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An Update on Using Tech to Support Formative Assessment

2017 March 22
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by SSedro

Back in September, I posted about how my math exit slip process had evolved over time, becoming more effective through the use of technology. My system has taken another term, which has made it easier for everyone involved.

The process I was using in September used the website.  That website has many features I was not using. Since I wasn’t gaining benefits from those other features, Formative was a big, clunky tool for my purpose. Creating and viewing the exit slips was a slow process for me.  Using the web app or the iPad app was a slow process for my students. The drawing tool was rough, and the text tool non-existent on the iPad which made their work difficult to read and encouraged sloppiness.  It was better than anything else I had tried, but it wasn’t the formative assessment nirvana I was seeking.

A few months ago, I read about a new Google Forms feature. It is now possible for form participants to upload a file. For me, that was the missing piece.  (You can read Google’s announcement here. )

Armed with this new tool, I set about revising my process yet again.  For each math unit, I create a Google form to use as a template.  It has all of the needed parts EXCEPT the item that lets them upload files.  For each exit slip, I make a copy of that template and rename it accordingly. Here is this unit’s template. (Forgive me the St. Pat’s theme. They are kids. They seem to appreciate the theme change each unit.)




















Notice that I included a name line. I could have the form automatically capture their username, but that requires logging in. My students have been good about putting their name on their submissions, so this has saved them time.

The question with the bus is just a photo.  Each day’s exit slip is already in the lesson’s Google Presentation. I snap a screen shot of it and upload it in place of the image in the template.

My students have three options each day of how to complete the exit slip.  Their first choice is to type their answer.  Their second choice is to upload an image. Sometimes that is a screen capture, and other times is it a photo of a physical model, or something they have worked on whiteboard or notebook. Their final choice is to both type and upload. I’m surprised at how often they choose the latter. To give them this choice, neither item is a required option in the form

Next, I add the file upload item. I  can’t have that item already in the template. When I tried that, the forms always had a problem and deleting the item didn’t fix it. Instead, I add that item to each exit slip. It is one of the item types when you select to add an item.



When you select that option, you can choose how many files a participant can upload. I let students upload 5.  Since my students are supposed to show me their exit slip before they submit it, student often end up revising and adding their revised image. Brain research suggests that feedback is most useful within 20 minutes of completing a project.  This lets me provide that 1-on-1-just-in-time reteaching that seems to make the exit slip educational for them and an assessment tool for me.


With the last item in place, I grab the URL of the live form, and add it to the unit’s math assignment page.

Most of my students complete the exit slip in class. For students who don’t, I can view their slips either in the form itself, or by sending the form responses to a spreadsheet.

From the first day, my students liked the Google Form exit slips. The tool no longer gets in the way of them showing what they know.  All around, it’s a win.


Worlds Best Apartment Viewing Checklist

2017 March 21
by SSedro

If you are searching for an apartment, a condo or home to rent, you might find it useful to use a checklist while viewing units.

I combed a bunch of apartment hunting sites like Zillow, All State, and Apartment to find out what to look for when viewing condos. Then I combined the information into a Google form.
The form starts with basic info regarding the unit. Since I am only using it on second viewings, I didn’t include basic info such as rental price or square feet.
Screen Shot 2017-03-21 at 11.08.38 PM


For each part of the condo, I created a heading, a list of items I wanted to evaluate, and a general comments section. The radio buttons made the form really quick to complete.

Screen Shot 2017-03-21 at 11.08.50 PM
Screen Shot 2017-03-21 at 11.09.53 PM

For the kitchen, I had an overall condition section,  and a section for each major appliance.

Screen Shot 2017-03-21 at 11.10.22 PM


When I was ready to start using it, I sent myself the link to the live form. I clicked that link on my phone, and I was all set. For the first time ever, I didn’t forgot to check on something while doing the second walk through. We now have all of the information we need to enable our realtor to create the Letter of Intent.

When I returned home, I was able to view the information in the form. I could also save them to a spreadsheet, but that is more difficult to view.

