Summer Apps for Teachers

You may have experienced the collective sigh of another school year drawing to a close. After a marathon of year-end testing, classroom cleaning, and general exhaustion, you’re probably more than ready for your summer break. (And they’re still great for year-round educators!)

Whether you spend your summer days gearing up for next year’s lessons or getting out of Dodge with the fam, there’s an app to help you do it smarter. Here’s the list of apps we’re digging this season.


workflowyRoadtrippers (Free)

Plan a road trip that would make Clark Griswald drool. The Roadtrippers app helps you discover the most interesting route to your destination, and points out a slew of awesome sites along the way. Layer your attraction bucket list with your travel preferences, and Roadtrippers will return a plan for the ultimate journey.


evernoteEvernote  (Free)

Evernote works across multiple platforms and devices and helps you manage all of kinds of tasks. Think of it like a digital notebook that you can access anywhere, anywhere. Clip webpages, create text notes, upload files and images, scan papers, receipts, and anything else you may lose track of. Teachers can use Evernote to create lesson plans and schedules, keep track of resources and ideas, and so much more. You can even create shared notebooks for students, colleagues, and parents.


skyguideSky Guide ($2.99)

Spend summer nights stargazing with the Sky Guide, an award-winning, out-of-this world app that lets you explore the cosmos by holding your iPad or iPhone to the sky. Discover new constellations, teach your own kiddos about the stars, or just be amazed by the summer sky.


dropboxDropBox (Free)

If you have a tendency to take your work home with you (ahem), then DropBox is essential. This  cloud storage platform syncs across all of your devices, so you can work from your classroom, home, or summer beachside cabana. You can also use it as backup storage for your favorite vacation photos, your teaching blog, classroom resources, recipes, and more.


fandangoFandango (Free)

Escape the sun by kicking back to watch a summer blockbuster in your local (and air-conditioned) theatre. Check out showtimes, read reviews, and buy tickets right from your phone to bypass the box office line.


productiveProductive-Habit Tracker (Free)

You’ve probably heard the theory that it takes approximately 21 days to form or break a habit. So why not have an app that’ll help you build positive ones? For example, drinking enough water in between homeroom announcements and after-school tutoring programs. Summer’s a great time to embrace some good habits before another busy year. Productive-Habit Tracker helps you build any positive habit you can think, keeping track of your positive-habit ‘streaks’.


packpointPack Point (Free)

With the arrival of summer, you’re probably looking forward to trading teaching days to beaching days. Use the PackPoint app to ensure you have everything you need for maximum R&R. This sleek tool will give you a complete packing list based on your destination, forecasted weather, length of stay, and vacation activities.


workflowyWorkFlowy (Free)

If you like to make lists, outlines, and strategic plans, WorkFlowy is your tool—perfect for planning for next year. It’s simple, clean, and intuitive. Use it to gather resources for next school year or plan the summer of destiny.


graditudeGratitude Journal ($2.99)

Looking to boost your mood after year-end burnout?The Gratitude Journal may help you overcome those intermittent bouts of meh. Use the app to track things you’re grateful for to develop an ‘attitude of gratitude’.


Moostimoosti (Free)

If you find yourself getting easily distracted or procrastinating, Moosti may be for you. It’s a  clean, simple web app that allows you to set a timer for a specified amount of time with scheduled breaks. Have some housework you want to get done in record time? Try ‘sprinting’ for 30 minutes through your task list, and then taking a 10-minute break. When your breaks over, do it again. Lesson planning to do? Do it in sprints, and use Moosti to help keep you motivated.


grocerypalGrocery Pal (Free)

For many, grocery shopping is one of the most dreaded task on their never-ending to-do list, especially when planning a summer campout or backyard BBQ. Make your shopping life easier with Grocery Pal. Keep track of all your needed grocery items, and then find which stores have the best sales and coupons to save a little moula. Less time wandering the aisles, more time doing whatever you want.


back2schoolBack to School Countdown ($1.39)

Get a second-by-second countdown to the first bell of the next school year. This app will help you keep track of how many more days you have to plan the 2016-2017 curriculum–or count the remaining days you can sleep in past six.


pocketPocket (Free)

Summer is the primo time to catch up on your personal reading. Pocket allows you keep track of articles and videos (like this one!) that you’ll want to peruse later–all in one place. Then share your top picks with friends. And if your summer vacation plans take you out of wi-fi range, no problem: You can view your saved items from any device sans internet.


campandrvCamp & RV ($9.99)

Before you set out into the great outdoors, be sure to snag this app that is worth the extra change. Camp & RV gives you a rundown on everything you need to know for roughing it, including 30,000 campgrounds, rest area locations, camper reviews, hikes, and more. Ready, set, adventure!


Tell us about the apps you love for life both in and outside of the classroom on Facebook or Twitter!


Have you seen our apps?

MasteryConnect has a whole collection of apps for educators—and they’re free! Get solutions for formative assessment, track student progress of state standards, or collaborate with 3 million educators who’ve already joined the community. Collect ’em all! And keep an eye out for Socrative PRO, launching this summer.


