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How to Use Formative Assessment Data to Tailor Teaching

How to Use Formative Assessment Data to Tailor Teaching

By: Cynthia M. Ho, Professor at Loyola University School of Law

The principle of using frequent (multiple times a class and every week) formative assessment data to tailor teaching underlies Click & Learn, a Civil Procedure teaching tool that I created with Professor Angela Upchurch and Professor Susan Gilles.  However, this approach works in any doctrinal class.

How Can Formative Assessment Data Help Teachers?

Formative assessment data can help you know what students have mastered.  Saved time can focus on tougher concepts and/or permit other activities such as group exercises.

Alternatively, if there are topics that a substantial number of students did not get (i.e., at least 20-25% wrong), class time can be used to improve understanding.

What Formative Assessment Data?

Data can be derived from both “objective” (i.e. MC and T/F) data and narrative (i.e., essay answer and discussion board posts) assessments.

Data can provide trends to inform your teaching.  “Objective” data is easiest to scan.  But even narrative data can be efficiently reviewed if you review a small sample.

A Word of Caution: The Need to Focus Students on Learning

Teachers know that the point of formative assessment is to help students learn.  To reinforce this focus, students should get full credit towards class participation for all timely and “professional” submissions (i.e., doing the entire assignment in more than 30 seconds).

Three Options to Tailor Class

Here’s an overview of three options to tailor class:

Type of Formative Assessment Example How much class tailoring +/-
1. In-class only In-class polling Minimal +  easiest to incorporate;

–  least tailoring

2. Outside class only (a) “Objective”

(b) Narrative

Medium + more tailoring, no need to adjust “on the fly”

-no ability to tailor during class

3. Combo-in & outside Both of the above Maximum + maximum tailoring

– maximum prep time

In addition, here are the benefits of each type of assessment for tailoring how you teach class.

Type of Formative Assessment Example Goals
1.In-class only In-class polling -review of material just covered to ensure mastery

-emphasizes a point

– provides application practice

– changes the pace of class and maintains engagement

2. Outside class only (a) “Objective”

(b) Narrative

-Objective questions with detailed explanation provide  feedback to help ensure the entire class has mastery o

-provides application practice

3. Combo-in & outside Both of the above -all of the above, plus long-term learning benefits

Now that you know the big picture, let’s dive into the details.

  1. In-Class Only

Here’s a few examples of how to use in-class polling.

In-class polling to recap material just discussed

One way to incorporate polling is to ask a question after introducing a concept.  So, for example, after discussing what is a trade secret (TS), a polling question could ask students to apply what they know.  The left shows slides introducing the concept whereas the right shows the polling question.

In-class polling to emphasize a point in the assigned reading

A polling question can emphasize an issue since students will remember something if they get it wrong.  Here is one example that reinforces an issue students otherwise often miss without a poll:

  1. Outside Class only

Data based on formative assessment outside class can also help tailor class time.

For topics where the data shows students are struggling, these can be handled in two ways.  First, the question can be displayed again in class to solicit discussion of the right (and wrong) answer, together with reasoning.

Here’s one example where the question students previously had trouble with is on the left, with the key Civil Procedure issue of 1331 subject matter jurisdiction is on the right:

Alternatively, a new application question can be posed in class that asks students to discuss the same concept, but in a new factual setting such as the following:

Isn’t it a waste of time to review issues in class if formative assessment provided an answer?

No!  Even after students read an explanation, they may need more reinforcement.  Students say they prefer to review tougher questions in class even after reading the explanation.

How do you use data from narrative assignments?

Class discussion can also be tailored based on sampled essay data.  For example, after reviewing a few essay answers from a Civil Procedure, class a slide addressing noted issues can help organize the in-class discussion as shown below:

  1. Combo – in and outside

The best way to tailor teaching involves combining the previously discussed approaches.  Basically, conduct formative assessment outside class and then use that data to focus class time on needed issues, including in-class polling. This seems to promote long-term learning; students studying for the bar often email with delight to note that they remember concepts studied two years ago.

Tailoring can be truly maximized with a flipped law class where students learn material before  class. Click & Learn enables faculty to easily do this.

Even without using a flipped class approach, the Combo approach still provides more polling benefits. How?  Let’s explore.

A new in-class polling question may use the same facts from an outside-class “objective” question but pose new answer choices.  These choices can focus on issues underlying wrong answers students previously chose but stated slightly differently. This is shown below:

Data from narrative answers can be used to create a new in-class polling question to assess the entire class and reveal to confused students that they are not alone.  Here’s one example:

Data from narrative answers can also be used to help students compare what is and is not a strong statement to include in an essay answer.  Here’s one example with answer choices from sampled student answers:

Now what?

If you want more info, check out [How to choose a Formative Assessment Platform] and/or slides from the related Summer 2021 Conference presentation are available here.

And, of course, the best way of learning is by doing.  So, hopefully you’re now inspired to do more with your own data using some of these techniques!

Institute for Law Teaching and Learning