Creative Formative Assessments

Hello there! It has been a minute – and a teacher post is coming your way! This post is being brought to you courtesy of my Instructional Effectiveness course that I am taking right now, as part of my M.Ed. at Clemson University.

So, what is formative assessment?

Formative assessment is an ongoing measurement of how your students are progressing toward your learning goals and objectives. Unlike summative assessment, which happens after instruction, formative assessment happens during – ideally, throughout – instruction, and is used to form your future instructional decisions (hence, formative!). My district’s goal this year is focusing on incorporating Checks for Understanding, or CFUs, every 1-3 minutes during instruction. Why so often? Think of the ever-popular exit ticket. These can give you some great information about your students… as they leave your classroom. You then need to wait until the next day to address misconceptions. By checking for understanding as instruction is occurring, teachers can make on-the-spot adjustments to instruction. The point of misunderstanding is easier to target, and students are less likely to slip through with learning gaps.

If not an exit ticket, then what?

As a teacher of the little ones, it often feels like many formative assessment ideas discussed during professional development are too advanced or complicated for younger children. However, most can be easily modified to suit any age or ability level, especially when it’s a general medium that can be easily tailored across content areas. Here, I’ll outline three that I use most often in my own classroom, and one that I plan on utilizing later on this school year.

Wikki Stix

What’s waxy, pliable, and colorful? Wikki Stix! I first heard about Wikki Stix when I started digging deeper into learning about guided reading tools. Last year, I had written a Donors Choose project that didn’t quite reach the minimum monetary amount, so I threw in a package of Wikki Stix to reach it. Since then, I have used these wonderful little gizmos at least every week, mostly during guided reading groups and math groups. Students love the colors that they come in and it provides them with a truly hands-on experience.

Here are some of my favorite uses of Wikki Stix:

  • Say a number or shape and have students build it.
  • Give a problem and have students solve and show their answer.
  • Use picture clues and have students write the initial, medial, or final sound. This can be easily differentiated depending on your level of readers.
  • Make sight words or spelling words.

Dry-Erase Boards

Another Donors Choose prize, dry-erase boards are one of my students’ favorite ways to show off their learning. Like Wikki Stix, they can truly be used across content areas. We like to call it 1,2,3…FLIP! when we use ours. Students know to hold their boards close to their chests so that they keep their answer a secret. This helps me gather a more valid picture of their understanding, and it feels like a game to them. In addition, I can quickly glance to get a quick snapshot of how we stand in our learning at that moment.

I incorporate dry-erase boards almost daily, usually in one of the following ways:

  • Say a number or shape and have students write/draw it on their boards.
  • Read a story problem and have students solve.
  • Allow all students to participate in whole-group review games by allowing them to write on their boards before answering aloud.
  • Practice letter formation, spelling words, and sight words.
  • Stop and jot periodically to check for understanding throughout lessons.


This one always makes my heart happy. I introduced our procedure for this at the beginning of the year, and it is one of the most low-prep yet engaging and open-ended formative assessments you can do. Having expectations on accountable talk, taking turns, and bringing it back to the whole group from the outset is key to being successful in think-pair-share, but once the groundwork is laid, it is so simple. We use hand gestures to monitor our process and stay on track. If you’re unfamiliar with think-pair-share, it has three steps.

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1. Think – The teacher poses a question and allows for think time in which student independently reflect on the question in relation to their learning. At this time, my students put a thinking finger to their temple so I know they are considering the prompt.


Photo on 11-15-17 at 9.59 PM #22. Pair – Students pair with a neighbor and take turns sharing ideas. Doing so gives them valuable time to re-assess their thinking and modify it if necessary. When my students have composed a thought and are ready to pair, they hold up crossed fingers. When I see everyone is ready, they then turn to a partner near them. Some teachers have assigned partners, but I prefer to keep mine fluid and let my students pick their person. This is where that positive environment is key – without it, you run the risk of students not being able to self-regulate in choosing a partner and someone getting hurt. During this time, I visit with groups and listen in to what they are saying, providing some guiding questions if needed.

3. Share – The teacher has students share what they discussed. Some modifications to this can include using popsicle sticks to call on non-volunteers and having students tell what their partner said. I do both of these often to help keep students engaged and remember that what their partner says is as important as what they are saying. I bring them back to share time from pairing by quietly counting down from five on my fingers. I do this so as to give the pairs time to wrap up their thoughts.

