#FormativeTech: Meaningful, Sustainable, and Scalable Formative Assessment With Technology


Monica Burns

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    Praise for #FormativeTech

    #FormativeTech is an incredible guide and resource for teachers who are integrating technology into their classrooms. Teachers will find useful information about assessing students successfully with technology and using this data for student success. They will also discover resources for ensuring students are learning at their best with the technology.

    Shelly Sanchez Terrell, International Speaker and Author of The 30 Goals Challenge for Teachers

    This book is a great resource for all teachers. Assessment can often be seen as a four-letter-word, but Monica Burns reminds us that if done well, it can be a tool for better supporting student learning and creating student empowerment. #FormativeTech is approachable and full of “use it on Monday” ideas. I can’t wait to share this with my colleagues!

    Jennie Magiera, Educator and Author of Courageous Edventures Chief Technology Officer for Des Plaines School District 62 Chicago, IL

    Monica Burns is savvy about teaching, assessment, and how technology enhances both. Her deep expertise on the subject and knowledge of formative assessment research—through a personable, no-nonsense voice—makes her the perfect guide through these absorbing tools, tips, and anecdotes. The ideas from this super-inspiring author are ones you’ll return to often.

    Todd Finley, Editorial Assistant and Blogger Edutopia Greenville, NC

    There is no better time than now to bring together the powerful learning forces of technology integration and formative assessment. This is showcased beautifully through the writing of Monica Burns in a way that is meaningful, sustainable, and scalable for teachers and leaders. This book is an ideal read for educators looking to grow more agile in their use of data to individualize and personalize instruction.

    Robert Dillon, Director of Innovative Learning School District of University City University City, MO

    As someone who’s been involved in many mobile device initiatives in schools, I’ve seen first-hand the power devices have in informing instruction when coupled with meaningful formative assessment. In #FormativeTech, Monica Burns does an amazing job, not only of delving into the technology part of formative assessment, but also into the research behind what can make it most effective for learning. This book is full of tools, strategies, and lesson ideas that you can use in your classroom right away to help inform learning and make it meaningful, sustainable, and scalable.

    Carl Hooker, Director of Innovation and Digital Learning Eanes Independent School District Austin, TX

    Since NCLB came into play, data has been driving instruction whether or not the teachers were able to best determine how to calculate and apply the data in real time. Often this is due to the fact that the data teachers receive is not real-time data, but rather data from the prior year that is technically out-of-date for the specific student. The other reason is simply because undergraduate classes simply do not teach how to figure the types and calculations of data that would be applicable in different situations, along with what to do with the data to improve student performance. Teachers are—and historically have been—excellent at gathering, recording, and reporting data; however that has often been the extent of their involvement with it. This book will be the ticket to board the train that gets teachers to understand progress monitoring and calculating growth, as well as what to do with the information once they have it.

    Pamela L. Opel, Special Education Instructional Specialist, 6–12 Gulfport School District Gulfport, MS

    Teachers often recognize the need for formative assessment but don’t have enough “tricks in their bags” to properly employ on a routine basis. Combining formative assessment with technology can help teachers expand their repertoire while also simplifying data collection and analysis.

    Christine Landwehrle, K–12 Director of Curriculum School Administrative Unit 39 Amherst, NH


    To my sister, for whose strength and guidance I am forever grateful.


    Approximately 7 years into my educational career as a middle school math teacher, I reached a point of being able to articulate my frustrations with the ways that schools measured mathematical understanding possessed by students and how many educators, and the global public, perceived assessment of learning in general.

    For example, in my eighth-grade math class, we followed a very traditional Algebra 1 curriculum. (In fact, we used the same textbook that I had used when I had taken Algebra 15 years earlier!) How did I arrive at this practice? I followed the leads of other, more experienced teachers in the department who also taught eighth grade. Each meeting block had a typical rhythm: our class would go over the previous night’s homework, and then I would deliver some new instruction. Students engaged in some assigned classwork, and then I would inform them of their new homework, usually due the next day. Halfway through a chapter, students would take a short quiz, and at the end of the chapter, a test. Sometimes I asked students to come up to the whiteboard and solve a problem in front of the class. Sometimes, multiple students solved a problem. Questioning, dialogue, and showing work were all encouraged of course, but when trying to “stay on track” and keep to a schedule—after all, students needed to be ready to take the generic final exam at the end of the year and be ready with the foundational knowledge for the next math course in their sequence—measuring what a student was able to recall always seemed to take priority over what was more important, that is, what the student was able to do with that knowledge.

    I have always struggled with giving grades on quizzes and tests. Sure, grades are the most visible and easily recognized form of feedback, but they are not necessarily the most representative of what a student knows or is able to do with what he or she knows. For me, the most valuable form of feedback is individual guidance, and I tried to offer this to my students. But, due to my class sizes and the number of classes I taught, offering such valuable feedback to students felt impossible, or at least unsustainable. I felt stuck, unable to meaningfully guide my students to where I wanted them to be.

    I had already been using technology for instructional delivery and for occasional predictability-shifting novelty, but it was around this frustration tipping point that I made a new intentional effort toward using technology to (1) better understand what students knew, (2) better understand what students were able to do with what they knew, and (3) better lead and guide students toward curricular and learning objectives organized around (1) and (2).

