My Favorite Formative Assessment: Stoplight Cups

Although only briefly mentioned in this awesome article about formative assessment, Formative Assessment: Improving Learning in Secondary Classrooms, the formative assessment that continues to be my favorite and most easily implemented regularly (almost daily) in my praxis is the Stoplight Technique.  While this technique can be varied in a multiplicity of ways, the way I implement it in my classroom is with red, yellow, and green cups (like the kind from a party store) on each of the student tables.  Whenever I want to check for student understanding or level of confidence about a topic, I ask the students to place the appropriate colored cup in front of them and leave the rest stacked in the middle of the table.  Usually, red means “stop! I need help!”; yellow means “slow down! I need clarification!”; and green means “I’m good to go!”.  Then, in a matter of seconds I can appropriately regroup students according to the purpose of class for that day.  Sometimes I pair greens and yellows together to work on a task while I work with the reds.  Other times I give greens an independent task to work on at a high level of difficulty, the yellows a task at a medium level of difficulty, and reds a task at low levels of difficulty.  Yesterday, in a professional development meeting, I learned about the Gradual Release Model of learning.  It dawned on me how well this could fit with the Stoplight formative assessment technique if when implemented greens and yellows work together while I work with reds and then we gradually release responsibility to that only students are working together and then students complete a task independently.  It was an “ah-ha” moment of sorts to find yet another way to easily and flexibly differentiate instruction to maximize learning and deepen my students’ understanding of course content.

The flexibility of the Stoplight Technique is also in how you implement it in the classroom.  I use colored cups from the party store, but one of my colleagues in another department discussed using colored popsicle sticks for her Stoplight Technique.  Another suggested colored squares of paper.  While I love this formative assessment technique, I certainly am unwilling to suggest that it might be the best for every teacher.  I just find that it works best for me.  The beauty of formative assessments and technology integration and literacy strategies is that no teacher has to use them all.  Consider them a buffet of choices from which you can choose.  When I find something that works really well, I continue to use it frequently.  Other strategies and tools I prefer to only use for very specific purposes that are not as widespread and general as the Stoplight Technique tends to be for me.

I hope others I finding new and better ways to formatively assess their students (and I would love to hear new ideas as well).  The value of formative assessment lies not only in the increased depth of understanding for the students but also in the increased satisfaction and fulfillment teachers get from knowing they taught and taught VERY WELL.  As always, here’s to living above mediocrity.  Cheers!