Not only does this method require little preparation aside from planning and timing effective questions, it allows your more shy students to practice and rehearse. All students get a chance to speak in one way or another, and it can often cause that necessary cognitive dissonance to push them further in their thinking. Connections between ideas can easily be made in these conversations, and all learners can be challenged when the questions posed are open-ended and allow for more than one right answer.

The Road Ahead: Plickers

I have heard about Plickers from a colleague and plan to research and implement it later this year in my classroom. Essentially, Plickers are “paper clickers”: each student has a unique Plicker with four answer choice sides. After reading a multiple-choice question, students hold their Plicker with the correct answer choice on top. The teacher can then scan the room with a phone or tablet and get immediate feedback using the students’ unique identities. I am intrigued by this method because we are not a 1:1 technology school and also because I can quickly see which students require more support before moving on to independent practice, or which students require remediation after learning a topic. To help little learners get the hang of putting the correct side of the card on top, you can have them first put a clothespin on their answer, then turn the clothespin to the ceiling. This will be a method that I will revisit after our winter break once I have more time to set it up – each student will need his/her own unique Plicker card, and questions will need to be entered into the program before proceeding.

Collaboration: The Cornerstone to Creativity

So, how can coaches facilitate these experiences in their school? It starts with collaboration among teachers. I do not take credit for thinking of any of these ideas on my own; instead, I learned about them through collaboration with other teachers, whether at my school or teacher-bloggers across the country! Allowing teachers time to collaborate with each other is important, but an important consideration is to give teachers time to collaborate with teachers of similar age groups. What works for fifth-grade students is very different from what works for kindergarteners. Sharing how we can modify these creative assessments for different learner groups is a valuable and important conversation to have during these times.  The role of the coach here isn’t to simply schedule these meetings, but to come as a well-researched player with a host of tricks that teachers can discuss in terms of their own objectives and individual students.

2017-2018 Classroom Tour

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Back to school always makes me feel like a little girl again – a fresh start with shiny new school supplies and a laundry list of goals and resolutions. Of course, one of the best things about being a teacher is getting my classroom set up! 

This year, I have eliminated chairs from my classroom with the exception of my computer station. Each student table has a different seating option: standing desk, stools, cubes, balance balls, or seat cushions at a low table. I’m going to integrate my behavior management and flexible seating to make it more manageable. Students will be in teams each week and will work together to earn points. On Friday, the team with the most points will get to pick their option for the next week first. 

Our school theme this year is “Learning is Our Ticket to the World.” I have decided to use an adventure spin on my door display. I’ll probably change out the pennant banners in October and do something for Halloween. 

This is the view from the door as you walk in my room. To the left are storage cubbies for backpacks and lunch boxes. 

I post any important flyers on our news board as well as our monthly newsletter and calendar, which I purchased from Learning in Wonderland. I also have my classroom information flipbook displayed for now, which I also purchased from Learning in Wonderland. 

This is our reading nook. I use Fountas and Pinnell to level my books. The bulletin board will become home for anchor charts and old morning messages. The smaller bookshelf is new this year. I will be keeping my read-aloud books in there for easy access during units. 

Something I’m really excited about is my new lightbox! I purchased a bundle of inserts for it from Learning in Wonderland (are you seeing a trend?). So far, I’ve just printed transparencies for fall, birthdays, and student of the month. I’m so excited to use it to make my kids feel special for their birthdays and behavior! 

This is my favorite place in my room and where the magic happens! Our stools are new. Right now I have things set out for Meet the Teacher. Behind the table, I keep math centers, my guided reading toolkit, Fountas and Pinnell kit, and some other literacy resources. You can also see our objectives to the left and our Waterford clip chart to the right. Students in our district spend two 20 minute sessions on the computer, and the clip chart helps me track who has and has not gotten their time in. 

Here is our writing station! I change the cards monthly. Right now, I have different writing activities in the paper trays. As students become more independent writers, I will put in different types of writing paper and move away from generated activities. 

And these are just some views from the back of our room. Only two more workdays until go time! 

Five for FRIDAY!

