Formative: A Revolutionary Platform for Real-Time Assessment

This is the eighth installment in my series, 15 Educational Apps in 15 Days. You can view a list of all of the posts in this series here.

One of my fondest memories from my Yeshiva days was the year that I had the privilege to learn with Nechama Leibowitz. It was the last year of her life and I, together with my Gruss Kollel classmates, traveled every Sunday morning to her apartment where she taught us Tanach in her study.

One of my favorite teaching strategies that she utilized was to involve every student in the class by asking a question and requiring each of us to write down our answers which she then collected, read aloud, and corrected during class. This was my first experience with real-time formative assessment.

This was a method Nechama employed with her small group of highly motivated adult learners. Over the years, I have utilized technology in a number of different ways to facilitate the collection of real-time student feedback in much larger high school classes. I have blogged about a number of these including Twitter, PollEverywhere, and Nearpod. My friend Aaron Ross has used Socrative to a similar effect. Every one of these tools has its strengths and weaknesses. I suggest that you read the linked blog posts above and explore each of them.

Formative, a new real-time assessment tool

Recently, Shira Teichman, a very talented math teacher at my school, introduced me to a new real-time formative assessment tool aptly named Formative that offers exciting features not included, to the best of my knowledge, in any of the tools above. During our summer technology boot camp a few weeks ago, Shira demonstrated Formative to our math teachers. Formative was also recently reviewed on Richard Byrne's Free Technology For Teachers Blog.

Mrs. Teichman demos Formative to members of the Math Department. Photo courtesy of the Frisch Math Department Blog

About Formative

Besides standard features like multiple choice and typed response questions which many other real-time response systems share, Formative offers two revolutionary new components, the ability for the student to "show your work" and for the teacher to see "live results".

Show Your Work

Upon logging into Formative and opening an assessment, students are given a whiteboard in which they can show their work by drawing and typing responses and even uploading images. Teachers can upload background images to this whiteboard as well so for example a math teacher can upload an X-Y axis that students can use when finding the slope of a line. A Judaic Studies teacher can upload an image of the Hebrew text that students have to underline, circle, or annotate to divide a chapter of Tanach into sections or circle and define the keywords in a piece of Talmud. I have seen similar features in tools like Nearpod and the now defunct Infuse Learning but Nearpod requires creating an entire slide-based presentation. Formative is simpler to use as one can just create one show your work question or design a quiz which intersperses different types of questions like show your work, multiple choice, and typed response all in the same assessment.

Live Results

Formative offers a second feature which I have not seen in ANY other student response system, a dashboard in which the teacher sees live results. Nearpod similarly allows the teacher to see all student responses but Formative is unique. Teachers can see LIVE results meaning they can watch students while they are still completing a task even before they submit. They see students as they type or draw their response. This allows teachers to assess students WHILE they are still completing their assessment. I have never seen a feature like this before. Even Nechama could only collect the papers once her students finished writing. She could not view all student responses as they were being written. This is not just a "cool new feature" but facilitates a whole different kind of assessment as teachers can quickly comment on student work while they are still working either to give positive reinforcement or redirect students as needed.

Below is a video introducing Formative's features.

And here is a screenshot of a sample formative assessment that a teacher can create.

My math teachers are already incredibly excited about the potential of Formative to transform assessments from a method to gauge what students already know into a tool to help students to construct knowledge and understanding. I cannot wait to introduce my teachers in various other disciplines to this potentially revolutionary app.