Formative and the SAMR model

BY Craig Jones

The SAMR model is often discussed when describing technology’s role in redefining the classroom.  The model acts as a scale on which to categorize technology.

When researching the topic or attending presentations, get ready to be bombarded with images (like the one above) comparing the digital age of the classroom to… coffee.

Personally, we strongly disagree that adding a little flavoring, like Pumpkin Spice, is aredefinition of the coffee experience!  (although it certainly augments/modifies the experience.)

More generally, the SAMR model should not be viewed as making 4 small alterations.  In order to redefine an experience, each step up the ladder should significantly alter an experience.  Likewise, adding one more feature to a website/app will never singlehandedly revolutionize the classroom.

If we want to see how tech can change the classroom, we have to be willing to change the classroom.

Through this lens, here is how we view the SAMR model.

“This merely substitutes an offline process into an online process!”

One feature on our website, Formative ( enables teachers to take paper/pdf documents and transform these documents into digitally interactive files.  This action alone is not transformative.  An interactive document provides little more than teachers or students could do with paper and pencil.

There is no glory in substitution.  However, if done correctly, substitution quickly enables so much more.

“Does the technology add new features that improve the task?”

Now that students are working digitally, students can respond to technology-enabled questions and their teacher can see student work more quickly.  As students interact, type responses or draw out their work, the teacher can give faster feedback.  Subtle changes have now reduced the time it takes for a teacher to intervene in student misconceptions.  As a result, the students are often more engaged and a teacher can run a classroom more efficiently.  However, we have only enhanced the classroom again, without truly transforming anything.

“Are things now significantly different than before?”

The difference between an Augmentation and a Modification is not well-defined.  However, in the SAMR model, this difference is key.  To put it simply, does the classroom feel remarkably enhanced?  The only way to tell if a true modification has occurred is to observe a classroom.  Does it look like the teachers or students are starting to do things that were previously out of reach?  In this stage, teachers and students may still experience some classroom constraints, but you should be able to sense the beginning of a classroom superpower!

On our site, this is the moment when a teacher feels like they know the needs of every single student in their classroom, or more specifically – who is struggling and who is mastering a concept.  Then, alongside this omnipresence, they are able to instantly sense the needs of the classroom and pause a lesson to redirect a group of learners.

Teachers at this level usually start to experiment with lessons that break their previous mold.  The entry level worksheets that they began to upload and transform are now replaced with higher level questioning or activities that make use of every student’s voice.  For instance, teachers often move away from the comfort of multiple choice and into more open-ended question and response.  This allows a teacher to instantly and anonymously present a student’s live work to the class.

“Has the classroom fundamentally changed?”

As stated before, redefining the classroom requires more than any feature available on a website or app.  However, we believe that making it easier for any teacher to gain increased student insights will allow more teachers to become formative.  Additionally, as teachers and technologists begin to build out more, we envision a world where our platform is able to communicate targeted interventions to the students, parents and other school stakeholders.  As such, teachers can better communicate learning needs, which will allow for continuous student growth inside and outside of the classroom.

SAMR model

In summary, the SAMR model is an excellent way to identify how to truly redefine the classroom.  Regardless of what technology you use, you should constantly be asking where it ranks on the SAMR scale.  We are proud to act as an example of how to discuss the SAMR model and will continue to work every day to help teachers redefine and transform their classrooms.

As digital transformation of lessons occurs along the SAMR model, Formative is able to be flexible enough for the substitution level, yet is the comprehensive and rigorous tool you would expect for redefinition. Whether you’re a first-year teacher, or have spent thirty years in education, Formative is able to transform your classroom for 21st Century learning in a way that no other tool can.”

– Nathan Smithson (Tech Integration Specialist – Green Bay, WI)

As an aside, when teaching in my own classroom, I found that the added efficiency and effectiveness of real-time formative assessment allowed me the freedom to incorporate more project-based learning, discussions around developing the whole child and better personal connections with my students.  I’ve seen the power in the SAMR model and am excited about what the previously inconceivable may hold.

Written by Craig Jones (Former 8th grade Science Teacher and Co-Founder of Formative (