedule a free call with us today to learn more about how we can work alongside your leaders to make blended learning work in your classrooms.

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