If you want a copy of that you can use and tailor to meet your needs, start with this template.  It is essential that you make a copy and save it to your own Google Drive. I’ve included directions in the template to help you do that.  If you don’t follow them, chaos will ensue. (You have been warned.) You can delete the directions after you follow them.
[UPDATE: Use this link to the template. It will force you to make a copy.]
My checklist is tailored to condos here in Singapore. If I were using this back home in Minnesota, I’d add additional items, such as heating, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, radon testing results, etc. You are welcome to tailor your own copy to best meet your needs.
I’d love to hear how it works for you. Good home hunting!

Using Tech to Support Formative Assessment

2016 September 2
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by SSedro

Many teachers on my team use a paper exit slip in math class each day and that works just fine for them.  In contrast, managing piles of paper makes me crazy, and the paper exit slips were not easy to refer back to without lots of time spent filing. Over the past year, those frustrations pushed me to develop something that worked better for me and my students. Here is how it looks now.

I created a free teacher account on the Formative website. The first time my students logged in to it, they linked Formative to their school Google account, and then inserted a class code to get them to my class section.  After that, they added Formative as a desktop shortcut on their iPad home screens. formative logoThe shortcut ends up with the colorful Formative logo on it which makes it easy for the students to locate it.

Inside Formative, I organize the exit slips by date. For example, todays was Exit Slip 09/02.  In my dashboard, I am able to organize assignments in folders. Unfortunately, the folders are not visible to the students; they see the assignments in one long list.

There are many formative assessment tools online. The main reason I chose Formative over Nearpod, EDPuzzle, or other competitors, is the variety of response options.  In addition to the usual multiple choice, true/false and short answer, there is a Show Your Work option.  That is what I choose for exit slips.

Screen Shot 2016-09-02 at 10.08.23 AM


The Show Your Work option allows me to provide  each child with a blank space in which they show their work. Alternately, I can upload a graphic, such as grid paper, a coordinate graph, etc. which they use in their response.

When students start working, I can view their work in Formative’s live results section. Their responses appear as thumbnails in a grid. Here is a screen capture of the first row of responses. (I have cut off the names here to protect the children’s privacy.)

Screen Shot 2016-09-02 at 10.43.47 AM

You can see that my students have grasped that they can use a wide variety of tools when constructing their response.  One child (who hasn’t finished) used the drawing tool in Formative.  Another used her whiteboard and then uploaded a photo.  Another child used the Number Pieces app on his iPad. He uploaded a screen shot and combined it with the drawing tool in Formative. Another child pulled images of base ten blocks off the web to use in his response.

This flexibility allows children to tackle mathematical challenges and communicate mathematical thinking using the models and other tools which they best understand. Since there is little to no scaffolding in Formative, the children’s exit slips give me a more powerful look into their thinking than the work they do during guided practice or the independent practice work from their textbook.

This daily look into their thinking was soon informing my teaching, as good formative assessment should do. I would review their exit slips each night, and that often lead me to revise the next day’s instruction and form small groups for targeted reteaching.  However, while the exit slips were teaching me what I needed to know, they were not directly helping the children grow. That lack prompted another change in my process.

Brain research indicates that there is a window in which feedback is the most useful. I’ve read that receiving the feedback within 20 minutes of completing a task best supports learning. Giving children feedback on their exit slips the next day is well outside of that optimal time frame.

With that in mind, I started requiring students to show me their exit slip before they submitted it.  I quickly found that those brief conferences were some of my most effective moments of math instruction each day. I was catching errors and correcting misconceptions moments after the children demonstrated them. In our brief conferences, I could see and hear connections being made and learning taking place.

Now at this point in my new school year, we are still establishing the exit slip routine. Students are sometimes uploading their responses without conferencing with me.  As a result, most of the examples I have embedded into this post show errors, or misrepresentations which point to gaps in the children’s understanding. The examples on this page are responses to this challenge: describe 1.82 in three different ways. One of the ways must be a neat and clear base 10 model. 

Let’s look at one child’s response.

