The Formative 5 – Everyday Assessment Techniques for the Math Classroom

Francis Fennell
Francis Fennell
17 Jan
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One of the challenges that I regularly hear from educators, particularly classroom teachers, is that they are seeking to truly understand the role of assessment and how it should impact planning and teaching.  Unlike summative assessment, assessment of learning, formative assessment is assessment for learning and is used by teachers and students during instruction, providing teachers with explicit feedback to allow them to adjust ongoing teaching and learning in order to both monitor and improve student progress.  In a recent webinar (view video below), author Jon Wray and I decided to focus on what we believe are five of the most impactful and proven formative assessment techniques teachers can implement—Observations, Interviews, “Show Me,” Hinge Questions, and Exit Tasks— every day.  We call these The Formative 5 (co-published by Corwin and NCTM, 2017).   Since we believe teachers are artists, we like to think of The Formative 5’s techniques as akin to an artist’s palette of colors which teachers can use to mix and match throughout their day’s mathematics lesson.

1) Observation: What is the role of the teacher as students are working in class? Most teachers observe their students as they work in class, but the intent here is to, during the planning of a lesson, anticipate what might be observed and then be prepared for such observations. What misconceptions might you observe as students are working and how might you apply what’s observed in making modifications to a lesson?

2) Interviews: Brief interviews with individual students or small groups of students are a helpful way to check in with students and to an extent, deepen what was observed. For example, questions like, 1) how did you solve that? 2) Why did you solve it that way? and 3) What else can you tell me about what you did? may serve as the basis for the interview.

Request a FREE Sample from our K-8 enVisionmath2.0 series

3) Show Me: The Show Me technique is a performance-based response to what a teacher observes.  It combines the elements of the observation and interview techniques.  An example could be an in-the-classroom opportunity for you to ask a student, small group of students, or perhaps the entire class to show how a particular problem could be represented using manipulatives or drawings. The Show Me is that “stop and drop” opportunity for you to assess, while you are teaching, classroom-connected understandings.  Consider the following example: Cam took 15 shots and made 9 of them, scoring 18 points.  He had the same shooting percentage in his next game.  How many shots could Cam have made in that game? At the request of their teacher, one particular student used an app to show her work via video – .

4) Hinge-Questions: The hinge question provides a check of classroom understandings at a particular “hinge-point” within a lesson.  Success of the lesson hinges on responses to such questions, as they provide an indication of whether the teacher can move from one important idea/concept/skill to another (or not).  Hinge questions impact both planning and instruction as student responses influence a teacher’s next steps – Ok to move on? Do we need to review some concepts? Hinge questions may be multiple choice in format or framed as an open response question. In a sense, the Hinge is a group or classroom interview. Kahoot and Formative ( are two online applications/tools teachers can use to create hinge questions in a variety of formats.

5) Exit Tasks: The Exist Task is a capstone problem/task that captures the major focus of the lesson for the day or perhaps the past several days.  An example exit task problem is below:

Bree’s Pizza Palace has to load boxes of cheese.  Each box weighs 5 and 3/4 pounds.  These were 4 boxes.   Was the total weight < or > 25 lbs? Write a response to show how you know. 

The teacher will need to decide when to use an exist task. Daily? Several days of the week? As with the other Formative 5 techniques, teachers will need to anticipate student responses to the task, which will include consideration of the level of cognitive demand of the task, and also how and when to provide feedback.

Our hope is that by using The Formative 5 you’ll be able to:

  • Directly connect classroom-based formative assessment to planning and teaching
  • Engineer effective classroom use of observations, interviews, Show Me, hinge questions, and exit tasks.
  • Provide feedback to students and others (parents/family members) that truly moves students forward

– Dr. Francis “Skip” Fennell

For more examples on the formative assessment techniques discussed above, view the entire Formative 5 webinar below:

Request a FREE Sample from our K-8 enVisionmath2.0 series



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