Using Questioning as Formative Assessment

Program Standard 6

6. Assessment – The teacher uses multiple data elements (both formative and summative) to plan, inform, and adjust instruction and evaluate student learning.

6.2 Element – Designing Student Assessments with an Emphasis on Formative Assessment

6.2 Example of Proficient – Teacher has a well-developed strategy to use formative assessment and has designed particular approaches to be used.

During the completion of my Teacher Performance Assessment (edTPA), I discovered the impact that questioning can have on student learning and achievement. Throughout my coursework at Seattle Pacific University, I learned about the importance of formative assessments and how they can be used to plan, inform, and adjust instruction to drive student learning and elevate achievement. While I knew that questioning was a valuable tool in this endeavor, it has become clear that it is the best way to truly tell the depth of students’ understanding and to measure their procedural fluency, mathematical reasoning, and conceptual development. During the math lesson sequence that I taught for my edTPA, I used small group lessons to probe students’ thinking and monitor their progress. What I discovered was that students who can easily fill out math worksheets often do not fully understand the concepts behind the procedures. While students were able to produce the right answers to math equations, they were not able to explain their reasoning or revealed that they had formed a misconception. These misconceptions might not have hindered that student’s ability to complete that particular task but left unchecked would cause knowledge gaps that would hinder future success. It is crucial that the information gained during these formative assessments is documented so that it can be used to adjust instruction and provide students with the targeted support needed. I used a monitoring sheet to record data about students’ comprehension and reasoning. The information on this monitoring sheet was used to provide scaffolding to struggling students and elevations to students who excel, as well as, provide mini-lessons to address misconceptions. As shown on the monitoring sheet, one student, in particular, developed a misconception about number bonds which was uncovered and addressed through questioning. By being asked strategic questions, the student was able to unpack the misconception without direct instruction from the teacher.

In order to gain valuable insights, I first had to prepare questions that would reveal students’ mathematical reasoning and conceptual development. Worksheets are useful in assessing students’ procedural fluency but often fail to measure much more. Questioning also allows teachers to give immediate feedback on student progress which is critical to success. Smith and Stein (2011) assert, “Good questions certainly help. They can guide students’ attention to previously unnoticed features of a problem or they can loosen up their thinking so that they can gain a new perspective on what is being asked. Good questions also force students to articulate their thinking so that it is understandable to another human being; this articulation, in and of itself, is often a catalyst for learning” (p. 62). During small group instruction at the half circle table pictured to the left, I would assess student progress starting with prompts for students to demonstrate their basic knowledge, comprehension, and application of the skills required to solve a problem. Then, students would be asked to analyze their understanding of the problem by explaining their reasoning. Next, students would be directed to synthesize and evaluate their understanding of the concept by identifying what math strategies and tools they found most helpful in solving equations. Finally, questioning was used to help students uncover their own misconceptions and confront them directly. Even though the students that I am working with are only in kindergarten, I found that they are easily able to explain their reasoning and evaluate their progress when asked the right questions. For my students, the act of explaining their mathematical process helped them to work through problems and correct their own mistakes. When I used the prepared questions, students would often come to their own revelations about math which is much more impactful than just receiving an explanation from the teacher. This practice has become a daily part of my math instruction throughout my student teaching experience. Moving forward, I would like to begin using questioning to this degree in all subject matter as it has been so effective during mathematics instruction.

Smith, M.S., & Stein, M.K. (2011). 5 Practices for Orchestrating Productive Mathematics Discussions. Reston, VA: The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, Inc.

Facilitating Nondirective Learning For Long-Term Achievement

Program Standard 6

6. Assessment – The teacher uses multiple data elements (both formative and summative) to plan, inform and adjust instruction and evaluate student learning.

6.2 Element – Designing Student Assessments with an Emphasis on Formative Assessment

6.2 Example of Proficient – Teacher has a well-developed strategy to using formative assessment and has designed particular approaches to be used.

Carl Rogers once stated, “The only person who is educated is the one who has learned how to learn…and change” (Mentis, Dunn-Bernstein, & Mentis, 2008, p. 89). He believed that it was the teacher’s role to facilitate learning for students and create a productive environment without explicitly directing them. This type of education requires teachers and students to become partners in learning instead of relying on the traditional classroom hierarchy (Joyce, Weil, & Calhoun, 2015, p. 285). This method can produce many benefits for learners and have long-term results. Students who understand how to effectively learn new information on their own and then retain that knowledge can do so independently for the rest of their lives. Students who enter college with this kind of self-reliance stand to do far better than those who have always relied on teachers to provide them with direction. Nondirective teaching may seem like a passive endeavor that leaves teachers little to do in the classroom but that is not the case.