Formative Assessment Guide

You may have noticed that we are BIG fans of formative assessment around here. And as we meet with educators around the country, we continually find ourselves in (very) good company.

More and more teachers are using formative assessment in their classrooms everyday to answer important questions about student growth:

  • What do my students know?
  • What do they still need to learn?
  • How should I adapt my instruction?

Unlike it’s more traditional cousin, summative assessment, the formative process embeds checks for understanding into the learning cycle, so teachers can provide personalized learning opportunities based on students’ unique needs. It also helps students track their progress and take greater ownership of their learning. Both super sweet wins in our book.

Over the past few months, we’ve shared a series of articles on the ins and outs of formative assessment and strategies to put it to integrate it into your instruction. But we thought it’d be nice to have all that formative know-how in one handy, comprehensive guide.

Now you can become the hot-footed, whiz-bang, undisputed champion of formative assessment by downloading The Definitive K-12 Guide to Formative Assessment, a free 20-page resource designed specifically for K-12 teachers and administrators. 

What’s inside?

  • An overview of formative assessment and its benefits for students and teachers
  • The difference between formative and summative assessment
  • The three must-haves for meaningful formative assessments
  • Ideas to start using in your own classroom

Whether you’re new to formative assessment or you’re already a diehard believer, there’s something for you in this guide. 

Download now!  

Looking for a formative assessment solution? MasteryConnect can help you collect more formative data more frequently. View our online demo to see how we may be able to help in your school or district.

Best Practices for Long Term Planning

This week we kick off a special series of articles written by our Client Success Managers. They’ll be sharing insights and best practices designed to help you make the most of your summer months and plan for the upcoming year.

Another school year in the books! Your friends are probably already sending the standard “Must be nice…Where are you planning to vacation?” messages. Summers off?! (As a former educator, I’m laughing with you.) Let’s be real: You’ve already planned the staycation in your classroom so you can begin next school year in a less Tasmanian-devil like state.

So when we think of the lists and lists of things to get done in the summer, you may be wondering why I’d suggest beginning with long term plan creation. But it makes sense.

Imagine the layers of the Earth; the long-term plan is like the crust. It is the outermost layer of your teaching plan and a necessary starting point before drilling any deeper. Creating a long term plan (LTP) will help you avoid becoming overwhelmed in the frenzy that is back to school season. It’ll also help you focus on every educator’s primary goal: student learning. And we all know that doesn’t happen without a specific, charted course of action.

Read on for tips I learned by going through the LTP process myself.

Answer a Few Key Questions

Before you dive right into the writing your LTP, take the time to answer the questions that’ll help you in the process.

What do you want your students to learn?
Use your standards to answer this! Your district may also provide a Scope & Sequence or Pacing Guide you can use as guidance.

Which standards are “power” or “priority” standards?
When working with standards, you may need to prioritize a little. Best place to start is with power standards.

How will you know if students have learned?
Identify what you’ll accept as evidence of learning or mastery. You may use released interim or end-of-level assessments to review standards-aligned questions or tasks. This helps to identify how your school district or state expects students to demonstrate proficiency and ensures that the level of rigor in your expectation is consistent.

If this all sounds a little daunting, hang in there! You don’t have to go it alone. This is a great opportunity to collaborate with your colleagues, whether you do it informally or in your PLCs / teacher teams. Teaming up will help you create a great comprehensive plan while lightening the load.

Now let’s get into the details of crafting your LTP.

What a Long Term Plan Is and Isn’t

A long term plan is a document or tool that details logical and sequenced standards-aligned learning goals for your course, grouping them into cohesive units that build upon one another. More simply put, your LTP is an instructional plan crafted to help you meet your learning goals (which you’ve outlined by answering the questions above).

An LTP is not your textbook’s table of contents, though I’ll personally admit that I’ve used that to drive my own instruction in the past. Major oops and missed opportunity. I learned (and you may have, too) that it’s impossible to cram an entire textbook’s worth of content into a single school year, and there’s often a lot of unnecessary “fluff” between those pages.

How LTPs Help Educators

When I based my plan on a textbook, I didn’t know WHY I was teaching the prescribed content; I essentially allowed it to determine what I should teach and when I should teach it. When I began to use my course standards to drive my long-term planning and leveraged my textbook as a supporting resource, I found that I had more time than I thought I would.

I was then able to approach each instructional day with a clear purpose. That purpose was for my students to demonstrate learning of a very clear set of skills, as outlined by the standards that I prioritized. Building an LTP that you’re invested in is exciting. Really. It helped me enter the school year with a PLAN that I was invested in. Additionally, it helped me to get to know the standards that I am accountable to teach, and it was the first step to exercising my creative teaching abilities.

A Long Term Plan Example

My first LTP was built in a Word document. Here’s an example from a 5th grade Science class.



In this particular unit, I grouped fifth grade science standards on Physical and Chemical Change. Notice that this precedes types and forms of energy and eventually builds to energy flow and the advanced concepts of photosynthesis.

Developing your LTP involves more than grouping standards into a logical sequence; it involves looking at each standard to determine specific and measurable learning goals. Though there are only two standards in this particular unit, there are eight learning objectives. (Psst! Stay tuned for an upcoming article on deriving learning goals from standards.)

