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Strategies from K-12 schools, districts, and programs that are dramatically improving the learning process. We share evidence- and practitioner-based learning strategies that empower you to improve K-12 education. Unlike summative assessment, which evaluates student learning according to a benchmark, formative assessment monitors student understanding so that kids are always aware of their academic strengths and learning gaps. Alternative formative assessment (AFA) strategies can be as simple (and important) as checking the oil in your car -- hence the name "dipsticks." They're especially effective when students are given tactical feedback, immediately followed by time to practice the skill. By methodically watching and recording student performance with a focused observation form, you can learn a lot about students' levels of understanding in just a few moments. Integrate alternative assessments gradually, while still using the traditional assessments. Learn to score alternative assessments yourself, and then gradually introduce students to self-evaluation. Teach students how to thoughtfully give each other feedback as you introduce them to peer-response. When preservice teachers are confused as to why their students performed poorly on an assignment, I gently say, "Did you ask them why?" After all, having learners use their own vernacular to articulate why they are stuck can be profoundly useful for identifying where to target support.
Learners can respond to those prompts using Padlet, a virtual corkboard where many computer users can simultaneously post their responses, followed by a focused whole-class discussion of students' answers. Portfolios are a more complex form of ongoing self-assessment that can be featured during student-led conferences. The biggest benefit of integrating AFAs into your practice is that students will internalize the habit of monitoring their understanding and adjusting accordingly. List opinions about the content in the left column of a T-chart, and support your opinions in the right column.
What are the important characteristics or features of the main concept or idea of the reading?

List the five most interesting, controversial, or resonant ideas you found in the readings. What are the main topics, supporting details, important person's contributions, terms, and definitions? Use sticky notes to describe key passages that are notable or that you have questions about.
Play the part of a content expert and discuss content-related issues on a podcast, using the free Easypodcast. Each student writes a question about a topic on the front of an envelope; the answer is included inside.
Given a common misconception about a topic, students explain why they agree or disagree with it. In Edutopia's The Power of Comprehensive Assessment, Bob Lenz describes how to create a balanced assessment system. The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) describes dozens of Formative Assessment Strategies.
The Assessment and Rubrics page of Kathy Schrock's Guide to Everything website hosts many excellent assessment rubrics. Jon Mueller's Authentic Tasks and Rubrics is a must see-resource in his Authentic Assessment Toolbox website. Having students score their own rubrics makes a lot of sense to me, particularly because kids learning to self-evaluate has a lifelong benefit. Meanwhile, teachers can improve the effectiveness of their instruction, re-teaching if necessary. My favorite techniques are those with simple directions, like The 60 Second Paper, which asks students to describe the most important thing they learned and identify any areas of confusion in under a minute. In her Edutopia post, Rebecca Alber says there is much to learn by taking observational notes as students work in groups.

For example, on the Teach Like a Champion blog, watch how math teacher Taryn Pritchard uses an observation sheet, and note her description of how she pre-plans to assess students' mastery levels in only ten seconds.
The instructor doesn't always have to develop prompts -- students can invent and submit one or more potential exam questions and answers on relevant content. In the comments section of this post, tell us which of these 53 ways you've used for checking on students’ understanding -- or recommend other AFAs we should know about.
I am always looking for new ways to get my students into our lessons & make sure they understand!
You can find another 53 ways to check for understanding toward the end of this post, also available as a downloadable document.
Pre-planning methodical observations allow instructors to efficiently and effectively intervene when it counts most -- the instant students start down the wrong path. Each learner writes her answer on a slip of scratch paper and confirms its correctness by reading the “official answer” before she places her own response in the envelope. Extreme care was taken to enhance all aspects of her comfort and style, while maintaining her pedigree as a true performance yacht. After several series of mailings and a class discussion about the subject, the envelopes are deposited in the teacher’s letterbox.
But if the assessment is not a traditional quiz, it falls within the category of alternative assessment.

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