carl rogersEducators have an important role to play in this type of teaching and their support and encouragement is crucial to student success. Joyce, Weil, and Calhoun (2015) asserted that “…the teacher’s goal is to help [students] understand their own needs and values so that they can effectively direct their own educational decisions” (p. 289). Teachers must work to understand their students’ thinking so that they can help each one of them on their educational journey. Questioning is a large part of this teaching style because it serves to not only show students that the teacher is interested in their development but also allows teachers to push them to grow and achieve without directing their learning. Teachers can ask students non-leading questions to get them to think about issues and their own learning in ways they might not have otherwise investigated. Joyce et al. (2015) stated, “ The nondirective approach maintains that the most effective means of uncovering the emotions underlying a problem is to follow the pattern of the students’ feelings as they are freely expressed” (p. 290). These types of questions allow students to openly explore their opinions without fear of judgment which can help negate any pessimistic attitudes those students might have had about learning.

While this method of instructions has the potential to unlock motivation in students, it can be difficult for educators to institute effectively in the classroom. Nondirective teaching actually does require a great deal of teacher involvement. Teachers must be available to nurture their students’ emotional need while remaining unbiased which is a large task to take on. In order for teachers to not bring in their own personal experiences and opinions they first must work to identify and bring any preconceptions to the surface. This task is not a simple one as most people are largely unaware of many of their own underlying ideals. Even if educators are able to remain neutral and not influence their students’ thinking this kind of teaching tends to bring out unexplored emotions in learners. Joyce et al. (2015) suggested, “The nondirective environment raises the emotional elements of the situation more than the intellectual” (p. 295). This type of introspection and development can lead to unpredictable and uncomfortable conversations. Teachers must mentally prepare themselves to deal with unexpected questions and situations. However, despite the potential difficulties inherent to nondirective teaching it is still an important tool for educators to explore. When done well it has the potential to create more conscientious students capable of self-motivated life-long learning.

Joyce, B.R., Weil, M., & Calhoun, E. (2015) Models of Teaching: Ninth Edition. New York, NY: Pearson. [Kindle DX version]. Retrieved from
Mentis, M., Dunn-Bernstein, M., & Mentis, M. (2008). Mediated Learning: Teaching, Tasks, and Tools to Unlock Cognitive Potential. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
The photo in this post has been unedited and was found on Pixteller following creative commons licensing.

Encouraging Self-Directed Learning In Students Through Technology

International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Standard 2

2. Design and develop digital age learning experiences and assessments Teachers design, develop, and evaluate authentic learning experiences and assessments incorporating contemporary tools and resources to maximize content learning in context and to develop the knowledge, skills, and attitudes identified in the Standards.

b. Develop technology-enriched learning environments that enable all students to pursue their individual curiosities and become active participants in setting their own educational goals, managing their own learning, and assessing their own progress.

Program Standard 6

6. Assessment – The teacher uses multiple data elements (both formative and summative) to plan, inform and adjust instruction and evaluate student learning.

6.2 Element – Designing Student Assessments with an Emphasis on Formative Assessment

6.2 Example of Proficient – Teacher has a well-developed strategy to using formative assessment and has designed particular approaches to be used.

One of the main obstacles that teachers face in the classroom is lack of student enthusiasm to learn the content being presented. Research has shown that there are a few key elements needed to provoke intrinsic motivation in students. Learners need to feel that they have self-efficacy (belief of one’s competency), control beliefs (belief in one’s ability to influence outcomes), and task value (comprehension of the reason for doing a task) in order to sustain interest in their studies (Dean, Hubbell, Pitler, & Stone, 2012, Chapter 2, para. 2). While these learning qualities are well known by many educators it remains difficult to find creative ways to imbue students with them. For EDTC 6433 (Teaching with Technology) I researched how the second ISTE standard would influence my teaching by researching how technology could be used to promote elementary age students to take ownership of their education by setting their own learning goals, managing their own learning, and assessing their own progress. What I discovered is that technology can be a great tool for addressing the three aspects of intrinsic motivation that can influence student engagement and promote self-directed learning. The goal as a teacher is not just to help students comprehend concepts and gain new knowledge but also to encourage them to pursue their own independent inquiry.