The Need for Flexibility

Creating the beginnings of this extensive plan in Microsoft Word is absolutely doable, but it has its limitations. As I moved through the school year, I found the Word doc inflexible. Oftentimes, I would assume a skill would take a certain amount of time to teach; my predictions weren’t always accurate.

An LTP is not fixed; it’s a living document. This means it should be constantly informed and manipulated as you gauge student understanding. You should feel empowered to adjust pace to meet your student’s needs.

Because I needed more flexibility, I built my LTPs in Google Sheets the following year. You can also use an Excel sheet for this. This still requires a significant amount of copy/paste and cut commands to manipulate standards into logical units of learning.

Creating an LTP in MasteryConnect

If you’re writing an LTP, I’d like to introduce you to your new best friend: Curriculum Mapping from MasteryConnect. The Curriculum Map feature is IDEAL for crafting your LTP. It allows you to pre-populate your state specific standards and easily organize them into a unit structure, complete with notes, resources, and aligned assessments.

Below, you’ll find an example of my 5th Grade Science Curriculum Map in MasteryConnect after having organized it into logical and sequential units. Prior to this organization, the map exists as a list of standards based on the core I chose to align it to. Note that this is a collapsed view: I have the option to expand any unit to view embedded standards, learning objectives, and resources.


You can see an example of my expanded unit on Physical and Chemical change below.


The Curriculum Map feature in MasteryConnect revolutionized my LTP. And it will help you knock out an awesome plan while saving time in the process.

Create Your Long Term Plan

Now is time for you to start crafting your LTP. To help you get started, I’ve rounded up some valuable resources that will provide you with detailed instruction on how to build your LTP through the MasteryConnect Curriculum Map feature.

Help Center

Video Tutorial: Create a Curriculum Map

Video Tutorial: Organize a Curriculum Map

Article: View/Customize Standards in a Curriculum Map

Article: Set Power Standards in a Curriculum Map

Web PD

Mindful Intermediate Module: Creating Curriculum Maps

For on-site professional development on using Curriculum Maps for long term planning, contact your Customer Success Manager. And be sure to check back for upcoming articles in our Client Success Series. We’ll be covering topics like unpacking standards, analyzing student data, teaching for mastery, and more!

See You at MasteryCon!

This year, tell ’em the teachers are going to camp! Join us for three days of summer camp awesomeness at the ultimate K-12 event for formative assessment and mastery learning. Join us July 27-29 in beautiful Park City, Utah. Get tickets.



At MasteryConnect, we think every week should be Teacher Appreciation Week. We are lucky to work with teachers and administrators from around the world! who continually inspire us with their dedication and passion for helping students conquer the world.

But we couldn’t pass up the opportunity during Teacher Appreciation Week to give a GIGANTIC shout out to all the awesome educators doing great things in classrooms every single day. On behalf of the entire MasteryConnect team, THANK YOU!

Meet Other Awesome Educators

Earlier this week on our social pages (are you a fan or follower?!?), we shared video spotlights of two educators, Jenn Robinson and Kevin Rich, who rock our collective socks.

And with the already popular article from Samantha Abercrombie, we also launched our  guest-blogging series written by actual educators to share their front-line tips, best practices, and teaching stories. Keep your eyes on the blog for more upcoming features and articles like these. Exciting things are in the works! 

Get Your FREE Apps!

MasteryConnect has a slew of sleek apps for educators—and they’re free! Get solutions for formative assessment, track student progress of state standards, or collaborate with 3 million educators who’ve already joined the community. You’ll want to collect ’em all. 






Samantha is a 5th grade teacher in Carrollton, Kentucky. A mastery learning guru and exit ticket ninja, she’s committed to creating better writers in her classroom—and changing her hair color like the weather.


Reading. Math. Social Studies. Language Arts. It’s all in a day’s work. And that doesn’t include timely restroom breaks, extracurricular classes, lunch, and recess! How do teachers fit it all in? Like a generous number of my colleagues, I have become quite creative in attempts to cover state-recognized content standards and fill in the gaps with the everyday lessons that ensure students will be successful later in life.

My most recent classroom triumph involves using exit tickets to assess student learning. I know, I know… you’re no newbie to formative assessment. But I’ve found that using exit tickets in new ways has helped as I integrate writing with reading, language arts, and social studies each day. These integrated formatives are giving me the biggest bang for my buck–and they actually work!

Read on to learn about five creative integrated exit tickets you may not have tried in your classroom…yet!

#1 Short-Answer Question

For the teacher that struggles to find time to integrate writing with other content areas, this exit ticket is a must! At the completion of your lesson, ask students to respond to a short-answer question.

My students practice the RAP (Restate – Answer – Prove) method for writing responses. This criterion allows for a 3-point scoring scale: three points demonstrates mastery of the content, two points demonstrates near mastery, and one point demonstrates the need for remediation.

Determining need for specific students is no longer a challenge thanks to this three-point format. While analyzing student responses, I can sort students into three categories: those who need additional restate instruction, those who need additional content instruction, and students who need additional practice finding/using evidence and proof.