Can I get a TGIF? I’ve officially survived the first week of school in my new district and grade level and I couldn’t be happier. Yeah, I’m exhausted and my weekend highlights include a Netflix binge and takeout, but I am one happy camper. You know you’re in a great work environment when you’re fine with leaving at 6:15 AM every morning and staying until 4:00 every evening. That’s not to say, however, that I’m not crossing my fingers to maybe trim that back a teeny tiny bit, but I’m just fine and dandy with it all right now. Hopefully this steam will keep it going until May!

But now, it’s time for our weekly tradition sponsored by Doodle Bugs Teaching!

Five for Friday Header



“That’s all I have to say about that,” as Forrest Gump would say. If you went back to school this week, or ever, you understand.


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Actually Cooking Real Food

Despite an overwhelming desire to eat pizza, gummy worms, bagel bites, and my feelings this first week of school, I actually made dinner, as seen above. And yes, it was low-carb. I’m feeling like SuperWoman this week.



This Yearly Tradition

Last year on the first day of third grade, I used a different frame that I made to take a picture of each of my students and myself. I switched out part of the frame to do the same thing on the last day. It was so fun to see the changes in everyone over the course of one school year! I did the same thing this week with my firsties, then we made picture frames for them to take home.



This Devotional

I bought this book back in college after my roommate recommended it to me, and oh my goodness. It’s wonderful. The readings aren’t terribly long and lend so much perspective. I set aside 5-10 minutes every morning right before I leave for work or get my day started, and it makes such a huge difference in how the day goes. The passages truly put my mind in the correct focus and ground me.


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And finally, snuggling with this sweet girl at the end of every day.


  • What’s your favorite thing from this week?
  • What is your go-to weeknight meal during the first week back?
  • Do you have any first week traditions in your classroom?

I’m looking forward to reading your responses in the comments section!

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Classroom Tour 2015-2016!

Whew! It has been a whirlwind two weeks. The beginning of the school year is sort of like Chinese takeout rice: the more you finish, the more there seems to be left. I started casually working on my room two weeks ago, but last week I got Back to School Fever and devoted all of my time to my classroom. You know how it is. I was squeezing in an hour here and there after district workshops, printing and Pinteresting until all hours of the night, questioning my life/classroom choices. Tomorrow is my last day of pre-planning before the kiddos arrive on Monday, and I think I’m pretty much set. All that’s left to do is prep for my lessons, put together backpack tags, and type up some beginning-of-year paperwork. I’m waiting to put nametags and number labels on my tables until Tuesday when my roster is set.

Our school is turning 80 this year, so we’re celebrating with a Hollywood theme! I figured since I have a totally clean slate in my room, I’d coordinate it with the school theme. Some of the products you’ll see in my pictures are ones I made using personal licenses (so they aren’t in my TpT store), and some I purchased from other teacher-authors. You’ll find the link to each product below the picture showing it.

And now… Lights, camera, action! 
Previously, that back wall in the picture above was a green chalkboard with a hunk of showerboard bolted in the middle. With the help of one of the veteran teachers on my AMAZING team, we tore that down and repainted with black chalkboard paint!     Students, parents, and families stopped in yesterday after registration to check out our room, fill out interest inventories, and grab a wishlist star. 🙂

Small group/intervention table…Where the magic happens!

I have a fully functioning SmartBoard. It’s a beautiful thing.
  My behavior/control center board has a transportation clip chart, rules, rewards, noise control and question sign language banners, and popcorn bags to hold good behavior tickets (more on this later). I noticed after the picture was taken that the banner on the left’s parts are out of order. Oops. That’s summer brain for ya.

I ❤ Dollar Tree.
Our reading nook and writing center. And some of my lovely storage.

Yeah, still need to put paper in those trays…
  The view from the rug.

