We’ve all had those tentative learners who never raise their hands, or do so once another student begins to answer. Even when given the opportunity to share with a partner, these students lack confidence and play it safe by relying on their partner to talk first every time. We worry about how well they will perform on the inevitable test of the material we are studying.
Using well-crafted, open-ended questions is an effective formative assessment that can give teachers a view of how their students’ thinking is aiding their understanding of the text. By design, the questions should reveal the students’ ability to recognize the literary devices present in the story, interpret the author’s intent, and reference the text to formulate answers and opinions. Making their responses a non-graded activity, removes the pressure of being ‘right’. These responses can then be used for making decisions about what instruction needs to follow before the summative assessment takes place.
Employing an activity that creates a sense of anonymity will engage all students and encourage even the tentative learners to take risks, be creative, and step out of the box. One very effective, stress-free technique I used was doodle stations. I have heard this technique called ‘museum walks’ or ‘carousels’, but ‘doodle stations’ is the name that captured my attention. Doodle stations are individual open-ended questions or directives, written on a piece of chart paper, spread out throughout the room. The students rotate through the stations and respond in whatever way makes sense to them, writing, drawing, questioning, webbing, or connecting to another response already there.
When Can you Use Doodle Stations?
The doodle stations can be used in many ways. Students can visit them individually during their desk time. It can be established that they can choose to visit only a certain number out of all the stations. I used this option to see which questions were the hardest for them to formulate an answer. Those were the ones we revisited first.
As the students become more comfortable in answering, I changed the way they approached the stations. Sometimes they were to visit with a partner. Sometimes just illustrations were accepted. Other times, discussions groups were each in charge of one station and had to work together to create and answer, showing the development of their thoughts on the paper. A favorite was when the groups could create a question about something that was puzzling them or a question they had for the author. Then the groups would rotate through the stations.
Start Doodling Together
I started showing the class how to doodle by modeling with a question from a book we had read together, The Sign of the Beaver. At the top of the chart paper I wrote, “Many book characters have a small, but important part in the plot. Ben is such a character. Why is his part of the story a turning point?” After reading it aloud, I could see a ripple of interest go across the room. Then I took my marker and drew a rifle. Using think aloud, I narrated my process of thinking and responding. I said, “Maybe I should label my picture” and wrote ‘Ben stole Matt’s rifle’. From the rifle I webbed ‘no hunting – no food’ and ‘no protection’. I talked through the complicating events and declared the ultimate consequence of Ben stealing the rifle was Matt’s treaty with the Indians. I added the events and the treaty in a flow chart from the rifle, too.
After my demonstration, we talked about other ways I could have depicted my thoughts. Some offered to come up and add their doodles to the chart. In conclusion, we listed different ways to respond and hung the chart up for future reference. From there we were off and running. They loved this activity and so did I!
The value of their doodles cannot be understated. They were so helpful to me in learning about their thinking, their understanding, or lack of it, or where more consideration was needed for further instruction of various literary devices or referencing non-fiction text. I could use individual station charts as jumping off points for my instruction. Others could be used for practicing peer critiques, and for praising their insights. All the revisiting was done without stress to the students, since the work was done anonymously and was non-graded.
As we progressed through the year, the responses got more creative and precise. Group collaboration became more equitable. My tentative learners began to trust their own thoughts and started to accept the risk of being a willing participant. I couldn’t have been happier with the results of this evaluative activity, from both the formative assessment aspect and the strengthening of my students’ skills!
What formative assessments do you use that reduce student stress?