    In the first year of this new intentionality, I abandoned about 50% of my traditional assessments and replaced them with screencasting activities. I already was using screencasting to record mini-lessons and review materials. I relied on an interactive whiteboard connected to a single desktop computer in my classroom, a USB external microphone, and software that could capture everything happening on the screen. One day I created the opportunity for my students to record a screencast during class, and a giant light bulb went off in my head: this was going to be how I would better capture their understanding and document and communicate how they were applying their thinking.

    This moment led to my eventual research area (formative assessment with technology) and involvement in the creation of a software company to support mobile screencasting (Explain Everything). I began a long journey toward addressing my frustrations around assessment practices, while challenging norms and generating an authentic alternative worth considering.

    I’ve known Monica Burns for many years—as a fellow New Yorker, Apple Distinguished Educator, and general EdTech enthusiast. What I find most remarkable about this book currently sitting in your hands is that it provides clear, approachable, and actionable steps for shifting practices within the greater context of systemic change in assessment practices and perceptions in today’s schools. I was fortunate to be at the right place and time in my professional and academic career to connect the dots between formative assessment, technology, and learning. Because of this book, such fortune is not requisite. Any teacher who reads this book will stand a chance of making similar connections and best serving his or her students.

    Sure, the technologies will change over time, but the embedded beliefs and practices brought to life through the examples and ideas in this book will always be relevant, will always be important. We can complain about high stakes testing and the superficial value of traditional grading practices, but without proposing effective and, as Monica defines, meaningful, sustainable, and scalable alternatives, the same practices will linger, and educational systems will continue to do students a disservice, confusing learning with testing and assessment with grading.

    —Reshan RichardsCo-author of Blending Leadership: Six Simple Beliefs for Leading Online and Off Adjunct Faculty, Teachers College, Columbia University and Columbia School for Professional Studies Co-founder and Chief Learning Officer, Explain Everything


    I would like to take a moment to thank the educators from around the world who shared their stories in #FormativeTech. The teacher leaders you’ll find sprinkled in the pages of this book took the time to talk to me about their special experiences to illustrate the use of technology for formative assessment. This includes dear friend and former colleague Tammy Musiowsky who works tirelessly to support the needs of her students.

    A special thank you to the Apple Distinguished Educator community, especially Reshan Richards. Thank you Reshan for your support throughout this process. Your research and passion for this topic is truly inspiring.

    And a final thank you to Corwin and my amazing editor Ariel Bartlett for embracing the potential of educational technology and supporting the #FormativeTech journey.

    Publisher’s Acknowledgments

    Corwin gratefully acknowledges the contributions of the following reviewers:

    • Mandy Frantti
    • Teacher, Physics/Astronomy/Mathematics
    • Munising Middle/High School
    • Munising, MI
    • Pamela L. Opel
    • Special Education Instructional Specialist, 6–12
    • Gulfport School District
    • Gulfport, MS
    • Sara Stewart-Lediard
    • Middle School Library Media Specialist
    • Traner Middle School
    • Reno, NV
    • Tina Roberts
    • High School English Teacher, English Department Chair
    • Gresham High School
    • Gresham, OR
    • Margie Smagacz
    • Principal
    • Franklin Fine Arts Center
    • Chicago, IL
    • Christine Landwehrle
    • K–12 Director of Curriculum
    • SAU 39
    • Amherst, NH
    • Debra Las
    • Science Teacher
    • John Adams Middle School
    • Rochester, MN

    About the Author

    Dr. Monica Burns is an EdTech and Curriculum Consultant, Apple Distinguished Educator, and Founder of ClassTechTips.com. In her role as a classroom teacher in general education and integrated co-teaching settings, she used iPads one-to-one with her students, while aligning her instruction to the Common Core State Standards. Monica has presented to teachers, administrators, and tech enthusiasts at numerous national and international conferences. She is a webinar host for SimpleK12, a regular contributor to Edutopia, and author of Deeper Learning With QR Codes and Augmented Reality: A Scannable Solution for Your Classroom (Corwin, 2016). Monica visits schools across the country to work with PreK–20 teachers to make technology integration exciting and accessible. She also provides support to organizations using technology to reach children and families in need. Monica is a graduate of the University of Delaware and Hunter College and received a doctorate in educational leadership from Lamar University.

  • References

    Ainsworth, L. ( 2015 ). Common formative assessments 2.0: How teacher teams intentionally align standards, instruction, and assessment. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
    Black, P. , & Wiliam, D. ( 1998, October ). Inside the black box: Raising standards through classroom assessment. Phi Delta Kappa, 80(2), 130149.
    Fisher, D. , & Frey, N. ( 2011 ). Check for understanding. Principal Leadership, 12(1), 6062.
    Greenstein, L. ( 2010 ). What teachers really want to know about formative assessment. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
    Pearson, P. D. , & Gallagher, M. C. ( 1983 ). The instruction of reading comprehension. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 8, 317344.
    Popham, W. J. ( 2008 ). Transformative assessment. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
    Project-based learning. (n.d). Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/project-based-learning
    Richards, R. , & Meier, E. B. ( 2016 ). Leveraging mobile devices for qualitative formative assessment. In D. Mentor (Ed.), Handbook of research on mobile learning in contemporary classrooms (pp. 94115). Hershey, PA: IGI Global.

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