Formative assessments give teachers a snapshot of student understanding and inform future instructional decisions. They also help students recognize their strengths and weaknesses so they can focus on challenging areas.
Fortunately there are numerous ways to formatively assess students. From class participation, to observation, to specific individual questions, we informally assess students every day. I recently visited Shannon Campbell's fifth-grade and Karen Shannon's third-grade classroom, and they both use something called a Post-it Note Parking Lot, which I found to be a quick, effective way to check student understanding.
Both teachers have a poster board divided into squares (enough for each student to have his or her own). The squares are numbered, and each student has been assigned a number. When the teacher poses a question or task, the students write their answers on a sticky note and place it in their assigned parking spot. Although the concept is the same, each teacher uses the parking lot slightly differently.
In Shannon’s fifth-grade classroom, students write the title of the book they are reading, the page number they are on, and the strategy they are working on that day. This allows Shannon to see at a glance the pace at which her students are reading a specific text, and provides a glimpse into their strategy focus for the day. Shannon then records this in her Pensieve to help inform her instruction during conferences.
In Karen’s third-grade classroom, students use the parking lot as a place to “park” their answers to a question she asks at the end of a reading-strategy or math lesson. Karen simply poses one or two questions and gives her students a few minutes to jot down their answers. Once all students are finished, she can quickly check their understanding, which informs her future instruction on the concept.
The purpose of formative assessement is to monitor student learning so we can provide ongoing feedback to enhance and accelerate progress. The Post-it Note Parking Lot is an easy and efficient way to do this.