Author: Sara C.

8 Great Ways to Use Formative Assessment in Your Class

Formative Assessment from Teacher Created Resources

  1. Use pre-assessment formative activities before beginning a unit. Assess where your class is as a whole. Use this information to decide where to begin and to see who might need extra help, and who might be ready for advanced work. Look at each activity carefully and change or add to any idea before making copies for the class. This will ensure the assessment will work best for each situation. This is true for all types of formative assessments.
  2. Use pre-assessment formative activities to discover students who might need instruction outside the time in the regular classroom. Find time to meet with these students before starting a new unit or send home enrichment activities the student can do to help prepare him or her for the new standard.
  3. Use the formative assessment activities to help form your lesson plans. Do not spend time teaching what your students already know; use the formative assessment activities to help you see which standards need the most time.
  4. Use formative assessment as rewards. Create incentive charts for students. Give incentives or custom vinyl stickers to students who do well on the assessments. Have an agreed-upon reward as individual students complete their charts.
  5. Use formative assessment to gather information about your students. Find out how much your students remember from a previous year or even a previous unit to help you plan your lessons.
  6. Use formative assessment for participation grades, not completion grades. Formative assessments show the teacher what a student knows at a certain point in the lesson; summative assessments show what a student knows at the end of the instruction.
  7. Use formative assessment to gather information about the various learning styles of the students in the classroom. Use the information to help create differentiated instruction so that all the students can be successful while still adding rigor to the lesson.
  8. Use formative assessment to know when it is time to give a summative or graded assessment. Mastery of formative assessments gives the teacher a clear understanding of when to move to the next standard.

For more tips, pre-teaching activities, graphic organizers and more, see Formative Assessment. Find out how to create a helpful Formative Assessment Chart based on Marzano Scales on your whiteboard here.

Award Winning Books: The Newbery and Prinz Award Winners

If a book wins an award, you might feel more comfortable recommending it to your students for book reports or just reading for fun. What about this year’s Newbery and Prinz award winners? Do you think you might want to add them to your classroom library? Read on and see if I can help you decide.

The Association of Library Service to Children awards the Newbery Medal each year to the author of the book that it feels is the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children. It defines children as those up to and including age 14.  This year Jack Gantos won the medal for his book Dead End in Norvelt.

Dead End in Norvelt is a story about a town whose residents are fleeing in droves, a bunch of mysterious deaths, and a boy who gets nosebleeds whenever he is upset, scared, or overly emotional.  The 12-year-old main character of the book, who shares the name “Jack Gantos” with the author, is a sweet kid who tries to follow his heart but who constantly gets into trouble.

Much of Jack’s trouble is a result of the adults in his life, who often do all kinds of crazy and often illegal things, dragging Jack along with them.  The book is definitely full of humor that might appeal to boys—the very detailed description of the nosebleeds, for example—though the same boys might be less interested in all the historical information.  I enjoyed reading the book, although it felt like the kind of book I could take my time on, and I never felt that I just had to know what was coming next.

The American Library Association awards The Michael L. Prinz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature to the book that it feels is the year’s best written for teens. These books are generally intended to appeal to young adults ages 12 to 18, so are definitely meant for an older audience than the Newbery Award winners. This year’s Prinz award winner is Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley.

Now this is the kind of book that I had a hard time putting down. Part of it was that in the story, the brother of the main character has gone missing, and I really, really wanted to know what happened to him.  Where Things Come Back is another book that takes place in a small town, a town in which the sighting of a long-extinct woodpecker is poised to change the lives of everyone in it.  It is a book that would probably be more appropriate for older teens, as there are a number of adult situations. It’s a story of loss and family and friendship.  The main character, Cullen, is flawed and very much a teenager, and I found myself really hoping his life would get better.

Where Things Come Back begins with two different stories from two different points of view. At the beginning, it seems like the stories couldn’t possibly have anything to do with one another. One begins in a small Arkansas town while the other begins with a missionary in Ethiopia.  It is not until the end of the novel that these stories come together, and it all begins to make sense. The book is sad and tragic at times, but I found myself really rooting for Cullen and hoping for a happy ending.

