Tag Archives: formative assessment

Remote Assessment in PBL

This is the fourth of a series of posts about what Project Based Learning infused with Social and Emotional Learning looks like when teaching remotely. Is it the ideal situation? Probably not, but it is the reality that many of us are dealing with. I will share my ideas and what others are doing to hopefully inspire you to action.


Many teachers are overwhelmed with remote or hybrid teaching. It is so much work and is exhausting. Connecting with students is hard! They miss scheduled Zoom calls. Don’t respond to emails or messages. It sometimes feels like beyond a few self-motivated kids, student effort is dependent on how much parents or caretakers are monitoring them.

I recently saw a teacher post about how overwhelmed she was with daily grading in this environment. She stayed up late nightly marking papers. She asked about how much formative vs. summative assessment others were doing. For me the ratio should be about 99% formative vs. 1% summative.


I, of course, love assessment, but hate grading. My advice to teachers is to use formative assessments daily, even multiple ones. This shouldn’t be overwhelming because you do NOT need to grade them. The purpose of formative assessments is to figure out where your students are to plan your next teacher moves to make.

Think of formative assessment as a thermostat taking the temperature of the room, then you adjust the heat or air based on your reading. As students complete an activity in your class, listen and observe, looking for common misconceptions or gaps in understanding. Then sequence the next day’s lessons based on student needs. This means you may have to differentiate for different groups of kids.

boring pic, but important analogy

Formative assessments are not your sole responsibility. As you create a student-centered classroom, you release control to students. You are not the only source of knowledge in the room. Formative assessments should include peer assessments, community feedback, and self reflections, on top of your observations. Let’s consider each one and what it might look like in remote learning.

Peer Assessment

There are many ways that students can assess each other, and most can be adapted for online learning. For writing pieces in Google Docs, they can leave suggestions in comments. Many teachers have students post pictures of drafts of final products on Padlet or videos on Flipgrid and then have other students add feedback for refinement. Use a Visible Thinking Routine within breakout rooms to structure productive peer assessment. Remember to model what constructive feedback looks like and provide sentence stems.

Community Feedback

Outside experts can provide excellent feedback, especially in areas of the project that may be outside of the teacher’s expertise. You can use some of the same tools mentioned above: Padlet, Flipgrid, Google Docs, etc. Students can connect via email or video conferencing to get feedback on their products, advice for research topics and resources, and coaching around content topics. In a design project, students should be surveying the community for their perspective on the problem being addressed. Social media is another way for students to get their message out and to connect to local aspects of their project.

Self Reflection

In reality, self-reflection is the single most powerful assessment. When we decide something for ourselves, it leads to substantive action. Students should be reflecting on content, SEL skills that they are developing, and the PBL process. Reserve time daily for reflection on one of these areas. Use rubrics to have students evaluate themselves. They can journal or fill out an exit ticket. This can be done many ways online. My favorite for its simplicity is a Google Form. Mix it up by having students do a Turn and Talk with random pairs in a breakout room.

Teacher Observations

My favorite teacher assessment is just listening to conversations of students during group work. Put them into breakout rooms with a protocol to follow and a task to submit at the end. Hop in to notice how they interact with each other and what they are learning. Pull small groups or individuals into a separate breakout room for conferencing to assess them. Document students’ levels on content standards or SEL competencies in a spreadsheet (note: I am not the creator of this template and the author did put their name on it).

When you need to look at handed-in classwork, read 8-10 papers looking for themes of strengths and missing aspects. Once you establish what you need to know, don’t read the rest. Don’t grade them at all! Plan an engaging way to address the pattern that you discovered.

Finally here’s two of my favorite sites for formative assessment ideas: 60 Formative Assessments and K-20 Assessment Cards.

My Mantra:

Assess more;

Grade less;

Plan cool stuff for kids!

We only have so much time in a day. Every minute wasted grading busy work that doesn’t inform our next teacher move is wasted time. Let’s use our time wisely to plan work worthy of the children in front of us. Assess in real time and use your planning period to plan and adjust, not mark papers.

Questions? Interested in a PBL workshop or consulting?  Connect with me at michaelkaechele.com or @mikekaechele on Twitter.