Self-directed learning can improve students’ sense of self-efficacy by helping them understand the process of learning and their own part within it. Abrami, Venkatesh, Meyer, and Wade (2013) asserted, “Self-regulated learners are individuals who are metacognitively, motivationally, and behaviorally active participants in their own learning” (p. 1188). This kind of active involvement in the learning process that invokes students to set their own goals, research those objectives, and then reflect on their progress can greatly enhance their confidence in their own abilities. Researchers conducted a study to determine if the use of electronic portfolios could improve student achievement by helping them engage in self-directed learning. What the researchers found is that the students using electronic portfolio software outperformed their peers in the control group in not only their competence of subject matter knowledge but also in the their ability to set goals and actively engage in learning (Abrami, Venkatesh, Meyer, & Wade, 2013, pp. 1198-99). However, some of the gains seen could have also been achieved if the students used a physical portfolio to engage in self-directed learning but the process would not have been as seamless or interactive. While the researchers mainly established that self-directed learning is a key element for student success, they also demonstrated that electronic portfolios are superior to physical ones because of their interactive nature. The students in this study were able to easily share documents and artifacts with their peers and teachers in order to receive feedback on their projects in a much more efficient manner.

Receiving swift feedback from peers and teachers can also greatly influence students control beliefs by allowing them to actively participate in the outcomes of their learning projects. When students are able to quickly determine if their approach is effective they have more control over adjusting that plan to better achieve their goals. Any kind of technology that allows students to easily share their work and receive prompt feedback will help with their intrinsic motivation. For example, another student in EDTC 6433 shared the website which helps students and teachers create online learning communities that allow for this kind of active collaboration from students. While this website is not structured exactly the same as the electronic portfolio software the aforementioned researchers studied, it provides students with many of the same opportunities and may actually be more useful. Although the electronic portfolio software used in the study was easy to navigate and effective at directing students to set goals and assess their learning it also required teachers and students to download it to their computers which made it less accessible. Edmodo has the benefit of being a collaborative website that teachers and students can access from anywhere they have an internet connection. Students can pose questions and share research in an interactive platform that invites peer-to-peer engagement. It also provides teachers with an easy and efficient way to track student progress and offer meaningful advice which can encourage self-reflection in students. Both of these resources can benefit students by giving them more feedback to help in the personal assessment stage of self-directed learning.

While this kind of information sharing and interactive learning provides students with more control over their own learning, it also presents them with a sense of task value. Many students become disengaged from learning because they cannot see the outcome or purpose of it. When students create projects with the objective of sharing them with peers it can provide them with a reason to be more invested in their research and the development of their project. Websites like Edmodo are made just for this kind of student interaction. Teachers could also use any blog hosting website to achieve a similar goal and many have successfully. Recently there has been a hotly debated trend in education where teachers are forgoing the classic term paper and instead having students write several blog posts over the course of the term. Richtel (2012) poses the question “Why not replace a staid writing exercise with a medium that gives the writer the immediacy of an audience, a feeling of relevancy, instant feedback from classmates or readers, and a practical connection to contemporary communications?” (para. 6). While a general consensus for the replacement of traditional research papers with blog posts may never be reached, the benefit of this type of collective learning for younger students is hard to refute. It can be difficult to get young children to want to self-direct their learning but offering students a platform to display knowledge they have gained provides them with the incentive to actually want to learn new subject matter. When students are able to create information that they can share with their classmates and even other students around the world their desire to engage in learning can be greatly increased. One teacher recognized this fact and used Edmodo to have her students post their experience on a field trip to the Plimoth Plantation in Plymouth, MA. Her students invited other classes from around the country to join their online group on Edmodo enabling them to engage with history in a more tangible manner (Carroll, 2012). The students who took the field trip were able to enrich the study of other learners while also deepening their own experience by providing them with a greater sense of task value.

Students who believe in their own competency, understand their own capacity to influence outcomes, and recognize the reason for doing a task will inevitably gain more from their education because they will be more engaged with it. Technology has the capacity to offer educators a myriad of different ways to supplement their teaching and assist them in demonstrating to students the benefit of self-directed learning. With the help of websites and software I plan on showing students the importance of setting their own goals, managing their own learning, and assessing their own progress. As a future teacher, I plan on integrating technology in a meaningful way whenever possible and electronic portfolios and online communities are an interesting way to help students achieve. Self-directed learning becomes much more stimulating when students can interact with each other and easily obtain feedback on their progress.

Abrami, P. C., Venkatesh, V., Meyer, E. J., & Wade, C. A. (2013). Using electronic portfolios to foster literacy and self-regulated learning skills in elementary students. Journal Of Educational Psychology, 105(4), 1188-1209. doi:10.1037/a0032448
Carroll, N. (2012). “Shared” Field Trip Using Edmodo. Teaching is Elementary. [Blog post]. Retrieved from
Dean, C. B., Hubbell, E. R., Pitler, H., & Stone, B. (2012). Classroom Instruction That Works: Research-Based Strategies for Increasing Student Achievement (2nd ed.). Denver, CO: McRel [Kindle DX version]. Retrieved from
Richtel, M. (2012). Blogs vs. Term Papers. The New York Times. Retrieved from