Screen Shot 2016-09-02 at 9.46.01 AMIs it incorrect? It certainly isn’t the most efficient way to model 1.82 since the hundredths are not with the tenths.  This child and I had a quick and focused discussion about her response.  After that, she gave me a treat that teachers live for. Her eyes went wide, she said, “Oh! I see a better way to draw it” and enthusiastically rushed off to make changes. My experiences have shown me that if the other children had checked in with me before submitting, most would have shown similar growth.


In addition to the math exit slips, I use Formative a few times per week for quick reading responses to our read aloud.  I expect longer, more detailed responses to their independent reading. However, despite their notes, they find responses to our read aloud book more challenging since they do not have the text in hand. Students share their read aloud responses with reading partners at the start of our next read aloud session. Discussing them the next day is not ideal, but it has still been useful.


In spite of how successful our use of the Formative website has been, I have a few frustrations with the it.

  • As mentioned above, students can’t see folders, just assignments, so the list gets long and children have trouble navigating it.
  • If you upload media, such as a picture or video, and then post a question beneath it, the student responses are difficult to view.
  • The scoring process is cumbersome. I have quit entering scores since my students are showing their responses to me in person.
  • The comments feature is only visible to the teacher; students can’t see it.
  • The tool set varies between the iPad and the computer. The computer has a text typing tool which is sorely missed when we login on our iPads. Even with a stylus, it is difficult to write neatly with the drawing tool on the iPad.  However, on the computer it is difficult to draw.

The team at Formative has said a big update will be out soon. I hope it addresses some of my issues, but I suspect it will focus on the standards tracking features which I am not using.


All in all, the  Formative website is proving to be an effective and efficient tool for formative assessment.  Its flexibility allows children a lot of latitude in the tools they use to solve  math challenges and communicate their thinking.  The ease with which I can scan the results allows me to quickly assess student progress. The information I glean from Formative allows me to revise lesson plans, and adjust student groupings. When my feedback to formative posts is timely, I often see students’ misconceptions being corrected in our conferences. Despite my frustrations with some aspects of the website, I enthusiatically recommend this process to any upper elementary class who has student iPads.

Are you using technology to improve your formative assessment?  I’d love to hear what you are doing.


2017/03/21 Update: As  well as this was working for me, it took a long time for me to create the exit slips, a long time for kids to write/upload their answers, and a long time for me to view them using  Since I am not using the standard tracking features in Formative, I quit using it when Google  made it possible for users to upload a file when completing a Google Form. When I get a chance, I’ll write a new post since the process is easier for everyone with a Google Form.

Yoga, iPad Apps, and Bone Density

2016 July 3
by SSedro

It is a common belief among medical professionals that it is very difficult or even impossible for adults to gain significant bone mass. Therefore, a post written by written by Jane E. Brody on the New York Times’  Wellness blog brings surprising and encouraging news.

The post, dated December 21, 2015 is titled 12 Minutes of Yoga for Bone Health .   It discusses an initial study, and its ten-year follow up study. Both had participants complete a 12-pose yoga routine daily or at least every other day for a decade. The average age of the 227 participants upon joining the study was 68, and 83 percent had osteoporosis or its precursor, osteopenia. The results of the study were impressive.

The findings, as reported last month in Topics of Geriatric Rehabilitation, showed improved bone density in the spine and femur of the 227 participants who were moderately or fully compliant with the assigned yoga exercises.

Improvements were seen in bone density in the hip as well, but they were not statistically significant.

Now that I am on summer vacation, I dug out the article from my Pinterest boards and read through it more thoroughly.  Although I do not currently practice yoga, I have practiced it almost daily for much of my adult life.  I found the idea of increasing bone density while also reaping the other benefits of yoga appealing.

To help me with the routine, I decided to pull up the highly rated Yoga Studio app on my iPad. I had gotten the app when it went free; it usually cost $3.99.

Screen Shot 2016-07-02 at 9.13.48 PM

One feature of the app is to create custom routines.  So, I set up a “class” of the poses listed in the article. All of the poses were in the app, but some of them went by different names. Fortunately, I had also found this article regarding the same study.  It showed photos of each pose and included their Sanskrit names. That allowed me to find each one on Youtube and it gave me alternate names for the poses. Here are screen shots so you can see the names used in the app.