Books for Boys

This summer, my eight-year-old nephew Riley decided that he wanted to start reading the Harry Potter books. I thought he would probably do well with the first two or three, but that the fourth book and beyond might be a little difficult for him. He got off to a bit of a slow start and found the first book confusing, but then he got hooked and just kept going, reading the entire series in about three months. When he finished, he called me and said, “I’m kind of sorry I read them so fast, since there aren’t going to be any more, but I just couldn’t stop.”

Being a voracious reader runs in the family, and for Riley, it was like someone turned on a switch and suddenly he wanted to read as much as possible. He still spends time with his friends, plays video games, and builds Lego creations, but any spare minute he can read, that’s what he does. I told him the best advice I could give him was to always have the next book ready to read, and that I would try to help him find new books.

This has led me to a whole new world of books. I read a lot, but not really anything that appeals to an eight-year-old boy. So based on recommendations and what I had read online, I decided that the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan might be a good place to start. I found out what I could about the series and found out that it was based on Greek mythology. I knew Riley hadn’t studied Greek mythology at all so I figured that I would tell him a little about what I remembered when I gave him the first book in the series.

I gave him The Lightning Thief and told him the basics that I remembered about Greek mythology, and then I said something like, “So Zeus was pretty much the ruler of all the other gods. As I recall, his father swallowed him when he was born, and then he came back out, but I don’t remember how.”

That’s when I realized that Riley was giving me a look that said something like, “Aunt Sara has finally lost it,” and I realized I should probably do some more research. So I told him it probably didn’t matter to the story, and that I would read the book too and we could talk about anything he didn’t understand.

It turned out that he didn’t really need anything to be explained to him in order to read the book. It is a book full of adventure, and the Greek mythology is used in a clever way that adds to the story without really needing to be understood. He’s on the third book in the series now (and is very happy to be ahead of me, as I just finished the second).

I still feel like I have only scratched the surface of what books are out there for kids Riley’s age, so I thought I would ask if anyone out there had any recommendations. Are there any great series or individual books Riley and I should know about?

Yup, My Dog Has a Blog

Teddy and Colin

Earlier this year when I edited the Internet Literacy books and learned about different ways to use blogs in the classroom, I started thinking it would be fun to create a blog to communicate with my nephews.  I knew that I would enjoy creating content for them and that they would enjoy having a site on the Internet that was theirs alone, but I didn’t know what a great tool the blog would be for improving their reading, writing, and keyboarding skills.

The idea for the blog’s topic was an easy one.  I brought my dog along with me on a visit to my sister’s house and my nephews took a very strong liking to him.  Every time we spoke after that, they would ask what Teddy was doing at that very moment and they would even encourage me to go online at to keep Teddy healthy and strong.  So I told them that I would set up a blog so that they could keep tabs on him.  They didn’t know what a blog was, but they liked the idea of seeing lots of pictures.

I set up a very basic blog at and at first I simply emailed pictures from my phone.  It didn’t take long before the boys learned how to make comments and ask questions.  My sister told me that they were eagerly awaiting the next post and asking to check the blog frequently.  I started adding very basic text and asking questions for them to answer.

I write the blog from the point of view of my dog, and also respond to their comments as Teddy.  I think that in writing to a dog and not a person, they feel freer to make mistakes and take risks in their writing plus I’m very excited as we may be getting a new dog from the PA Rottweiler breeders, a perfect addition to the family. If you’re planning to buy a dog, these are the easy to train dog breeds that you should consider.

At first, seven-year-old Riley did all the typing for both of them, and his spelling skills began to get better and better.  I started noticing that he was making an effort to use punctuation more often and to capitalize names and other words.  Soon six-year-old Colin was determined to read and type for himself and have his own conversation.  His skills are improving as well.  Colin is a more reluctant reader than his brother is, and would generally rather be read to than read by himself.  The blog is the only thing he is determined to read on his own.  He only asks for help if there is a word he doesn’t understand. Are you planning to buy rabbits? One way to prevent reproduction is to keep two male rabbits instead.

If you’re looking for a new way to engage your young students, try creating a simple blog from the point of view of a class mascot, your own pet, or a character you make up.  You can use a service like Edublogs to create a free site that is accessible to only your students. Try to respond to all of the comments to keep the conversation going.  For my nephews and me, it’s been a great learning experience and a fun way to develop their reading, writing, and technology skills.