Teaching Resources

3 Quick Ways to Capture and Analyze Learners’ Thinking (enter for a chance to win a copy of the book!)

 //  Mar 15, 2018

3 Quick Ways to Capture and Analyze Learners’ Thinking (enter for a chance to win a copy of the book!)

Judith Dodge and Blanca Duarte are co-authors of 25 Quick Formative Assessments for a Differentiated Classroom, 2nd ed., which is updated with more support for English language learners and teaching with tech. They join EDU to discuss the power of using formative assessments. 


We are giving five readers the chance to win a copy of 25 Quick Formative Assessments for a Differentiated Classroom. To enter for a chance to win, leave a comment below telling us your city and state, and what grade you teach. One entry per person. All entries must be submitted by 5:59 p.m. ET on March 30, 2018. U.S. residents, 18 and over, please. See the complete legal rules here.

Formative assessment is a purposeful, ongoing process that is non-graded, frequent, and, generally, carried out several times throughout a lesson. Before educators give a single grade, they gather data about where students are in their understanding of a topic or concept. Then, they use this assessment-based evidence to drive subsequent instruction, targeting misunderstandings or gaps in student comprehension. According to Hattie (Visible Learning for Teachers, 2012), formative assessment has one of the most powerful effects on student achievement, improving engagement, self-regulation and self-directed learning.

In 1998, Wiliam and Black, credited as the first to describe “assessment for learning," noted that in many cases formative assessment can effectively double the speed of student learning.

What formative assessment looks like:

  • Teachers engaging in one-on-one conferences with students;

  • Students writing summaries to synthesize learning;

  • Students drawing illustrations to show understanding;

  • Students using checklists and rubrics to self-assess and learn next steps toward the learning objective;

  • Students engaged in collaborative conversations to discuss meaning, process, and problem-solving;

  • Students writing in journals where they stop to reflect, describe, sequence, compare and contrast, note relationships among concepts, and so on.

How to capture this information:

In a differentiated classroom you can ask students to note what they are thinking at different times during the lesson: at the beginning, at the middle and at the end of a lesson, and/or lots of times in between. There are many ways that you can capture learners’ thinking especially if you are in a classroom that has access to technology.

Below, we focus on three summary and reflection assessments that function formatively and provide traditional as well as digital suggestions for using them.

1. A TimeOut!

KWL charts are often used as a pre-lesson activity which, when used with a collaborative tool, offer opportunities for students to quickly brainstorm what they know about a topic, what they want to know, and, after the lesson, what they have learned. A TimeOut! offers a similar experience.

After students are accustomed to the procedure of responding to a prompt through a QuickWrite (2–3-minute timed reflection activity), a TimeOut! can be offered multiple times during a lesson. Pausing for student reflection and writing two to three times during a lesson allows for consolidation of learning and deeper understanding (Hattie, 2012).

In a digital classroom, students can be prompted before, during, and after a lesson is completed using backchannel tools like TodaysMeet or Chatzy, a collaborative bulletin board type tool like Padlet, or a feature like the Question in Google Classroom. See the image below for an example of how TodaysMeet is used for a TimeOut! (a reflection or a response to a teacher-posed question) as students read about the Byzantine Empire.

As an alternative reflection activity, educators can provide students with a random list of ideas and statements that partners have to think about—some that are true and others that are false. Have students discuss with partners whether they agree or disagree with each statement, and have each write down all statements they believe to be correct.

2. A WriteAbout

A WriteAbout is a concrete tool for summarization in which students use key vocabulary terms to synthesize their understanding of key ideas in a paragraph, accompanied by a visual image.

Digital tools allow for some additional flexibility in how students work. Students can insert images or draw their own, and label images freehand or with a text tool to complete a WriteAbout. This is especially useful for students who have difficulty expressing their understanding in words, like ELLs. The use of digital device is also helpful for those that have trouble with fine motor skills like those with dysgraphia. Using a text tool, students can type their summary under their image.

The digital documents can be saved and compared for improvement in writing over time.

See the image below for a Math WriteAbout example on the relationship between buildings and right angles. This can be done as a precursor to an introduction on right angles to measure what students know prior to the lesson, or during the lesson as students are making sense of information, vocabulary and the relationship between the real world and mathematics.

Words: right angle, 90 degrees, triangle, relationship, opposite, area, perimeter, square, rectangle

Challenge yourself: isosceles, hypotenuse, adjacent

In the following image of the Empire State Building (ESB), there are multiple right angles visible.The perimeter of the building clearly shows the right angles as the building gets narrower at the top. Right angles equal 90 degrees and are found in squares and rectangles. These right angles make up rectangles that are visible on the outside edge of the building, also called the perimeter. One way to calculate the area of the building would be to measure and multiply the base and height of each rectangle. The top of the ESB forms a loosely shaped isosceles triangle whose area can be calculated by multiplying ½ base x height. There are also windows with 90 degree angles on the ESB.

3. A 30-Second Summary:

30-second summaries can be used as both an assessment and a way to extend learning.

During a study of cell division, for example, students can research how cell division in a plant is different than in animals. They can summarize their findings in a 30-second summary by:

  • delivering an oral presentation to the class;

  • creating a visual about key findings; or

  • creating a set of bullet points with key points.

As students make these 30-Second Summary presentations, they are providing a spiraling, student-driven exploration of content. To save even more time, educators can consider limiting the number of students who will present for each unit. We recommend that each student orally present at least one 30-Second Summary per quarter.

In a digital classroom, there are multiple tools you can use to show understanding using a 30-second summary. After conducting research individually or in pairs, teachers can:

  • ask students to record a summary as a response to a prompt using FlipGrid;

  • allow students to choose how they leave a summary on a Padlet: Draw, Film, or Voice; 

  • use a tool like Verso to create a prompt and ask students to write their response.

Keep in mind that with practice, all of these tools can be set up on the day of collection, with students responding to multiple prompts throughout the day as they summarize new information.


I am an Elementary

I am an Elementary Instructional Coach in Windber, PA

This looks really interesting

This looks really interesting. I live and teach grades 2-6 (special ed) in brooklyn, ny.

I am a K-4 principal and

I am a K-4 principal and would love to raffle off this book at a staff meeting.

I case manage special

I case manage special education students in 3rd-5th grade in East Hanover, NJ

I teach third grade in the

I teach third grade in the state of Washington. I'm interested in This book because next year my observations will be about various assessment processes.

Sarasota, Florida. Special

Sarasota, Florida. Special Education Grades6-8. I am always looking for ways to assess in a less formal way since my kids don't do well on paper pencil tests. This looks ideal.

I teach ELA writing in

I teach ELA writing in Weehawken, NJ to 6th grade. While I do use formative assessments, I would like to see more examples that I could use in my classroom

Reading Interventionist

Reading Interventionist grades 1-5 This would be a valuable resource when working with my 3rd - 5th graders. Fall Brook Leominster, MA

I teach 5th grade in Port

I teach 5th grade in Port Republic, Maryland. This looks like a great resource!

Teach k-5th

Teach k-5th Librarian In yardley, pa Interested in bringing more student driven assessments into class

I teach 7th and 8th grade

I teach 7th and 8th grade science in Middlebury, IN. I’m looking to build some literacy tools, like the “write about it” example. I liked how you incorporated their content vocabulary into their writing.

I am a setss teacher for

I am a setss teacher for grades 1-6 in Brooklyn, New York. This looks really interesting.