#2 Key Terms

During my 11 years of personal observation, I’ve found vocabulary knowledge is a common barrier for today’s elementary learner. To alleviate the deficits this causes, I sometimes ask my students to complete a key terms exit ticket–and it’s one of my favorites.

I’ve put a couple different spins on the key terms exit ticket. One is a fill-in-the-blank format, for which students fill in the missing term in a sentence or short paragraph. This strategy allows students to use the term(s) in context, which helps develop a deeper understanding.

Another version of the key terms exit ticket involves explaining what the key term means, and then providing an explanation as to how the student knows the definition is correct. We do this by explaining the prefix and/or ending used in the word, and using this understanding to develop a working definition for the new term.

#3 Fist-to-Five

While I do not take credit for developing the traditional “fist-to-five” self-assessment tool, I do want to share how I have adapted it to assess student mastery of learning standards. Conventionally, the fist-to-five self-assessment is used to get immediate feedback concerning lesson pacing. The fist means no additional time is needed to complete the task, while five fingers up means at least five more minutes is needed to complete the task.

I have adapted this strategy to assess content mastery on paper. I pose a question about the learning target, and the students have to rate themselves on a fist-to-five scale. Once they have given themselves a numerical rating, they must support their thinking with an explanation as to why. This explanation provides great insight into how much the students know about the learning target and how much support they may need moving forward.

In addition to this, I have found that students are very honest when assessing their own knowledge. It’s always interesting to me to delve into their minds for a brief moment and learn about them as scholars.

#4 Venn Diagram

Following the lesson, ask students to compare their new knowledge with previous learning using a venn diagram. For best results, assign a specific topic for students to compare and contrast to. This will allow you to easily reward points for appropriate likes and differences.

The expectation in my classroom is two differences on each side, and two similarities; this six-point scale makes scoring and analysis easy to accomplish.

#5 Summary

Another popular exit ticket in my fifth-grade classroom is the summary. Upon completion of the lesson, generally a reading or social studies lesson, I ask students to summarize their new learning from the day.

The format we use for a summary exit ticket includes four components: a main idea statement, two details/pieces of evidence, and a conclusion statement. The writing integration in this exit ticket provides great opportunity for student growth.

It’s my hope that this article has provided you with some new ideas for using exit tickets to get the most out of the time you have with your students. Because we all know, no matter where you try to pull it from, there are only so many hours in the day. To make the biggest impact with the minutes you do have, the formative strategies I’ve mentioned will help you assess students for lesson knowledge while also growing writers in your classroom.

Want to be a guest blogger? 

We love sharing stories, tips of the trade, real-world advice, and more from educators like you. If you’d like to be featured on the MasteryConnect blog, let us know! Send an email with your article idea to

Data-Driven INstruction

We live in a data-driven world. Everything is determined by data from from the Facebook posts we see to the marketing emails that pile up in our inbox. Somewhere, on a distant computer system, algorithms are run. Numbers are crunched.

But for educators, data is very personal. It’s a representation of the hard work they do day in and day out. It’s a representation of a child’s education.

That’s why education has a complicated relationship with data: it can be used to distill teaching and learning down to a set of inaccurate numerical values. But data-driven instruction is gaining a foothold in classrooms and schools around the country, showing that data should be about more than high-stakes testing and year-end results. The power of data should be leveraged to make ongoing, informed decisions to adjust instruction to better fuel student growth. It should be used while learning happens, not after the student has moved on.

This week, we share a few tips how to start using the principles of data-driven instruction in your classroom.

What is Data-Driven Instruction?

Data-driven instruction helps educators make informed instructional decisions, using information about student learning, to improve learning outcomes.

Although there are several variations on the specific elements of data-driven instruction, they all essentially include the following three things: assessment, analysis, action.

First, you must assess your students to determine their current levels of understanding. Then you must analyze the assessment data to identify learning gaps and self-evaluate instruction. The final step is acting on that information by adjusting instruction appropriately.

Some schools and districts have prescribed systems in place to help teachers track data at a student, class, grade, or school-level. However, many teachers craft their own strategy to make data-driven instruction work in their own classrooms. Regardless if it’s a district-wide or one-classroom initiative, taking the time to formalize your data-driven instruction strategy will lead to a more manageable process and greater success.

Start Building Your Data Strategy

This may sound intimidating at first, especially if you are new(ish) to data-driven instruction. But it doesn’t need to be.

Data isn’t some large, nebulous concept; the reality is that you already use data in your classroom everyday. You probably have mounds of info from student assignments, interactions with students, and more. Defining your strategy is simply taking a more systematic look at data in order to inform your instruction at a deeper level.

Audit How You’re Currently Using Data

Auditing how you already use data will highlight what’s working, what could be improved, and what’s missing.

  • What are you currently tracking?
  • Are you using formative assessment regularly?
  • How are you using data from summative assessments?
  • How are you recording data?
  • Which tools do you use to store/track data over time?
  • What are you required to report on by your school or district?
  • When students self-report their level of understanding (using “thumbs up/thumbs down” or “fist to fives”, for example), how do you plan your next steps?
  • What do you wish you knew about your students’ learning?
  • How do you use data to plan for the next moment, the next day, or for the following year?

