Formative Assessments in 3 Acts


The purpose of a formative assessment has many meanings for many people.  Some think that it is a grade that should be taken, others think that it must be a multiple choice test and it is used to compare their progress to the pacing guide.  The benefit of a strong formative assessment is its ability to gain insight into your students’ thinking and to use this information to plan for instruction. I believe that a 3 Act task is perfect for this.  I ventured into some 2nd grade classes recently on a mission to model 3 Act tasks for the teachers that I work with.  It was a counting task, and I intended on uncovering the counting strategies of their students.  For the first class, I went in with all of my straws in a basket and pictures of them bundled in groups.  They of course asked my intended question of “How many straws do you have?”  I was prepared for that. I had various pictures that I would give them when they asked for the information. I was hoping that they would ask about my bundles and then maybe how many were in there.  They did. I showed them my pictures and they were able to answer the question eventually, but I just didn’t get the conversation I was hoping for.  Disappointed,  I had a few more hours until I had to do it again.  One of the other coaches stopped by and told him about the struggle that I had in my first class.  He suggested having them count the straws and not showing the pictures.  BRILLIANT!!!  Why didn’t I think of that?  I walk into class number 2 with only my straws.  Of course they asked questions like, “Did anyone put their mouth on them?”  and “How do they make green straws?”  Then the question I was waiting for, “How many straws do you have?”  The class exploded and various children shouted in agreement because they wondered too.  So we begin….  We did some estimating and they decided that they would have to hand out the straws so that they  could count them and then bring them all back together in the end to add them up.  As the teacher, the other coach and I were walking around, we heard some interesting counting strategies.  One group of students decided that they would count by tens because it is faster.  Then they proceeded to hold up one straw and call it ten, then the next one was twenty and so on. The teacher could not believe what she was hearing.  We asked a few questions and were able to get the group back on track.  We also discovered that the students struggled once they got past 100.  Once again the teacher was shocked, because in first grade the standard took them to 120.  That was a huge “Ah Ha” moment.  I continued to work my way around the 2nd grade over the next couple of days with much of the same student actions and responses.  When I was finished I met with the Second Grade teachers to discuss what they saw.  The big take aways for the teachers were that the students need to be given more opportunities to count things, and that singing catchy tunes doesn’t mean they understand what it means to skip count. This was something that they would have to include in the unit. My biggest take away was that a 3 Act task is a perfect formative assessment.