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Interactive Formative Assessments: The Secret To Optimized Learning

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The Importance Of Interactive Formative Assessments

Unlocking wonderment in subjects is essential to the mastery of tests and memory retention. Where traditional pedagogy is failing to properly engage the young generation of digital natives, interactive formative assessments might just have the answer to both optimized learning and teaching.

Schools and education authorities are constantly looking for ways in which to help students learn better; a fair argument is that technology, despite revolutionizing our world in many ways, has failed to make a significant widespread difference to classrooms today. Yet traditional methods of teaching have done little to drive mental engagement among students, with many subjects like mathematics and science terminally regarded as two of the blandest necessary evils of the curriculum. Adherence to standard textbook-based teaching means that nothing is being done to challenge this perception when it’s all too clear that unlocking curiosity and wonderment across all academic disciplines is not only essential to the mastery of tests, but also key to ensuring that more students are inspired enough to pursue further study and even pursue teaching as a career later in life.

There is no doubt that the process of memorizing fundamental nuts-and-bolts facts, principles, and rules of subjects is tedious. But all that is set to change.

Technology: Disrupting The Tedium

Some of the best edTech apps for smartphones, tablets, and desktop computers employ gamification techniques and reward and recognition systems that make the whole learning process more engaging and fun. They speak in the language that children understand: Gameplay, color, interactivity, and friendly competition. It is difficult to emulate that kind of dynamism using traditional methods of textbook and whiteboard based teaching.

Marry that with formative assessment – one of the most powerful ways in which to drive student achievement, so empirical studies say. Formative assessment focuses on inclusion, rewarding effort and progress and enhances the motivation to learn and master. Combined with interactivity and aggregation of data on student performance, a formative assessment could become the definitive and most indispensable tool at a teacher’s disposal.

“Previous to using edTech apps, my assessment of skill gaps in student learning was, at best, approximate and anecdotal; that is, I estimated these gaps based on anecdotal observations from class discussion and student evaluations such as unit tests,” said Kevin Neal, a social studies teacher at Valley High School in the West Des Moines school district in Iowa, USA. “I truly believe that the future for optimal student learning lies in continuous formative assessment mobilized by technology through online interactive tasks made available both in class and to students outside of class time.”

Neal says that tools which include dashboards that enable teachers to spot those all-important learning gaps on a class and individual level as assessments are undertaken in real time, have made the formative assessment process much easier to manage, record, and analyze results so that a bespoke learning program can be deployed to address problem areas.

“I can categorize the questions according to important cognitive skills such as contextualization, synthesis, and analysis and receive aggregated data for each academic skill.  Most importantly, students receive the same valuable feedback immediately”, Neal continued.

Feedback, of course, is an essential part of learning, enabling students to understand the subject being studied while giving them clear guidance on how to improve their learning. EdTech apps that facilitate the process through providing continuous data upon which to base assessments while making valuable data accessible every time a test is completed can enhance the learning and memorization significantly because feedback can be given back so instantly. Questions can be categorized according to the cognitive skill required for mastery and students may take the same test multiple times (e.g. pre-test and post-test) to yield comparative results and reinforce memorization.

“The key thing is that learning and assessment are malleable and sensitive to the different abilities and strengths of every individual student. Standard pedagogy, despites all wants and intentions, doesn’t have this capability so it makes sense to leverage smart technology to collate the data and take the hard admin out of the analytical process so that teachers can spot areas where help is required quickly”, said Neal.

Thanks to the ease with which these tests can be implemented in class and at home for study, Neal says that edTech apps have enabled him to change from having a formal evaluation of students once every 3-4 weeks (the length of a curriculum unit) to obtaining valuable data every time students complete a test (at least once a week). And because of targeted teaching and the tech-enabled rigor used in the analysis of results, Neal maintains that his time spent on admin and marking has decreased by almost half, while class performance on assignments have increased by approximately 15% compared to the previous year when edTech apps were not regularly incorporated in class or for homework.

“Marking is a mundane but necessary part of the role of teaching”, said Neal. “Time is at a premium and both schools and teachers need to keep their eyes open for new and innovative ways in which to work, making learning more engaging and effective and optimize time spent on tedious admin. It’s high time classrooms started embracing more of this kind of technology. There is no point teaching the future workforce and leaders of tomorrow in a tech-optimized world using draconian, 19th-century methodologies. This generation is digital natives; therefore, learning and teaching must adapt accordingly to create meaningful engagement and drive academic excellence”.

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