Going Beyond Q and A: Formative Assessment and Other Ideas for 100 Percent Student Participation

Going Beyond Q and A:  Formative Assessment and Other Ideas for 100 Percent Student ParticipationI was recently reading some blog posts on student engagement at Edutopia and came across Maddie Witter’s post – Beyond Q+A: Six Strategies That Motivate ALL Students to Participate – from earlier this year. What a great post!

Maddie provides six great ideas that get away from hand-raising and engage the entire class. Visit her blog for details, but I felt compelled to share a quick summary:


1. Three Seconds – Increasing the wait time after a question is asked helps create more engagement and discussion.

2. Hand Out Questions in Advance – This ensures that each student has a role in the day’s lesson. Questions can be related so that each is part of an overall subject review.

3. Anonymous Questioning – Using technologies and apps so that all students answer the question, without fearing a wrong answer. Teachers also gain instant feedback on topic understanding.

4. Choice Questions – Asking questions that have more than one correct answer. Either/or questions can engage a broader dialogue.

5. Snowball to Avalanche – Similar to the Corners formative assessment idea I blogged about in the past, this technique has students congregating in the classroom based on what answer they think is best. Eventually consensus will become an avalanche of consent to one particular answer.

6. Estimation Line-Ups – Ask kids a question that has a numerical response based on a sliding scale (Kagan, 1994). Place a number line around your classroom walls. Students stand under their number/answer preparing to share why. Fold the line in half so the students who most strongly disagreed with each other now chat before sharing out to the whole class.

In essence, these are all formative assessment strategies that take traditional Q and A to the next level by eliminating (for the most part) traditional hand-raising. While student engagement is certainly part of strategies like these, what’s equally important is that they provide the teacher with the evidence they need to make adjustments to how they are teaching.

Research studies have found that using multiple methods of eliciting evidence of student understanding, such as higher-order questions, wait time (as Maddie includes in her strategies), and other all student responses systems (many of which I’ve shared in past blogs) are effective for increasing student engagement.

In one example, Tobin and Capie (1982 – Relationships between classroom process variables and middleschool science achievement. Journal of Educational Psychology, 74(3), 441–454.) investigated the use of higher-order questions in conjunction with increased wait time and its effect on student engagement in 13 middle school classrooms. Teachers in the study were provided with guidance in the choice of higher-order questions, the enhancement of wait time, or both. Students in each of the classrooms were then observed for engagement (e.g., attending to a task, responding to questions, collecting data, explaining information) and academic achievement. The researchers concluded that both the use of higher-order questions and increased wait time significantly contributed to increases in student engagement.

Research backs strategies like Maddie’s and other formative assessment ideas, so give them a try. The nice thing is that there are many different techniques so teachers can find one or two that work well for their respective classrooms and students. If you’re a teacher and have used some of these ideas, share your experience in the comments section below. We’d love to hear how they worked.


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