The FORMATIVE-RICH™ Path to Closing the Covid-19 Learning Gap

By Darrell Ward, PhD


The author first proposed the basis and an initial methodology for the use of technology in the classroom (see Ward, 1977).  Subsequently, the case has been made and substantiated by a variety of researchers and teachers that the utilization of formative assessment especially “in the moment” formative assessment will substantially raise student achievement levels.  With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring of 2020, the academic progress of K-12 learners has been severely disrupted and, in many locations, basically eliminated.  

This article describes a pathway to closing the learning gap that has been torn open this last year.  We will show that various technologies and simple pedagogies can provide classroom teachers with the tools to vigorously attack and close the learning gap.



Formative rich activities are defined to be any activity that engages the student and provides data to the teacher that can be utilized in a “reasonably short” period of time to impact ongoing instruction.  

These may include:

  • Minute by minute, day by day instructional activities (See Siobhan L., Lyon C., Thompson M., and Wiliam D. 2005)
  • Data teams with common formative assessments (See Allison, E., Besser, L., & Campsen, L. 2010)
  • Exciting/Engaging activities (See Csikszentmihalyi, M. 2005)
  • Collaborative learning (See Johnson, D. W., Johnson, R., & Holubec, E. 2008)
  • Assessment for Learning (See Wiliam, D., Lee, C., Harrison, C., & Black, P. J. (2004)

Additionally, it is imperative that all FORMATIVE-RICH™ activities deliver student results to a permanent receptor that will provide the basis for evaluation of student progress.  Attached to this requirement is that the student outcomes must be collected rather seamlessly or effortlessly by the teacher.  

The above considerations are especially important.  We cannot impose these FORMATIVE-RICH™ activities on teachers that they are burdened with the collection, recording and evaluation in such a manner that the teacher is overwhelmed with administrative issues and impeded from vigorously providing quality instruction, engagement, assessment, and feedback within the classroom.  These attributes of this model are important but are of little value if teachers are unable to deliver on the key components of instruction, engagement, assessment, feedback, collection of outcomes and evaluation/action on the outcomes due to the time effort to execute on these key pedagogies. 

The solution to the above conundrum is the incorporation of appropriate technology into the processes.  We will describe how the above teaching and learning situations can be effortlessly implemented in a quality, effortless and engaging fashion for the total learning environment.  This includes  administrators, teachers, students and parents.

Minute by Minute, Day by Day Instructional Activities 

The work by Siobhan L., Lyon C., Thompson M., and  Wiliam D. (2005) in the early 2000 timeframe is very important as it laid the groundwork for assessment for learning.  This work emphasized a variety of approaches that teachers could use to activate classroom learning and provide the teacher with immediate data to impact teaching direction.

Unfortunately, the approach was low-tech and there was no permanent data flowing from the classroom activities, thus the burden was on the teacher to retain, across time, the instructional outcomes of various students as well as the entire class.  However, the original work by Ward (1977) has morphed into student response systems pioneered by Ward (1977).  

This changed the classroom for many teachers beginning in 2000, resulting in complete engagement of students without peer pressure and delivery of results that were instantaneous ready for feedback and impactful on instruction (See  Radosevich, D., Salomon, R., Radosevich, D. M., & Kahn, P. 2008; See Randolph, J. J. 2007). Additionally, the outcomes were permanently collected so that, in addition to the immediate data, historical outcomes and progress reporting could be applied to the learning process.

With the learning gap that has been opened by the pandemic, it is crucial that students be engaged often during the instructional process and that the outcomes be logged for availability to all stakeholders in the learner’s sphere of influence.  Instructional rich lessons are lessons that include instructional materials that can be delivered by the teacher in class.  Additionally, formal engagements are strategically available for delivery to the class with immediate outcomes provided to the teacher.  

With such an environment, feedback can be richly applied, data can be collected for construction of remediation programs and all stakeholders can be appraised of student progress and needs. Thus, FORMATIVE-RICH™ lessons and subsequent actions are one major key to attacking the learning gap.  Make your instruction formative rich and capture the outcomes in real time with feedback as well as recording outcomes for progress monitoring across time (See Marzano, R., Pickering, D. J., and Pollock, J. E. 2001).