Identify All Sources of Available Data

Next, consider other sources of data that may be available to you and which ones you’d like to add to your strategy. Analyzing data from multiple sources helps you create a more holistic view of a student’s learning, which will assist you in making more informed instructional decisions that influence growth.

  • Classroom formative assessments (quick checks, exit tickets, and other low-stakes activities)
  • Graded assignments (chapter-end tests, performances, essays, etc.)
  • Homework
  • Your own observations
  • Self-reporting from students
  • Collaborations with colleagues
  • Benchmark and year-end tests

Make a Plan

Take the information you gathered during your audit (along with the info on additional data sources) to use as a framework for building your personal data strategy. Each answer will help you craft part of your plan.

If you’re brand new to data-driven instruction, or you’re still working to fine-tune your strategy, it’s best to keep it simple. Start by thinking small, perhaps by starting with one class, one unit or lesson, or one month at a time. Starting small will help perfect your strategy before launching it at a grand scale.

  1. Which standards would I like to assess?
  2. How will I track this data over time?
  3. What resources or tools are available to me?
  4. How can my administrators support my efforts?
  5. When will I make time to analyze the data?
  6. What are my colleagues doing?
  7. How will I use this data to collaborate?
  8. How will I communicate about data with students? Parents?
  9. What would “success” look like?

Once you’ve answered these questions, you’ll have a more concrete idea on how to best approach your personal data strategy. Maybe you’d like to start by using daily exit or entrance tickets to plan the day’s lesson, and then track the day-to-day growth. Or you’d like to focus on a few concepts or standards that your students are struggling with, and then gauge how many students have moved from near-mastery to mastery. However you decide to do it, you’ll soon see that data can empower you to help more students do better.

Hear How One Educator Did It!
We recently sat down with a NYC teacher to hear how staff at her school leveraged the power of data to move from “remediation” to the top-10 list for most improved math scores in city. Listen to the full webinar to hear their story.

MasteryConnect helps over 2.5 million educators worldwide with formative assessment, data-driven instruction, standards-based learning, and collaboration. Get more information about how we can help drive student outcomes in your class, school, or district.


It’s finally here! Ahhh, Spring. Thoreau welcomed it, writing that it was when the Earth began to “stretch itself.” Shakespeare said it put the “spirit of youth in everything.” And they didn’t even have to endure months of inside recesses and telling students to STAY OFF THE ICE!

So shake off those winter layers, revel in the glimmers of sunshine before the morning bell, and welcome the warmer weather with K-12 standards from across the country that are perfect for spring.

Minnesota | 1st Grade Explain how the combination of the Earth’s tilted axis and revolution around the sun causes the progression of seasons.


Nebraska | 2nd Grade
SC2.4.3.a Observe that the sun provides heat and light.


Montana | 8th Grade
2.6 identify, build, describe, measure, and analyze mechanical systems (e.g., simple and complex compound machines) and describe the forces acting.


Next Generation Science | 3rd Grade
3-ESS2-2 Obtain and combine information to describe climates in different regions of the world.


California | High School
1.4 Practice aerobic activities in real-world settings.


Georgia | 1st Grade
S1E1 Students will observe, measure, and communicate weather data to see patterns in weather and climate.


South Dakota |Middle School Earth/Space Science
MS-ESS.H Water influences weather and weather patterns through oceanic, atmospheric and land circulation.


Ohio | Physics
PS.FM.CE.1.2.2 Friction is a force that opposes sliding between two surfaces.


Florida | Middle School
DA.68.H.1.2 Research and discuss the influence that social dances have had on the development of classical, theatrical, modern, and contemporary dance genres.


Virginia | 7th Grade
PH.7 The student will investigate and understand properties of fluids. Key concepts include a) density and pressure; b) variation of pressure with depth; c) Archimedes’ principle of buoyancy; d) Pascal’s principle; e) fluids in motion; and f) Bernoulli’s principle.


With MasteryConnect you can track student learning of these standards—actually any standard—with our web-based platform. See how you we help you identify student levels of understanding so you can target intervention and inform instruction. Learn more.

3 Must Haves

How to Make Formative Assessment Work in Your Classroom

If you’re anything like us, you’re a (really, really) big fan of formative assessment. You know that embedding it regularly into your K-12 classroom instruction unlocks in-the-moment insights into what your students know and don’t know, so you can make the best instructional decisions possible.

But in order for a formative assessment strategy to drive student outcomes, it has to be thoughtfully designed to give you the data you need to determine the next steps.

This week, we share our list of the three can’t-skips, gotta-dos, must-haves for meaningful formative assessment.

#1 Proper Alignment
Formative assessment only works when you measure what you intend to measure. Correct alignment ensures continuity of instruction, instructional materials, and assessment. It also sends clear messages to students about what they know, what they need to know, and how to close that gap.

In order to align your assessments to standards, you first have to be familiar with them—which can be tricky for educators, especially those who teach elective courses. (Trust us, we know. We spent 5+ years gathering ‘em all together.)