Once I had the routine set up, the app let me set how long I should hold each pose (3o seconds, according to the article), and it even lets me schedule the sessions and adds them to my calendar.

The app does have written descriptions of each pose, but those are not visible during the routine.  Since I am not currently working with an instructor, I wanted a refresher on how to perform the poses. While I was looking them up on YouTube, I created the playlist below to help me learn the poses.  The playlist runs approximately 46 minutes.

If you give it a try, let me know how it goes for you.

Professional Development Applications for Teacher Leaders

2016 June 6
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by SSedro

This year, The Loft has exploded with professional development opportunities. Unfortunately, as someone who just moved from being a technology coach back to being a classroom teacher, I was so busy with the day-to-day life of the classroom that I did not find time to attend any of the offerings.

Fortunately for me, the tech team found a way to give graduate credit for attending the professional development offerings. My need for graduate credits to support the five-year renewal of my teaching license moved attending the workshops from a want to a need. Despite knowing the prep time I used to attend the course would come out of my sleep time, I was looking forward to attending. I expected to be made familiar with a few new tech tools and see a variety of options for making use of those tools in the classroom. That would be a useful format for me, especially second semester when I was not paddling quite as frantically to be prepared to teach each day.

As useful as that would have been, The Loft professional development was much more. Instead of focusing on tools, the sessions were built around Best Practices, showing how technology could be leveraged to support and extend those practices. Big ideas such as differentiation and assessment were the core of each session, and all of the tools supported that work.

For example, one session was titled Google Spreadsheets: Classroom Applications, Visualizing Data, and Assessment. It did start out with some low hanging fruit, such as a really flexible student picker that I probably used weekly for making pairs, triads, splitting into teams, etc. It also showed an easy way to generate flashcards that will be useful next year. I am eager to try the quiz show generator. My students find that to be an engaging way to review for tests, and the site I have been using is cumbersome and the font is too small.

Then the session moved into the heavy lifting uses. I had already been using the Google Sheets script Autocrat for years. However, I had only been using it for mail merging personalized letters. This session blew me away with the powerful uses. Then it brought in other scripts such as Doc Appender and the one I have used but can not find as I write this, that let me take that data and pull it into a book-like document with a page for each record. So. Incredibly. Useful.

I went home that night and worked until the wee hours applying what I had learned to solve niggling problems. I revamped my reading log system. I created a spreadsheet with a tab for each child. The children went in and entered their reading log data each data. They could have it auto-fill titles which they loved. The data automatically populated two charts. One showed their pages per minute average, and the other tracked their time spent reading. Those were motivating to some of my students.





Next, I worked with my tech coach, Shaun Kirkwood, whose spreadsheet wizardry far outstrips my own. He added magical formulas which totaled each child’s reading on a class summary sheet, regardless of how many entries they made in a day. This saved me tons of time every day.

class summary

After that, I created a form to push my students’ thinking about their reading. I used Doc Appender to feed that data into a page for each child. This page made it easy for the children, their families, and for me to track the growth in their thinking about reading.

Later that time, I continued to work with my tech coach to refine the process. I have not yet decided which format worked best, but all were much more useful to me and to the students – even if the students did not like them.

My next step, besides deciding on which reading logs to use next year, is to develop conferencing forms. The same method of a Google Form combined with Doc Appender will let me quickly take notes while conferencing, and then view a child’s data all in one place. I am trying to think of ways to use the main response spreadsheet to easily tell how often and how recently I have conferenced with each child.

Another step is to figure out how to use these with book clubs. Sometimes, I’ve used my book clubs. The YouTube session taught me about adding annotations and bookmarks into YouTube videos. I already have my students record their discussions and upload them to our class YouTube channel. I think I can use the new skills from that session to help them better reflect on their discussions which should lead to more growth.

