Five Tips for Using Student Response Systems for Formative Assessment

This post originally appeared on the Promethean Planet community blog on May 17, 2012.   There are a few redundancies with another of my posts, Top 12 Best Practices for Clickers in the Classroombut the current post endeavors to focus specifically on using clickers for Formative Assessment.  Enjoy – KM

Whatever Student Response System (SRS) you are using in your classroom—e.g. Promethean’s ActiVote, ActivEngage or ActivExpression—these systems are ideal for conducting formative assessment. Not only do they provide the feedback that you need to adjust your instruction, but they save all of the student data automatically, allowing you to examine them more closely at a later time.

Formative assessment is an informal evaluation process that is often used in classrooms. Formative assessment typically is used for the teacher to get feedback from the students about the efficacy of the instruction they are receiving. The answers students give or the activities they complete inform the teacher about what the students understand and what they don’t. It’s especially useful if the teacher can get feedback in real time, as this allows continuous adjustment of the instruction.

Regardless of which system you use, here are a few basic tips for using them:

1. Include questions throughout the instructional period instead of leaving them to the end. Frequent questioning allows real-time adjustment of your instruction to the students’ needs and it helps to keep the students engaged and paying attention.

2. When teaching a new skill, include questions that are different enough from the original instruction to allow evaluation of extension and generalization of that new skill. This requires some work and inventiveness, but remember that application of the new skill to novel examples is the goal.

3. A recent and critical tip from Perez et al. (2010) is that when using a Vote-Discuss-Revote method it is important not to show the results following the first vote. When early results are shown, students tend to shift their answers to the most popular choice, whether or not it is correct.

4. Remember that the tool is only as good as the instruction with which you are using it. Figure out what you need to know and how you want to measure it. Then decide how to implement the response system.

5. These embedded questions shouldn’t count toward the course grade. These questions are all about getting more information that allows you to adjust your teaching. We don’t want kids to be afraid to respond because they don’t know the answer. That defeats the purpose!

Students will grow to love using response systems and you will get a ton of good information about “what they know” if you use the systems frequently and for low-pressure formative assessment. The devices make the experience seem more game-like to kids—to the point where you will notice that they start to request to use them!


Perez, K.E., Strauss, E.A., Downey, N., Galbraith, A., Jeanne, R., & Cooper, S. (2010). Does Displaying the Class Results Affect Student Discussion during Peer InstructionCBE Life Sciences Education, 9(2), 133–140

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Created by teachers, for teachers, is a unique teaching, sharing and support community – the place for educators to connect, create and change the classroom! Available in 15 language versions, with over 1 million members in more than 150 countries, Promethean Planet is the international meeting place for educators in the 21st century classroom. Planet’s free membership enables access to more than 60,000 downloadable resources, as well as online training, the ability to interact via forums and blogs, and a wide range of other resources.

About karen mahon

i am a behavior and learning scientist. i hold an ed.d. in educational psychology and am trained as an instructional designer. i have spent more than 15 years working in education and instructional software design.
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2 Responses to Five Tips for Using Student Response Systems for Formative Assessment

  1. Pingback: Have Questions? You Need ‘The Answer Pad’ | disrupt learning!

  2. Chris says:

    These devices aren’t great for all kids. My 4th grader with Aspergers is absolutely struggling with the ActivExpression 2. He scored top of his class for math in 1st through 3rd grades, and now he can’t seem to even pass his multiplication table tests in 4th grade using ActivExpression 2 even though at home he does a great job of recalling the facts. They’re given 5 minutes to solve 100 problems using the devices, and between his poor fine motor control finding it hard to manipulate the ridiculously small buttons, his difficulty in reacting quickly enough to rapid-fire questions (that’s 3 seconds per question), and the device’s poor response time (pressing two buttons in quick succession fails to register the second button), he’s getting like 30 out of 100 and failing…. so right now I don’t have an especially high opinion of these, nor would I wish these on anyone with a disability such as his. In fact, if I had time on my hands, I’d actively campaign against the use of these. I think they’re great in concept and probably make life easier for the teacher whenever no students are facing challenges with them, but they’re working terribly against my son and I have a pretty poor opinion of them.

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