Many informational resources exist to help you dial in on the specific standards for your subject and grade level. Check with your district for standards materials, collaborate in your PLC, or download apps specifically designed for educators (like the MasteryConnect State Apps and Resource Pins.)

Once you have an assessment ready, review it for proper alignment to ensure that it will, in fact, inform both teaching and learning in your classroom. Below are a few questions to help you get started.

Questions to Ask About Assessment Alignment

  • Which standard(s) do I want to assess?
  • Does the assessment directly align to these standards?
  • Does it measure the concepts and skills associated with the standards?
  • Is it grade-level and/or developmentally appropriate?
  • Do the questions have the right level of readability?
  • Does it include appropriate vocabulary for my students?
  • Is it free of cultural bias?
  • Will the question provide the insight I need to identify levels of understanding?

Now, you may think that we are only covering alignment for formal formative assessments, like multiple-choice or papers. Au contraire. The spectrum of formative assessment is wide, including both formal and informal assessment and is effective for all subjects and grade levels.

As an educator, you may use your own observations of student performance. This works well for activities like musical numbers, art pieces, or group discussions. Or a formative assessment could be as simple as students self-reporting their confidence in understanding the day’s lesson, like “Fists to Fives” or “Thumbs Up / Thumbs Down”. (Check out our post from a few weeks back for other formative assessment ideas.)

Regardless of how you choose to assess your students (and how you gather data about that assessment), proper alignment is the first step in making sure that formative assessment is working in your classroom.

#2 In-the-Moment Feedback
Studies have repeatedly shown that the sooner a student receives feedback, the more likely it is to have a positive impact on student learning. Summative assessments, typically administered at the end of an instructional period, often don’t communicate to students about their progress until days, weeks or even months down the road.

In episode 11 of the Reclaiming the Classroom podcast, James Seaman, a former educator and current MasteryConnect employee, shared an experience about his first year as a teacher. He remembered his students asking, “Have you graded our tests yet?!?” At the time, he thought of grading the tests as just another thing on his already infinite (and exhausting) to-do list. But looking back, he realized it was because the students truly wanted to know how they had done—they wanted to know about their own learning.

And that’s why formative assessment is so important. It’s hallmark is the ability to provide students with feedback as learning happens, while there is still time to influence growth. There are many tools that can help you get immediate results back to your students, including GradeCam or the Socrative app. Some teachers find that meeting with students for mini-sessions or dividing students into groups based on levels of understanding helps them target feedback.

When crafting your feedback to students, there are few guidelines to keep in mind.

Rules for Effective Feedback

  • It’s relevant
  • It includes clear goals
  • It addresses misconceptions
  • It provides opportunity for students to advance
  • It includes comments, not only grades

Crafting effective feedback helps students know exactly where they are…and where they need to be. This is critical for the next step: self-evaluation.

#3 Opportunities for Self-Evaluation
Meaningful formative assessment provides the opportunity for both the student and the teacher to reflect on learning. For the teacher, this involves reflecting on what’s happening in the classroom, then making appropriate changes to instructional practices and strategies to improve student outcomes. For the student, this means analyzing their individual learning and setting goals for future growth.

Teacher Self-Evaluation
Part of teaching is fine-tuning your skills, taking new approaches, and adapting to the needs of your students. Formative assessment gives you the opportunity to get constant feedback from your class so you can adjust instruction in the moment. Below are a few steps to take and questions to help you self-evaluate.

Consider the formative assessment you administered.

  • Did it collect evidence of student learning?
  • Did it provide you with helpful data to inform instruction?

Analyze the assessment data.

  • What percentage of students mastered the concept?
  • What level of intervention, remediation, or enrichment will be needed?
  • What other strategies or resources might I use in the future?
  • What went well and what needs to be changed in the instructional cycle?
  • Are there any supports available to me at my school or district?

Make a plan and execute on it.

  • How am I going to group my students for further instruction?
  • What resources/strategies will I use with each group?
  • How and when will I reassess?

After you have taken the time to reflect on your own performance, the next step is helping students do the same.

Student Self-Evaluation
Providing students with opportunities to engage in their own learning has been shown to lead to some pretty impressive results. Students who approach academics with a learning mindset—with a focus on continual learning and self-improvement—tend to experience greater academic success than students with a performance mindset (one based on ability, comparison to others, and external consequences).

But the ability to self-evaluate is a learned proficiency, one that requires an environment of trust. Such environment—one that encourages students to take academic risks and take ownership of their learning—helps students respond to feedback and take the next steps to close the learning gaps.

Consider how students in your classroom would successfully evaluate their own learning. What would it look like? How would you know they are self-evaluating effectively? What strategies would you use to help them become more proficient in self-evaluation?

Below are few tips from other educators on how to help students assess their own learning.

Strategies on Helping Student Self-Evaluate

  • Have students fill out rubrics about their own performance
  • Ask students to highlight parts of the assessment where they were unsure
  • Allow students the opportunity to correct their mistakes
  • Divide students into pairs or small groups to solicit peer feedback
  • Help students set SMART Goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant & Timely) for their learning
  • Help students create portfolios highlighting their best academic work

Formative assessment is a continuous cycle that helps both teachers and students improve performance in the classroom. These three steps will ensure that you are getting the most from your strategies and making the best instructional decisions.