I am out of space and still have many other sessions to discuss, such as the Game-Based Learning, the changes to TouchCast which I haven’t used yet with my students, but feel better able to tackle now, and how useful it was to be forced to learn more about Google Photos – an application I’ve had a love –hate relationship with since it was introduced. Thanks to this session, I was able to help my students use it more effectively.

But now, it is summer. I am writing this from a lovely garden in Ubud, Bali. Doves are cooing in the trees and ducks are quacking in the rice paddy. It is time for teachers and their instructors to unplug and decompress. Thank you for a great quarter of learning.








Narrative Techniques

2015 October 13
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by SSedro

For me, one measure of an effective writing lesson is when my students are all clamoring to share what they just wrote, and spontaneous conferences are happening all over the room.  That is finally happening in my writing workshop thanks to great resources found online and shared by colleagues.

We’ve been working on narrative writing with lots of flash drafting to increase volume and stamina. Lots of different topics were generated to give us a rich bank of ideas and options.  It was all fine, but not great.  As we worked on selecting  flash draft to flesh out into a full narrative, we revisited some earlier lessons.

I’ve been discussing with them that if you just want to tell about an event in chronological order, write a recount. A narrative is a story. It has a story arc. It has a life lesson or the character grows or changes in some way.  Students seemed willing to believe me, but they were having trouble using the techniques of narrative writing to turn their recounts into narratives.

On Monday we revisited writing strong leads.  I was fortunate to find this great presentation online: Three Types of Narrative Leads.  The mentor text examples at the start were useful, but the real power came at the end where is showed three different leads for the same narrative.  Students burst out with comments about how powerful the leads were and which one they thought was best.  During their work time, some students actually crafted multiple leads and then selected which one worked best.  Many of their leads were strongly influenced by the powerful examples from the presentation. Some students started with one type of lead but then abandoned it and tried a different type.  All were focused during the writing session.

During our closing circle, they shared which type of lead they were trying.  Many had watered the styles down by combining them, but most students now had a stronger lead than what they’d had before.  Success!

(Note: I also had this handout on narrative leads available, but none of my students ended up using it.)

Today we revisited another narrative technique: slowing down the heart of the story. I ran out of time to make a lovely presentation but even displaying this document and reading it aloud was highly effective.  Then, based on a lesson from my school’s excellent mini-literacy institute last spring, I showed this video clip.

I did not teach this part as masterfully as Scott Reilly did in the institute. Fortunately, it is such a great teaching tool that it worked anyhow.

The first time through I kept stopping it, pointing out all the details of how the perspective kept switching, of the sounds, the sights, the expressions, the postures, the word choice, the camera angle and especially the speed.  Then we watched it again straight through.  Finally, I sent them off to find the heart of their narrative and to slow it down so we could experience it with them.

Students dug into their writing and it worked. Soon students were waving me over or dashing across the room, eager to share what they had written.  Spontaneous writing conferences started breaking out around the room as students, with heads together, shared the part they had just slowed down.

By this time I had despaired of helping my low volume writer truly expand his writing. Both my instructional assistant and I were both at a loss for what else to try with him since we’d tried all the “tricks” in our bag over the past month. He was miserably discouraged and kept saying, “I don’t understand how to do that.”

For some reason, this mini-lesson clicked with him. He got right to work.  He slowed down one part of his so much (and so effectively) that the slowed section was now longer than the original piece had been. His face was alight with his success and as he walked away he said, “I just figured out how I can slow down this last sentences. I can make it better.”

In the end, all but four students had identified the heart and worked at slowing it down. In our closing circle students did not read aloud, they just verbally told us about the part they had worked on slowing down. As students shared, frequent interjections and exclamations were heard from their classmates  because they could “see” how effective the slow down would be. Examples included the slowed down portion of a water balloon or snowball fight. The slowed down moment when their friend decided to touch his tongue to the metal bar at the top of the ski lift. The slowed down moment at the funeral when they viewed their uncle’s body for the last time.

It is so rewarding to see students excited about crafting their writing and eager to share their work. I feel great gratitude to the people who took time to share the excellent resources online which inspired my students to these new heights.  Thank you.