The FACTs: Formative Assessment Classroom Techniques

Formative Assessment Classroom Techniques (FACTs) seamlessly link assessment, instruction, and learning. They are specific strategies- a question, process, or activity- designed to be easily embedded in instruction and to provide information about students' progress with factual, conceptual and procedural understanding in science. FACTs serve many purposes. They can be used to identify preconceptions, engage students, activate thinking, stimulate scientific discussion, support formal concept development, promote metacognition, self-assessment and reflection, and much more! FACTs allow teachers to gather information about student learning in order to inform next steps for instruction.

Numerous such strategies exist, but the Geniverse lesson plans utilize a small subset of FACTs repeatedly, so as not to overwhelm teachers with too many to learn. Our set was selected specifically to help students develop conceptual and procedural understanding within Geniverse, and to stimulate productive scientific discussions in small and large groups. We selected these FACTs from the book Science Formative Assessment: 75 Practical Strategies for Linking Assessment, Instruction, and Learning. (Keeley, Page. Science formative assessment: 75 practical strategies for linking assessment, instruction, and learning. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, 2008.) For each FACT in her book, Keeley provides a description of the strategy, provides an explanation of how it promotes student learning and informs instruction, explains how to implement the strategy, and offers modifications. She also identifies its ease of use, cognitive and time demands, and caveats.  You can get a sneak peek of the book through Corwin, which has made Chapter 1: An Introduction to Formative Assessment Classroom Techniques freely available.

Of our subset, four appear regularly in the Lesson Plans. Below we provide a basic description of each, its intent specifically as it relates to Geniverse, and a link to an example from the Geniverse materials.

Think-Pair-Share (or Think-Write-Pair-Share)

Geniverse uses this strategy both to elicit student prior knowledge and to assist in formalizing their conceptual understanding. Students are presented with 1-3 questions or ideas to Think (and Write) about individually for a brief period of time, usually 1-3 minutes. For the "Pair" portion, the teacher has students share with a partner for another 2-5 minutes. Students can add to what they have written to include their partner's ideas or new ideas that evolved from their conversation. Finally, the teacher conducts a whole-class Share discussion where each pair (or a subset of them) gets to share their thinking with the whole class. The whole-class discussion provides an opportunity for the teacher to probe student thinking more deeply. (See an example from Geniverse.)

This strategy allows each student to organize their own thinking before any sharing occurs, resulting in richer responses. Listening to the pair and whole class discussions, the teacher can identify inaccurate ideas and flaws in reasoning to be addressed through further instruction. 

I Think...We Think

In Geniverse, this strategy is used after students have had some experience with a trait through breeding, but before there has been any formal discussion around the concept. Students use a two-column sheet with a question at the top. They start by spending a few designated minutes organizing their own thinking into the first, "I Think" column. Next, students engage in timed small group discussions, recording in the "We Think" column ideas that surface from this discussion- both ideas they all agree upon and those that differ among group members. The teacher listens non-judgementally to group discussions. A whole class discussion ensues to point out similarities and differences in thinking. A record of ideas is kept for further reference and refinement throughout instruction, and student charts can be modified as they learn more. (See an example from Geniverse.)

Predict-Explain-Observe (PEO)

In Geniverse, students are presented with a breeding situation and asked to make a prediction about possible alleles, offspring, or parents. They must also explain the reasons that support their predictions. Students then perform one or more breeding experiments and observe the results. Students then compare their predictions to the results and modify their explanations as needed. It is imperative that students have time to revisit and revise their explanations (making it P-E-O-E). Engaging the class in a discussion helps students account for the results and solidify their conceptual understanding. (See an example from Geniverse.)

Frayer Model

A Frayer Model places a target term or concept in the center oval of the graphic organizer. Information about this concept is organized into four quadrants around this central concept. In Geniverse the four quadrants are: essential characteristics, non-essential characteristics, examples, and non-examples. Keeley's book uses operational definition, characteristics, examples, and non-examples. Use whichever format makes the most sense for you and your students. (See the Frayer Model used in Geniverse.)

This FACT can be used to determine students' prior knowledge about a concept or term and/or to help solidify their conceptual understanding after opportunities to learn about the concept. Students can complete Frayer Models alone or in small groups, and they can modify them as they gain new information and insight through further activities, and through small group and whole class discussion. 


We know that some will substitute their own favorite strategies from their personal instructional "toolboxes". If you do substitute, please share these strategies in the Geniversity Discussion Forum and tell the Geniverse community how it worked.