Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Differentiated Instruction with Ongoing Formative Assessments

Teachers can move towards a more student-centered classroom when they plan learning tasks that focus on student engagement, growth, and mastery (Tomlinson, 2001). And when data from ongoing formative assessments is used to inform their planning, teachers will reach learners at different levels of skills, interest, and preparedness. Afterall, differentiated instruction and ongoing formative assessment go hand in hand.

According to Cauley and McMillan (2010), formative assessment "is a process through which assessment-elicited evidence of student learning is gathered and instruction is modified in response to feedback" (p. 1). The collected evidence can be used by teachers to identify misconceptions students might have about the content, give pointed feedback to students to help them correct their misconceptions, and modify instruction to reinforce the corrections.

Research suggests there is a positive correlation between formative assessment and how well students perform on standardized tests (Cauley & McMillan, 2010). Ongoing formative assessments impact student learning because, in addition to allowing teachers to modify their instruction, they "allow students to see concretely how they can improve" (p. 2). In today's one-to-one blended classroom, educational technology can help make linking formative assessment with differentiated instruction easier.

There are many online tools, resources, and services to help teachers formatively assess their students, provide feedback, and differentiate instruction. Socrative, for example, allows teachers to administer any combination of multiple choice, true/false, and short answer questions to students. The teacher can allow students to receive instant feedback as they attempt the quiz, or he can use student scores to form mixed-ability groups to work on a project later in the unit.

EdPuzzle is a tool that will transform the way your students watch and interact with online videos. Teachers can crop an online video to focus students' attention on a specific part and record their own audio narration to any YouTube video. Teachers can set up their videos so when a student reaches a certain spot, the playback stops and they are asked a question. Teachers can even provide feedback, based on the answers the students provide.

There are a number of online graphic organizers and templates teachers can use to differentiate instruction. HyperDocs can be designed to provide student-choice as they show mastery of the content.

Teachers can use a Must Do May Do graphic organizer to allow more student-choice (clicking on the link will force a copy of the template to your Drive.) Use the Must Do May Do template when you would like students to complete a required task and then choose between two optional tasks.

When teachers differentiate instruction based on formative assessments, deep learning occurs. Educational technology can make offering different approaches to demonstrate mastery easier. Give it a try!

-Chris Justus

Las Vegas


Cauley, K. M. & McMillan, J. H. (2010). Formative assessment techniques to support student motivation and achievement. Clearing House: A Journal of Educational Strategies, 83(1), 1-6. 

Tomlinson, C. A. (2001). How to differentiate instruction in mixed-ability classrooms. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.