We’d love to hear how you are using formative assessment in your class, school, or district! Share your activities with us at and you may be featured in an upcoming post.



MasteryConnect helps over 2.5 million educators around the world with formative assessment, standards-based grading, data-driven instruction, and teacher collaboration. Get more info on how MasteryConnect may help in your teachers and students.

Formative vs Summative

Summative vs. Formative Assessment | How they’re different, why they’re used, and their effect on student learning

With so much emphasis on high-stakes testing and federal mandates like NCLB and ESSA, there has been much (and often heated) debate on the role of assessment in our public schools. So it’s no wonder that the word “assessment” can carry some mighty heavy baggage for K-12 educators.

But with formative assessment making a bold move to the forefront of educational trends, the term “assessment” may be shaking part of its negative reputation. In fact, education innovators are finding that assessment, when used frequently throughout the learning cycle, actually helps teachers improve student outcomes by giving them the insights they need for data-driven instruction and more meaningful teacher collaboration.

At first glance, many think that it’s a which-one-is-better debate when it comes to formative and summative assessment. Not really true. Although we definitely included a “versus” in the headline, they aren’t really at odds with one another. Rather, they both have value and provide educators with critical information; they’re just used at different times for different purposes.

Read on as we explore the differences between formative assessment and summative assessment and the role each has in K-12.


What is summative assessment?
When most of us think of the term “assessment”, we likely conjure thoughts of anxiety-inducing “traditional” tests, like final exams or the SAT. These are examples of summative assessment.

Like the term suggests, summative assessment is used to gauge the culmination of student learning at the conclusion of a specific instructional period, be it the end of a chapter, a course, a project, or a school year. The key factor in defining summative assessment is that it’s used to evaluate learning, not to inform teaching and learning.

In short, summative assessment is assessment OF learning.

Examples of Summative Assessment

  • State-mandated testing
  • Year-end testing
  • Final recital
  • Unit or chapter-end tests
  • District benchmark or interim assessments
  • Final papers
  • Portfolios
  • Placement tests

In most cases, these types of assessments are spread out over a specific and predetermined time period, and (when used in the classroom) are included in the grading process. Furthermore, summative assessment can be used to determine placement, as well as gauge the learning of groups for educational research and innovation.

Summative assessments do have their purpose, but there is one important thing they (often) don’t do: They do not inform growth for students or teachers. Because they are taken at quarter, semester, or year end, it’s difficult to use the data they produce to adjust instruction. Enter formative assessment.


What is formative assessment?
The process of formative assessment embeds checks for understanding into the learning cycle to provide feedback to teachers, allowing them to adjust instruction and provide personalized learning opportunities based on students’ unique needs. Formative assessment also provides critical feedback to students, so they can track their progress and take greater ownership of their learning.

In short, formative assessment is assessment FOR learning.

Examples of Formative Assessment
Formative assessment tends to fall into two categories, formal and informal.

Formal formative assessments is often documented and may or may not carry grade points. Examples include:

  • Quizzes
  • Papers
  • Entrance slips
  • Presentations
  • Concept maps
  • Written surveys

Informal formative assessments tend to be less documented and are often more performance-based. Examples include:

  • Quick checks for understanding
  • Questioning
  • Discussions
  • Observations
  • Confidence indications (e.g. “thumbs up / thumbs down”)
  • Interviews

(Psst! Want formative assessment ideas? Check out this post.)

Formative assessment provides K-12 educators the critical data they need to do what we at MasteryConnect call “The Big Three”: identify student levels of understanding in the real time, target students for intervention, and self-evaluate instruction.

Luckily, solutions are emerging to help administrators and teachers track student progress while learning happens and overcome the once very time-intensive process of tracking formative student data (ugh…those spreadsheets). With this in-the-moment data, teachers can more easily and effectively identify where students are right now and weigh that against where they need to be, then connect the data through adjusted instruction and feedback.



MasteryConnect provides K-12 web and mobile solutions to help educators visualize student levels of understanding in real time, so you can more easily use formative assessment data to drive student outcomes.
Ready to talk about how we can help your school or district? Let us know!

10 Formative Assessment Ideas

Formative assessment is gaining an increasingly brighter (and very worthy) spotlight in the K-12 community. As more and more schools and districts make the move to a growth mindset and mastery learning, formative assessment may be the most powerful tool to help teachers identify strategies to improve their own practice, while providing students with the personalized attention they need to succeed academically.

Like the name implies, formative assessment helps guide learning and instruction by providing immediate student feedback while learning happens. Unlike summative tests, which typically occur at the end of a chapter or unit, formative assessments are usually ungraded or don’t carry heavily weighted points.Rather, formative assessment is a quick check for understanding to help teachers answer important questions about student growth: What do my students know? What do they still need to learn? How should I adapt my instruction?

