When planes crash, investigators sift through the wreckage to find the “black box” flight recorder. It tells them what went wrong – was there an equipment malfunction? Pilot error? Bird strikes? They use that data to try and prevent future problems.
Summative assessment, in education parlance, is like an airplane’s black box. It comes at the end of a unit, and it might be a test, essay, presentation, or something else. A teacher grading it can tell what “went wrong” with a student’s learning from the type of mistakes he makes. And he can use that information to inform future teaching. But it would be much preferable if we could prevent students from crashing and burning during tests in the first place.
That’s where formative assessment comes into play – those checks for understanding that take place throughout a unit and help a teacher correct misunderstandings and clarify important concepts before big events. iClickers are a new-ish way of generating hard data, interactively, on student understanding.
iClickers are basically remotes that allow students to answer multiple-choice questions projected on a screen. They can do this anonymously, or you can assign specific remotes to students so that their responses can be graded.
This year, I used iClickers several times a month to check student understanding. The most typical scenario would be as a form of multiple choice practice and review. I would display a series of multiple choice questions encapsulating the main concepts of the course. After students responded, I’d bring up a graph of the answers – but I wouldn’t say what the correct response was. Then, I’d have students explain their reasons for choosing various answers, until the class came to a consensus.
I also used the iClickers for Likert scale (agree-disagree) discussions, either as a hook or after introducing content, and show the responses on the screen. This replaces the popular “four corners” or “move to the left side of the room for agree, right side for disagree” activity.
Finally, I used the iClickers in lieu of reading quizzes after students had read a current events article or primary source.
iClickers are great for multiple choice practice because students can see how many students chose each response in the form of a bar graph. Having them justify the correct answer both helps them to eliminate incorrect choices (good multiple choice strategy) and demonstrate deeper understanding of the content.
There’s a practical side, too. Using the iClicker for reading quizzes eliminates the need to grade them, since it’s done electronically, and also provides a stick to “encourage” the students to read. Yes, yes, I try to provide the carrot as well, but I do teach ninth graders.
iClickers are really useful for helping me to understand how many students understand what we’ve done so that I can adjust my instruction accordingly. They’re also gimmicky; the kids think it’s SO COOL that they can send their answers wirelessly. But I’m unashamed to use gimmicks if it gets them practices the skills and content they need. I would recommend that iClickers be part of any school that has decided to invest heavily in technology.