Using Tag Clouds to Implement Formative Assessment

We’ve recently completed a three part blog series on using digital tools to implement formative assessment in the classroom, and one takeaway from that series is that there is certainly no shortage of applications and software programs that can help teachers assess student learning. One tool we use so much we felt it deserved its’ own post is the use of tag clouds in eliciting evidence of student learning.

One key ingredient in successful formative assessment is eliciting evidence of student learning, without which teachers cannot make adjustments in their teaching. Tag clouds, or a weighted list that is represented visually, shows the importance or popularity of each tag or word, are a great way to assess what students are thinking at any given point in a lesson. A few ways that tag clouds can be used in teaching:

+ Kids tag their posts or responses with keywords – this helps the teacher see what key terms and/or concepts kids take away from the learning; and how they think concepts are related to other topics.

+ The teacher can take all the text from student responses and create a word/tag cloud to see which key terms are showing up in student work as evidence of student learning.

The results of either of these can be used to probe deeper. The teacher can ask diagnostic and discussion questions as a way to clarify concepts. Additionally, patterns in the data can lead to deeper topic discussion and insight.

There are several tools and applications which make facilitating tag clouds easy, including the following:

Using Tag Clouds to Implement Formative Assessment+ WordItOut – This is a word cloud generator, which can be used to see whether students are providing consensus on answers, helping to provide educator feedback.
+ Tagxedo – Another word cloud generator.
+ Wordle – Another word cloud generator, this one also lets you create fun formats that can be shared with the classroom.
+ TagCrowd – Simple word cloud generator that works online.
+ MakeCloud – Tag cloud widget that allows you to view RSS feeds as a tag cloud.

The beauty of tag clouds is the number of uses that they can have when it comes to learning. While implementing formative assessment in the classroom is one valuable use of tag clouds, teachers can also use them to visually illustrate the importance of certain people, places and things in relation to history. For example, you could create a tag cloud that visually represents the countries by their literacy rate or population.  Or you could create a tag cloud prior to a lesson and then use that tag cloud to generate conversation around that particular topic.

When it comes to successfully implementing formative assessment, eliciting evidence of student learning is paramount, and as Vitaly Friedman says tag clouds provide an ‘instant illustration of the main topics.’

If you’re an educator and have used tag clouds in your classroom or school, we’d love to hear from you. Were they helpful?