NOW READING: How to Use Formative Check-Ins to Quickly Assess Understanding

How to Use Formative Check-Ins to Quickly Assess Understanding

Formative assessment has the advantage of being a quick and easy way to measure understanding, depending on how you want to use it. In the past we've written a lot about using fast and fun formative activities for monitoring your learners' understanding. Today we're looking at a different perspective from Edutopia's Mike Anderson, who wrote recently about using formative check-ins as an assessment practice.


In his article entitled Using Quick Check-Ins to Measure Student Understanding, Mike talks about the power of student choice when incorporating formative check-ins. It involves presenting the learners with options for approaching a problem that lets them pick the one that feels right to them. He cites the experience of 5th-grade teacher Chris Ward with formative check-ins to illustrate the importance of student choice:

"She writes three problems on the board—453/7, 625/5, and 4,357/18—and says, 'For today’s math exit ticket, you’re going to choose a division problem to help show where you’re at. There are three on the board for you to choose from, and you may also create your own. Solve a problem that feels just right for you—one that is challenging enough to give you a push and that you think you can solve successfully. This will help me plan for tomorrow.'

In providing these options and focusing on that freedom of choice, Ward gets a "broader understanding of how she can set up tomorrow’s math work to be appropriately challenging for everyone."

How to Use Formative Check-Ins

Formative check-ins that offer student choice can also work in your classroom. In his article, Mike suggests following four guidelines that you can read more about here:

  • Create good choices
  • Help students choose well
  • Practice, practice, practice
  • Don’t force it

As for solid examples of what formative check-ins could look like, he offers these as possible activity suggestions:

  • Key Idea, Question, or Challenge: writing a key idea they’ve learned, a question they have, or something they find challenging
  • T or V: choosing either a T-chart or a Venn diagram to summarize a concept
  • Write or Draw: writing a few sentences or drawing a picture or diagram to summarize or relay ideas
  • Alone or Together: brainstorming lists of questions about a topic either alone or in a small group
  • Highlight an Example: choosing one question or example from a list and jotting a sentence or two about it on a sticky note, and attaching it to the problem
  • Square, Triangle, or Circle: choosing a shape as a form of reflection: a square for something that squared with their thinking (reinforcement); a triangle for three key ideas: or a circle to represent a question still "circling around" in their mind

If you employ these kinds of formative check-ins, you'll provide two great things for your learners. First, you'll be able to easily and consistently assess understanding in ways that benefit them best. Second, you'll keep them constantly engaged and motivated and ensure their learning remains challenging, interesting, and meaningful.

Check out Mike Anderson's full article Using Quick Check-Ins to Measure Student Understanding on Edutopia.