By Formative Certified Educator Tricia Mintner
Formative has truly transformed my classroom. Let me tell you more...
While I’ve never been a ‘traditional’ teacher, many of my students have come from a traditional classroom. They come pre-programmed to hate math because they haven’t been successful in math since around the third grade. They come with the expectation that they will be passed along to the next grade level whether they pass math or not. As a result, half (or less) of the Freshman who take Algebra 1, the lowest mandatory math class for our district, in my school are ‘ready’ for my class. So, while I am required to teach Algebra 1 skills, I’m also expected to remediate my students. This was a daunting task since two out of three students needed remediation.
I was introduced to Formative at ISTE 2016 and I fell in love. I had used computerized math programs before, but I had never had the control to choose the exact problems my students would work on within those programs. Formative changed all that. I could create my own problems or I could upload a worksheet they I already used in class and just add places for my students to type the answers they would have written on a worksheet.
So, how does putting a worksheet online transform a classroom? Well, let me tell you. Instead of assigning the entire worksheet, I selected the easiest, most similar problems from that page and made that the first assignment.
Then I cloned that Formative and chose the second hardest set of problems and made a second assignment. (You can see how I used that same worksheet in both pictures above and below, but I changed which problems I used and the types of questions asked.)
Then I cloned it again and selected the hardest problems from that assignment. Instead of one big assignment, I made three smaller assignments. This one change on my part led to three major changes within the students: attitude, dependence, and perseverance.
The first change I saw was a change in attitudes. At first the students complained because they were looking at the number of assignments instead of the content of each assignment. However, it didn’t take long before they started changing their tune about math. I purposely set up the first Formative assignment so that most, if not all, of the students would score 100%. As the students worked and entered correct answers, a little ‘green’ indicator would pop up on their screen. I could see smiles start to appear as students worked. As students worked, I walked around the room in search of ‘red’ indicators or raised hands as well as students who were finishing. I was able to catch problems right away and redirect or reteach students before they got too far into the assignment. Most of the time, they had the right answer but typed it in the wrong way. Those who needed my help got my attention right away. Those who didn’t flew through the assignment. As students completed the Formative, they’d shout out, “I’m done. Now what?” My reply? “Go on to the next one.” While they weren’t thrilled about not actually being ‘done,’ I heard less grumbling as they started the second Formative.
The next change I saw was the amount of dependence on the teacher. Before Formative, I’d run myself ragged trying to get to every raised hand. Over 80% of the time, the question was, “Can you check this problem?” It took a while for students to realize that Formative would check their answer for them. I told my students that Formative was like having a little Mini-Mintner on their shoulder telling them whether or not they typed in a correct answer. Old habits are hard to break, but eventually they stopped asking me if they did the problem right. Each time they asked, I’d say, “I don’t know, type it in and let’s see.” The typical response? “Oh yeah! Nevermind.” Now my time was free to really help kids who needed the help.
The third change I saw was in perseverance. Students stopped asking me to check their work, but their hands popped up immediately if they saw ‘red.’ The conversation usually went something like this:
S: “What did I do wrong?”
T: “I don’t know. Did you check your work?”
T: “Okay, let’s check it. Tell me how you worked the problem.”
The majority of the time, students found their own error. Students began to be empowered as they started checking their own work, finding the error and typing in the correct solution. While things didn’t change rapidly, they did change. By the end of the semester conversations started out differently. “I’ve changed my answer three times and I still can’t figure out what I did wrong,” or, “I checked my work and I still get the same answer.”
During that first semester of using Formative, I had one major issue. Kids were doing so well, that they were running out of Formatives and started to return to previous habits. So, over Winter Break, I made a bunch of Formatives so students would always see that there’s always more math to learn.
Another issue was that students started to stray from Formative after their first assignment. After hearing, “Well I was waiting for you to tell me what to do next,” a few times, I decided to post on the board three specific Formatives that students were required to do that period. I even went so far as to type their names under each Formative title. I allowed students to cross off their name as they completed the Formative.
Students loved being able to write on the Promethean Board, but they also started feeling accomplished. When students started making comments about how good it felt to mark off all the posted assignments, another idea spawned: self-tracking sheets.
I worked over the next break to rename my Formatives. I coded them with 1.1, 1.2, etc in front of each title.
The codes corresponded to each learning target. I then arranged all the Formative labels into a one-page document for the term, grouping them by a common strand. Each strand built from pre-requisite concepts to the level expected on the test. Each student was given their own self-tracking sheet that they could mark off as they worked. I saw a spike in the number of students engaged in class. This was especially true in my ‘repeater’ classes, where students had failed the class before and were repeating it for a second (or third) time.
I knew my repeaters would be good at at least one math concept from the past semester, so I offered them ‘choice’ on top of the tracking sheet. I started class by showing them three or four examples, each from a different strand. Once we reviewed those problems, I identified which Formative went with each problem. Students chose which one(s) to work on during class. They could choose to work from any strand, but they had to (1) start at the top of the list, and (2) complete a minimum of three Formatives each day. That day, I saw 100% engagement as students picked what was easiest for them. I could see their math strengths, and I was able to build on that. For the first time in a long time, these students were seeing passing grades in their math class. Before the end of the term, students who had previously ‘hidden’ in class were not only working but they were volunteering to tutor their peers!
This summer I am working on Phase Four: Gamification.
While Formative has increased engagement in my classroom, I realized that my system is based primarily on intrinsic motivation. Students did the work because it made them feel good about themselves. Of course, toward the end of the year, students started slacking and, of course, the curriculum was getting harder, so students started reverting back to old habits.
The majority of my students are what I call Strugglers. They’ve struggled with math since about the third grade and they’ve established coping strategies when they don’t know how to do the math. They put their head down, show up late to class, purposely don’t do the work, play games, etc. Formative has allowed me to show my Strugglers that they CAN do math and I can get them started. However, I’m choosing to gamify my classroom next year in the hope that I can keep students working and trying to learn math even when it starts getting hard.
Every Formative will yield XP (Experience Points) and that XP will accumulate throughout the semester. Like a game, there are different levels, and with each level, there are special privileges. Tests (and retests) also count towards XP and leveling up. Students can even earn multipliers so that their XP can count as more than the ‘face value’ of that assignment. How do students earn multipliers? They master concepts on tests. Every two to three concepts mastered allows for a higher multiplier. What about the students who didn’t master all the concepts on a test? They can practice and then retest. Retests count toward mastery and towards multipliers.
My ultimate goal is to create life-long learners. Formative helps me get them started in the right direction and I hope the gamification will keep them motivated until their intrinsic motivation kicks in. Formative truly has transformed my classroom in so many ways.