Jul 15 2008

How can you instantly assess your whole class?

How can you instantly assess your whole class?

As you teach, you want to continually assess if your students are getting it. You don’t want to wait until you are grading the test to realize that half the class was lost. But in-class assessment is difficult.

The least effective way to tell if your whole class is getting it is to ask “Are there any questions?” Just because this question is met with silence or, my favorite, a chorus of about ten kids saying “Nooooo,” or asking “Does everyone get it?” followed by a bunch of kids, but not all, chanting “Yeeeeeeeees”, does not mean that the class is with you.

A lot more effective is to make up a question and ask a random student. If the random student gets it right, there’s a better chance than if you just call on the kid with her hand flailing. (At the bottom of this post I have a cool way to use Excel to generate a random name list)

If you really want to know if everyone gets it, you should ask one of the weaker students a question. If that student knows it, it’s likely most of the class does. I like the random student better since I don’t want the weaker student to think I’m picking on him.

But the best, and most fun for the students, way to instantly assess your entire class is to get a class set of mini-white boards. These are the greatest. You give each kid an 8 by 11 white board with a pen and a little eraser. Then you ask a question and have the class write their answers and hold them up. It’s like a game show.

Of course these questions need to be pretty low level on Bloom’s Taxonomy questions, but that’s OK. It’s still a great tool. These board aren’t even expensive, yet I’m the only teacher at my school that uses them. I’m not getting any money from this company, so don’t think that I have any motive besides helping out new teachers when I say that for $30 you can get 30 boards, 30 pens, and 30 little erasers (far superior than paper towels) from www.markerboardpeople.com

It can be annoying to distribute the materials so I have some big ziplock bags (or another brand, again I have no sponsors for the blog), and put six pens and six erasers in each bag and then just give the bag to the first student in each row.

I have these boards and I use them, though not as frequently as I should. I think I’ll make a goal to use them more next year. Ironically, I think that in the very old days (by this I mean the 1800′s and not 1991 when I started teaching) that students had individual chalkboards that accomplished the same thing. Still, you don’t see enough of this great, and cheap, tool.

Here’s the technology tip for making a random list of your students names:

Put your student’s names into column A of a spreadsheet. Assuming there are 34 students, go to the 35th cell of column A and paste:

Paste this into as many cells as you want down column A and you’ll have enough names to last you. A nice thing abou this list is that it will include ‘repeats’ so that students don’t think they’re ‘off the hook’ just because they got called on. (It’s always funny when I’m picking from the list and the same kid comes up three times in a row)

4 Responses

  1. chrisb

    LOVE the mini-whiteboard trick. I also wish that I had used it more last year, but when I did use it, it was incredibly effective. Something that’s really popular in the Bay Area, if you don’t want to buy a class set of white boards, just get a bunch of sheet protectors with some stiff cardboard (or even just half of a file folder) and some white paper. Dry erase markers work great on those as well. Of course, they don’t last nearly as long, but beggars can’t be choosers.

  2. ch

    Hi, I’d really like to use the random list formula, however it doesn’t work whenever I paste it into Excel. I have 23 students in my class, so I pasted the following into the 24th cell and got a “REF!”


    If you could help, I’d greatly appreciate it!

    • garyrubinstein

      Sorry about the typo. To get it to work, just take out the first ‘,0′ and it should work. Let me know if it doesn’t.


  3. ch

    It works! Thank you very much! :-)

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By a somewhat frustrated 1991 alum

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