Why I Hate Grading, But Love Assessment

Boring pic, but important analogy

Assessment gets a bad rap. Volumes of books have been written over the years about assessment, but sometimes we overthink it. Assessment is a natural human behavior where we observe and evaluate situations or people. We all judge from a very young age and are doing it all of the time (you are judging my writing skills, or lack of them right now). Then we adjust our actions based on our assessments. When someone is angry, you either try to avoid them or placate them. Unless you are a glutton for punishment, you don’t try to make them more upset.

When it comes to education, assessment is most often associated with standardized testing. Collective “Ugh.” But assessment should be viewed as a much wider category of actions. There are 3 areas that teachers should be assessing continuously.

Social-Emotional State

The social-emotional state of students has become the trendy thing to focus on during Covid. Maslow before Blooms is the battle cry of teachers everywhere. While I contend that we can Maslow while we Bloom, I do agree that we need to build relationships with kids and make sure that they are physically and mentally prepared to learn both content and SEL skills before we engage with them. We should be continually taking stock of students’ mental state, energy level, and sense of confidence.

This is best achieved by checking in with each student daily. Whether you are greeting them at the door (or as they enter a virtual space) or just chatting with them during work time, every student needs to be personally acknowledges. It doesn’t need to be a lengthy or formal process, but more a culture of belonging. When one or more students are not prepared to learn, for any reason, address it first. This may be as simple as letting a student rest when tired or not feeling well, or sending them to a counselor if they are very distraught.


Content was the only focus during NCLB. From teacher and principal evaluations to school “grades,” everything was based on improving test scores. While the pendulum swung too far in this direction, we don’t want to throw out the baby with the bath water. Content is still a critical part of our jobs. Through PBL, there are a myriad of ways to assess content beyond standardized multiple choice tests. Portfolios of student work from prototype to final products mixed with student reflections are an excellent window into their content knowledge and ability to apply it.

Social and Emotional Learning Skills

Social and Emotional Learning Skills are the trend of the future, partially in reaction to the over-obsession of content associated with standardized curriculum and testing. SEL goes beyond checking students mental state for trauma, to cultivating the SEL competencies into their lives. SEL skills are vital to successful careers and meaningful relationships, presenting a holistic approach to learning.

In reality, these three areas are not distinct but interwoven with each other. The Esteem and Self-Actualization of Maslow overlap with the Self-Awareness and Self-Management of CASEL. All of the SEL competencies develop skills that lead to greater academic success in the content areas, including literacy and numeracy. The discipline specific skills of each content area are dependent on problem-solving, analyzing, and evaluating.

Always Formative

The largest shift isn’t from content to SEL (since both still matter), but from summative to formative. We know that one test score never represents the totality of what an individual knows. So we need to hold off on summative assessments for as long as possible and treat everything as a formative part of the learning process. This often means not putting a grade on student work but giving feedback in multiple forms leading to refinement by the student.

Everything in the classroom is a formative assessment opportunity.

We just have to view it that way. From conversations and observations to protocols, routines, scaffolds, and the structures of PBL, everything informs us in one or more of the three areas of assessment if we are paying attention.

The reason that we assess in the first place is to adjust our teaching plans to our student needs. That’s why grading feels so senseless. It is often reporting scores for the purpose of ranking and sorting. But assessment is like a thermostat. We take the temperature of the room and then we adjust to the needs of our students. Ultimately the purpose of formative assessments is to help students drive their own independent inquiry.

For example, let’s say many students aren’t participating in class. A traditional approach might be to start grading them with participation points, but that doesn’t fit into any of the three categories. Even worse, participation points reward the kids who were already working and punish the ones who weren’t, but they don’t inspire anyone. Instead assess the reasons that students aren’t participating. Are they bored, shy, or intimidated due to low skill level? What strengths are they “hiding” in class? Then design projects based on their strengths that develop their gaps. Formative assessments are our opportunity to know our students at a deep level and encourage them to become their best selves.

Questions? Interested in a PBL workshop or consulting?  Connect with me at michaelkaechele.com or @mikekaechele on Twitter.