imgres-1As I prepare for another school year and continue my personal professional development, specifically in the year of education technology, I am on a constant look out for tools and strategies that support student learning. Simultaneously, I am also seeking tools that can be used to model sound instructional practices and 21st Century literacies in staff development meetings. It is therefore essential that the tool and the strategy also appeal to the adult learner. I am on a continuous quest in search of ways to engage and inspire the adult learner who is also a teacher. It is my hope to provide staff with an experience that supports their implementation of deeper learning strategies into  their practice and to be inspired to continue to develop their craft. As we transition to the Common Core and seek to incorporate 21st Century literacies into student instruction, including formative assessment that supports a blended learning environment, is a topic that is on my mind.

The practice of backchanneling staff meeting and staff development discussions has been one of my favorites for a couple of years. I’ve enjoyed using Twitter and Today’s Meet for this purpose and was recently introduced to Chatzy as another alternative. These are great tools to monitor and further discussions and have transcripts for. Their use can also be incorporated into a formative assessment process to support student learning.

As part of the coursework for the Leading Edge Certification in Online and Blended Teaching, students are asked to read Harry G. Tuttle’s blog post “Web 2.0 Use May Not be Formative Assessment.” Tuttle summarizes the formative assessment process with this graphic:

Screen Shot 2014-08-09 at 3.48.35 PM

The premise of Tuttle’s article got me to thinking about my previous practice as a classroom teacher and as a facilitator of staff meetings and professional development. It is essential to define the criteria needed to ensure that tools such as Chatzy, Twitter and Today’s Meet are truly being used for formative assessment and not just to facilitate a conversation. In reviewing the stages of the assessment process, stages 1-4 can be fairly easily incorporated into a lesson. A “chat” or “discussion” allows for students to respond and for easy monitoring of responses as well as diagnosing and sharing feedback while the chat or discussion is happening.

However, stages five and six can run the risk of being left out. It is therefore critical to be sure that student’s have clearly defined expectations on what the next steps are. This will allow them to use feedback provided through Web 2.0 tools to support next steps in their learning.Steps for stages five and six, in which students use the feedback to further their learning and share their increased knowledge and skills, may come in the form of further reading via suggestions found in the discussion thread and creating a project to demonstrate their increased knowledge.

The same can be said for using these tools as part of professional development. Stages one through four allow staff to respond to a discussion, monitor each other’s responses, diagnose the discussion thread as a part of the process and share feedback throughout the session. The key in demonstrating stages five and six will be to have staff share how they will use resources found in the discussion to further their learning and how they will incorporate their knowledge into their teaching practice. This can be followed by staff sharing their teaching success stories with their colleagues at the next meeting during a time set aside to demonstrate and celebrate instructional success. It is during this time that staff can also share the resources they used from the previous Twitter, Chatzy or Today’s Meet session.

As a teacher I enjoyed using student blog book review posts as a way to engage the formative assessment process. The stages Tuttle has defined in his graphic can be applied to the learning process that developed through the student book review blog. Each student would read a book, write a review, post the review on the class blog and respond to entries made by other students. The process which became a part of the year long classroom system of learning fit nicely with what are now known as the Four Cs of the Common Core: Critical Thinking, Communication, Collaboration and Creativity and more specifically within the standards framework for English Language Arts with a particular emphasis on writing. In Tuttle’s third stage of formative assessment, diagnosing the response, the teacher as well as other colleagues, peers and parents could and would provide responses on students’ responses to blogs. The teacher is also given the opportunity to provide immediate feedback to students either through the blog itself or by creating mini lessons on how to further develop replies to a peer’s writing and the elements a student can consider incorporating into a reply. A clear, concise rubric of expectations for blog responses allows for students to understand what the criteria are, the elements they should be incorporating into their responses and a reference to use when seeking to improve their writing on future entries. Use of the rubric, immediate feedback and a comparison of writing over time combined with an analysis of the differences in posts create a strong formative assessment process.

Posted by Pam Gildersleeve-Hernandez


  1. Great reflection and extension of the conversation. It’s like my HS and college football coaches use to say “You have to finish the play”. Like so many of our practices, it’s not enough to just start something, but we must work to see it through to the end. Keep reflection and sharing, and most importantly have a great year.



  2. I really like your reminder that using specific criteria can create real assessment instead of “just a conversation.” These “just a conversations” happen so much, which can be irritating or even discouraging for someone who’s looking for real growth. Your advice is a good starting point for a lot of lessons or PD, so thanks!



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