 I’m totally excited about this. I had two of these carts last year in third grade for our interactive notebooks. However, first grade will be different, so I chose to put a cart at each table this year that will hold all the materials for each day. I’ll have six students at each table. I hot glued a plastic cup in the center of a pencil tray (another idea from a different veteran teacher on my AWESOME team!). Each child will have one pencil and one pair of scissors in the cup and one glue stick on their side of the basket. This way, no one is playing with their scissors and making confetti in/under their desk. 🙂

I made a few changes after these pictures were taken, starting with my messed-up sign language banner. I also hot glued number tags for my backpack hooks and hung paper hangers from my ceiling tiles for an activity we’ll be doing on Monday. I’m sure I’ll be making more changes to it in the coming weeks, but this is a great room. I don’t have an attached bathroom, so in its place I have extra storage. Right now, it’s mostly empty, since I haven’t amassed a lot of “stuff” yet, but that should change this year. I also LOVE, LOVE, LOVE having flooring instead of carpet. The awesome maintenance team put tennis balls on the bottom of all our desks and chairs, so we’ll be quiet and scratch-free! 🙂

If you’re interested in the products you saw above, here they are! The majority of my classroom decor is from one of Clutter Free Classroom‘s decoration bundles, which I highly recommend.

My classroom decor resources:

Clutter Free Classroom Bundle

Writing Center Bundle

Daily Five Clip Chart


What theme are you doing in your classroom this year? Do you change your theme yearly? I’d love to hear your two cents in the comments below!

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Five for Friday

Happy Friday, y’all! It’s my last official Friday of summer break. Next week, I have a long-term planning day with my new grade level team on Monday, then volunteering at an early registration day on Tuesday, and then new hire orientation on Wednesday and Thursday. I’m hoping to squeeze in some time in my classroom to work on my displays. I have all of my furniture arranged and everything I moved in with me organized, but I still need to do all of the fun decorating and not-so-fun binder organization.

But, it’s Friday, so there’s only one thing that means… Five for Friday Header



I went out for pizza twice this week. At the same restaurant: Mellow Mushroom. Am I ashamed? Nope. I used to try to steer clear of pizzas made using bases other than tomato sauce, but I really took a leap of faith and branched out this week, ordering not one, but TWO pizzas with an olive oil base. Daring, I know. What did I choose? Mellowterranean and Thai Dye, both of which were equally amazing in their own ways. I’ll try to chill next week, but the place has also trivia, so I don’t know if I’ll prevail…


Summer Reading

Am I going to have time to read anything other than 6-year-olds’ paragraphs after this week? The thought makes me misty eyed. My last book of the summer is going to be The Rumor by Elin Hilderbrand. I haven’t gotten as far into it as I would have liked, but time has really flown this week. While not mind-numbing, it’s definitely what I’d call a fluffy beach read; I don’t think I’d be too into it during any other time of year than summer. If you’re a fan of Gossip Girl, I’d say it’s similar, only with grown adults. Whatever.


The Knot

Have I mentioned before that I’m an obsessive planner? As in, each item on my to-do list has its own to-do list. It’s like to-do list inception. I told myself I wouldn’t even think of wedding plans until after the first few weeks of school, but I’m literally incapable. I need to be juggling approximately 17 different causes of stress in order to function as a productive human being. So, after extensive Googling of the best wedding planning websites, apps, and binders (because I don’t actually have time to be Googling such fluffy stuff, but it’s summer, so…), I settled on The Knot. I’m sure I’ll regret saying this later, and someone please remind me when I’m sitting in a corner, crying over flower inspirations and nursing a bag of gummy worms, but I don’t think that this whole wedding planning thing is going to make me want to tear my eyeballs out like every other person I’ve spoken to who has gotten married recently. I mean, I plugged in our tentative date and budget, and I magically got an itemized checklist in chronological order, a countdown according to days, weeks, and months, and even an itemized budget. This is a list nerd’s dream.

Again, someone please remind me of this little soliloquy five months from now.


This Article

WeAreTeachers shared an article this week from Chalkboard Connections about something called deep data, and it truly gives perspective during this time of year when it’s so easy to focus more on door decorations than the munchkins who are about to walk through that door. I did not keep written data about each of my students’ preferences last year, but I’m going to try it out this year. I think this will be especially insightful and grounding during the time of year when I feel my energy and patience start to slip.


TpT Sitewide Back to School SALE!

Back to School Sale

On August 3-4, TeachersPayTeachers is throwing a sitewide sale to help you get ready for the upcoming school year. Everything in my store will be 20% off! To make things even easier next week, go ahead and wishlist your favorite items for easy access during the sale!

Have a lovely weekend!

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