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How a Deck of Cards Enables Formative AssessmentMy mentor once made the observation that during class discussion, I missed calling on four students. She pointed out that by not calling on them, I was sending them the message that I didn’t believe they could answer the questions.

Nothing could be further from the truth! I believe every child can learn. Her observation was an important shift in my approach to student engagement. If I believed that every student in my class could learn and should participate in the discussion and the in-class formative assessment techniques, then it was important for me to have a method to facilitate that. Enter, the Deck of Destiny.

The Deck of Destiny
After some reflection, I realized that I had unintentionally disengaged a section of my class because I did not have a way to randomly — but equally — call on everyone. So, I created the Deck of Destiny as a method of engagement. The Deck of Destiny is actually a standard deck of playing cards. “Destiny” means that there is no opting out and that we all participate equally. Demonstrating understanding and staying engaged is part of the learning journey. Little did I know, this simple tool to gauge student understanding would significantly shape a class culture.

Creating the Deck
To create the Deck, students arrive in class and find a plain deck of playing cards and a selection of Sharpie markers. Each student picks their 2 favorite cards and writes their names on the card. Which card they chose is completely up to them. It matters which cards they select as it personalizes the learning experience from the beginning. As you might guess, every year someone has to have the jokers, the queens or the aces.

Once I collect the cards, I add color-coded squares to help me quickly access information about that student. For instance, I color the squares based on their scores (or scoring range) on different sections of an English/Language Arts assessment: one square for Literary Analysis or Informational Concepts. Or, the color code on the cards could be based on the standard deviations from grade level for each student. In the upper corner of the card, I add a letter to indicate each student’s individual learning style, such as “I” for “Independent Learner” or “C” for “Community Learner.” This coding system is used only by me and allows me to personalize my question to the individual student.

Using the Deck
Classroom management is best “in the minute.” Because I create classroom questions by the represented grade levels reported in their assessment scores, I need instant access to students’ scores. I cannot look up test scores every time I need to ask a question, nor can I leave sensitive information laying out for others to see. The color-coding on the cards helps solve both problems. I know, but no one else has privileged information.

In addition, I update my cards periodically to reflect new information gleaned from assessment to help me quickly see growth and gaps for each student. And this allows me to direct my question to each individual student in a manner most appropriate for him. Lastly, my name also goes into each deck twice. I’ve found that if I’m answering questions, too, my students believe I’m invested in the process and part of the culture of learning.

Using the deck, I practice calling on everyone, including when I’m doing a quick “check for understanding” at the end of class. I am able to track who has been called on by discarding cards that have already been used. The students also use the deck of cards when asking questions or engaging their peers. They, too, will draw off the top of the deck to randomize how the class holds discussion.

A simple deck of cards has provided an effective, insightful, and fun strategy to build a culture of learning, accountability and inclusion in my classroom. The deck enables me to have quick, daily access to student assessment data, and without the students even realizing it, it ensures that the whole class participates in formative assessment techniques. The levels of student growth and understanding won’t escape my notice – as no student can avoid the Deck of Destiny!

Ruth Schackmann is a regular Teacher Voices contributor to our blog and teaches middle school English/Language Arts in Carrollton-Farmers Branch Independent School District in Texas. You can follow her on Twitter @Ruth_Schackmann.

This is the third blog in Ruth Schackmann’s series, Classroom Strategies Based on Data. Check back next time for part four in Ruth’s series, “Understanding Learning Styles as a Point of Data.” And share your classroom strategies based on data with us on Facebook or Twitter (@Assess2Learn).

Photo by Geoff Parsons.