Most teachers find that incorporating formative assessment strategies into their classrooms is rather easy and seamless. In fact, you’ve probably incorporated some type of formative assessment since you first stepped foot in a classroom—you just may not have called it by “formative assessment.”

Read on as we break down 10 formative assessment examples you can start using in your classroom now.

#1 Entrance Slips

A modern take on the time-tested exit ticket, this formative assessment technique asks students to share their understanding at the beginning of class.

Have them jot down what they learned from the previous day’s lesson, share how they’d apply what they learned in a real-world scenario, or ask questions they may have about the material. Use strips of paper, index cards, or an online solution like Socrative to gather student responses. Then use their responses to answer questions at the beginning of class, re-teach an important concept, modify the day’s lesson, or determine if the class is ready to forge ahead.

#2 Open-Ended Questioning

Asking questions that require more than simple yes-or-no responses encourages students to use their higher-order reasoning skills. Additionally, when students are asked questions like “Does this make sense?” or “Do you understand?”, they may answer “yes” even if they need more help.

Ask questions that make them think more deeply about the class material. You may use these questions to start students talking as a class, begin small group discussions, or utilize as a writing prompt. This will help them make the transition from memorizing to cognitively processing their response.

#3 Postcards

This formative assessment strategy works particularly well for history or social studies students, but can be used in other context like ELA or current affairs.

Ask students to take on the persona of a historical figure, a fictional character from a novel, or a person in the news to write a postcard to another individual. Students should think beyond the historical facts, such as dates or locations, and more closely consider context, causes and effects, and other social factors. You may, perhaps, choose to provide them with a series of questions to help them get writing.

#4 Two Stars & a Wish

Peer review and collaboration are another way to implement formative assessment in your classroom. Allowing students to see others work not only promotes collaboration, but may further their own understanding of the material. This K-12 assessment strategy works well for many assignment types, including oral performances, written assignments, or art pieces.

After discussion of the work, ask each student or group to write down two stars (areas where the work excelled) and a wish (an area where it may be improved) about a peer’s project or essay.This formative assessment example is designed to keep things positive, while still providing each student with constructive feedback.

#5 Bullet List

Assessing each student’s level of understanding at the conclusion of class time can help you prepare for the next day’s lesson or determine if you need to assign additional activities. Asking them to put their thoughts in writing will also save you from the dreaded silence that can happen when asking for their questions aloud.

At the end of a lesson, encourage students to itemize three things that he or she didn’t understand about the material. Students may write down their responses or send them electronically via a classroom edtech system. After writing them down, you may also ask them to share their questions out loud to provide an opportunity to receive peer feedback. For younger grades, hold “carpet time”, when students sit down to go over questions as a group.

#6 Quiz Bowl

Formative assessment can be fun and games when you add in a little friendly competition. The activity not only adds a layer of excitement to learning, it promotes teamwork and collaboration among students.

To hold a bowl of your own, separate the class into teams. Use a buzzer, bell, or raised hands for teams to answer, with each correct answer earning the team points. Our personal favorite, of course, is holding a Socrative Space Race, during which students race their icons (even unicorns!) across the screen.

#7 Collages

Spark creativity in your students by asking them to create collages with a mix of images they believe demonstrates their understanding of a concept. This formative assessment idea can be used in nearly every subject for any age group, and can be done individually or in groups.

Ask students to present their collages to the class and explain why they chose to include each image. Allow students to ask questions or provide feedback. Or hang collages on a gallery wall where students can view others’ work.

#8 Mini Meetings

Singling out an individual can cause anxiety for the student. No student, after all, wants to hear, “See me after class.” However, when teacher-student meetings are scheduled as a standard among the entire classroom, it can promote learning while sparing any unintended embarrassment. This formative assessment activity can be particularly helpful for introverted students who may be too shy to speak up in front of a group.

Meet with each student, perhaps even for a few minutes or once per week, to discuss a specific assignment or concept or to allow them to ask questions or receive feedback. Scheduling these meetings while the rest of the class is working on a project ensures learning continues for all students.

#9 Fists to Fives or Thumbs Up / Thumbs Down

A twist on the all-time formative assessment classic (raising hands) “fists to fives” or “thumbs up / down” allows students to communicate their level of comfort with the day’s materials with an easy visual cue.

Ask your students to quickly show their understanding with a numerical rating or with a simple thumbs up or down. Or, if you have a tech solution, ask them to send in their rating anonymously from a laptop, tablet, or hand-held device.   

#10  A Quick-Check Quiz

Although you may already have chapter or unit-end quizzes planned, a quick-check quiz—or even a single question—will give you valuable insight into student growth before moving on. Be sure to keep it informal to alleviate pressure on students.

Ask students to answer questions that will demonstrate their mastery of material. Their responses will help you determine if it is time to move on, divide students into groups, provide more examples, or identify students that needs a little extra help.

If you’re a formative assessment fanatic, share your strategies with us on Twitter, on Facebook, or at We’d love to hear how you’re helping students conquer the world!



MasteryConnect provides K-12 web and mobile solutions to help educators visualize student levels of understanding in real time, so you can more easily use formative assessment data to drive student outcomes.
Ready to talk to about how we can help your school or district? Let us know!