Monday, November 25, 2013

Using for Formative Assessment

I enjoy opening a PD session with a quick poll that I made at I often use polls as an anticipatory guide to let me gauge where my audience is before we start, or to get them excited and thinking about the upcoming lesson. The quick data that I can collect with an interactive poll helps me adjust my teaching to fit my audience's needs.

For example, if I'm holding a training session on Google Docs, I may have a poll up as people are arriving to ask them their comfort level with Google Docs at that moment, before the training. I can look at the results quickly before I start and tune my training accordingly based on the data; if most people have zero experience with Google Docs, I would teach differently than I would if I had a large group of people with experience. And if I have some that identify as intermediate or expert, I have some more challenging "take it to the next level" activities in my back pocket for them. Though this data is anonymous and depicts the group as a whole, it still helps me differentiate and support the full spectrum of needs thanks to a quick poll with instant, live results I can use right away.

PollEverywhere is a great formative assessment tool.You can sign up for a free account at There is the option to upgrade to a paid, premium account (which gives you the ability to enable student registration and grading), but I'm happy with the capabilities of the free account for my needs. Remember - I am just looking for quick, instant feedback to help drive my next lesson or gauge my audience on the fly.

There are two types of questions that you can create: multiple choice or open-ended.

Multiple Choice Poll Questions
When creating a multiple choice question in PollEverywhere, you can give options as text or use images to represent poll choices instead. I love using images as poll options for the primary grades! Multiple choice questions give you the ability to find out if students know or remember something you've previously shared. You can start the day with a multiple choice poll to see if students remember the take-away from the previous day's lesson. You could also ask students a question to gauge their understanding before beginning a new lesson to see how many may already know the answer. I also like using multiple choice poll questions as a "digital fist to five" as I mentioned previously, where students can tell me on a scale what their comfort level or understanding is before or after a lesson.

I also like asking a question at the start of a lesson, and then asking the same question (in a separate poll) at the end of a lesson, to see how responses may have changed after gaining new knowledge during the lesson, or to show student growth as a result of the lesson. As a real life example, students in a 4th grade classroom were asked at the start of a lesson whether or not they had free speech as a student. Their options were Yes or No. We displayed the results to show them what everyone thought before the lesson. Then we did a variety of close reading activities and had curated some interesting age-appropriate articles that students read and jigsawed collaboratively, and at the end of the lesson, we posed the same question - do you have free speech as a student? Based on the resources they'd read to learn more about what free speech is and real life examples that they could relate to, they voted again, Yes or No. Because we did this in two separate polls using the same question, we were able to analyze the before and after results. Imagine how powerful this could be! It's one thing to ask kids to raise their hand or do a thumbs-up, thumbs-down, but when you record results in a poll, you can take the responses to the next level and let the students analyze the visual results, too.

Analyzing results: Before (left) and After (right)

Open-Ended Poll Questions
Open-ended polls let you ask an open-ended question that could require a phrase or varied response as opposed to a set multiple choice answer. For example I could ask, "What is one thing you already know about volcanoes?" and students could share their varying responses similar to how you might use a traditional KWL chart. (Of course I could then follow up with an open-ended poll question to ask what they want to know, and later on to have students tell me at least one thing they learned, too!)

A real life example of using an open-ended poll question involves asking students to use the first word that comes to mind to describe a character in a book you've just read, or one you're currently reading. If I asked 2nd graders to describe Amelia Bedelia as an open-ended poll and chose the output method to be word cloud, then their results would appear on screen in a word cloud, meaning words that are used by lots of students will be larger so you can see the words that were used the most often to describe the character. To make this more meaningful at higher levels, if the character in a book goes through some significant character development during the story, you may want to pause and do this activity in the beginning, and then again at the end, to see how the word clouds for the characters have changed.

Supporting BYOD and Technology Integration is a web-based tool that can be used to support BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) models or 1:1. You're not limited to just texting in a response to a poll, though that is certainly an option I've used with adults before, but responders can use the web response form (located at in the browser of any device - laptop, smartphone, tablet, desktop computer, etc. - to answer poll questions. In the free speech example above, students in the classroom had a combination of laptops they borrowed from the school and their own devices that they brought in. I LOVE browser based tools that support technology integration regardless of tech model. If you have a limited number of devices to use, you can always have students group up and collaborate on the question, coming to a consensus and then voting as a group. You could also use the device as a "station" - by refreshing the web response page at after submitting your response, you're free to submit another response. So one student could respond, hit refresh, and another student could then respond as well.

The possibilities seem endless, and it's such a quick way to gather informal data that you can turn around and act upon immediately. Head on over to and make an account today!

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