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#20minsas experiment in formative assessment

September 16, 2012

One of the things I’ve brought with me from my previous school is a formative assessment technique developed by a good friend and colleague, Jill Gough, the #20minwms project.

Here’s how it works. Research indicates that learning is likely to be more effective if we can break it up into short, meaningful episodes around 20 minutes in length. It’s also a good idea to constantly be getting formative feedback from your students about what they are learning. And finally, it is very powerful for classes to share what they are learning with the world at large.

Here’s how we do all three with a few pieces of paper and twitter.

  1. At the 20 minute mark, ask every student to answer the question “what are you learning right now?” on a small scrap of paper.
  2. Collect the papers and redistribute them randomly so that students are not reading their own work.
  3. Have each student read his/her piece of paper.
  4. Have the class decide on a tweet to be sent out summarizing what the class is learning as a whole.

There are a ton of variations you can do on this project, from using different questions (“one thing that confuses me right now is,” “One question I have right now is…”,etc) to simply having students read their own work, and then answering a few questions. But the key idea is to get students making a mental shift from whatever they were doing before to trying to summarize their work and develop a synthesis with their peers.

As the teacher, you get huge insights into the thinking of your students, you get every student participating, and all of this happens halfway through the class, when you still have time to make adjustments.

When we tried this on saturday, we were just on the cusp of discovering Newton’s 1st Law, so I asked students to write down a tweet summarizing the connection between motion and force. Here’s what I got:


These responses are fantastic, and they were just what we needed to hammer out a final synthesis between constant velocity motion and balanced forces.

Finally, the reason that it is so powerful to use twitter when doing this is that it affords one an opportunity to connect with learners around the world. Already we’ve had some examples of this that have surprised my students:

  • A former student from my previous school tweeted me to tell me she’d done the same cup stacking activity when starting her Algebra II class a month ago.
  • when we tweeted our a question that we were looking for an x-intercept form of a line, a teacher responded to us with y=m(x+\frac{b}{m})

I’ve found this tool incredibly powerful and hope that it will spread far and wide across my campus and beyond.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. September 18, 2012 8:34 pm

    How long does this take for you? I love this, but am hammering out the cost-benefit analysis of this right now…

    • September 18, 2012 8:45 pm

      If we’re going slowly, it takes about 5 minutes. I have less than 12 students in my class, though.

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