Data Teams with Common Formative Assessments

The utilization of data teams using frequent common formative assessments have greatly increased as technology and the pedagogy has permeated the K-12 environment.  It is now quite easy to create a common assessment, distribute the assessment to the stakeholder teachers, utilize technology for the student test taking and immediately evaluate the results as a data team.  There are many proponents of common formative assessment and the use of data teams to improve instruction, feedback and student achievement. (See Ainsworth, L., & Viegut, DCommon Formative Assessment 2.0 2014; DuFour, R., & Eaker, R. 1998; Allison, E., Besser, L., & Campsen, L. 2010)).

Post pandemic, it is crucial that data teams operate smoothly and frequently.  Again, the use of technology makes such activities viable on a more frequent basis.  Certainly, bi-weekly, if not weekly, common formative assessments are going to be vital in closing the learning gap.  Computer software and content that facilitate such activities are key to executing a frequent program of data driven common formative assessments.

Of course, the value of the assessments is that the data team can quickly access the outcomes and produce a remediation program to remedy the deficiencies, if any. As with the day-by-day assessment/feedback approach during FORMATIVE_RICH™ lessons, the outcomes are retained to evaluate progress and teaching strategiex while providing the outcomes to the student stakeholders.

Exciting/Engaging Activities 

Activities that hold the attention of learners are more likely to produce growth of student success (See Csikszentmihalyi, M. A. (2005).  Many activities that engage students while creating a fun learning environment are in this category.  For example, ALL In Learning provides a challenge board that can be utilized in class with student response pads in a competitive spirit of learning.  Alternatively, students can utilize a student portal and access the challenge boards on an individual basis to try to obtain a high score (See  

Many online self-paced activities will support the student learning process by providing an environment where students received feedback and gain scores as they proceed through instruction and feedback (See and as examples).

These examples can be utilized in a group or self-paced mode to support remediation requirements identified from in-class instruction and accountability reporting.  Students enjoying fun activities while learning can be a key component in closing the learning gap.

Finally, Willingham has produced a terrific book that looks at a variety of learning approaches and issues with students and their dislike of school (See Willingham, D. T. 2009).  He includes some very practical and psychological solutions for engaging students to learn and how to produce best practices to deliver learning.  Willingham’s insists that the learning and teaching must be such that the students are motivated to participate and grow academically. 

Collaborative Learning

The research regarding collaborative learning models has been well documented (See Johnson, D. W., Johnson, R., & Holubec, E. 2008).  Unfortunately, the pandemic has basically terminated this type of learning.  However, with the opening of schools and relaxation of the guidelines we can expect that this mode of learning will quickly reappear.

The use of response pads can be used to provide group or collaborative responses to engagement and assessment requirements within the classroom.  This does create an educational structure where a team of students can collaborate, provide a response and receive feedback.  Additionally, the team outcomes can be saved for later analysis with team feedback provided by the teacher.

Assessment for Learning

This will be kind of a catch all that has been researched and published by a variety of significant leaders within the teaching and learning discipline. The main objective here is to let the key practices within the classroom surface as tools to close the learning gap that is currently possessing our classrooms.

Certainly, we need to be doing an abundance of assessment for learning (See Wiliam, D., Lee, C., Harrison, C., & Black, P. J. 2004; Clarke, S. 2011; Stiggins, R. 2007).  Hattie has identified a variety of approaches and includes the use of stating learning intentions and success criteria supported by active student engagement, teacher feedback and effort as winning components for the classroom environment (See Hattie 2012).  

The concept of the Growth Mindset espoused by Dweck should be a component of this time in our teaching and learning history as students must be encouraged to deliver effort with the understanding that effort can and will increase achievement and knowledge (See Dweck 2006).

Student outcomes must be closely monitored during this period.  Thus, progress tracking is key.  It is our opinion that substantial instances of understanding must be collected, evaluated and acted upon.  In order to support the teachers in this process, technology must be applied very liberally.  It must be utilized in the effortless collection of student outcomes, the delivery of the outcomes to the teacher in a timely fashion for impactful feedback/remediation and recorded for subsequent access. 

Those schools that can deliver on the continuous formative assessment applications described in this article, (and perhaps others yet to appear) and act on the outcomes in a timely and instructionally appropriate manner will be successful in quickly closing the learning gap that this pandemic as opened.  


We must provide a rigorous program to recoup the learning loss brought onto our students and this program must be dosed out daily with immediate evaluation going forward.  We believe this is most important for the elementary math, ELA and science learners.  Thus, the above-described approaches utilizing technology to support the teaching, evaluation and remediation are identified as essential for this effort by our society to provide a path to quickly recoup significant learning loss by our students.  


Ainsworth, L., & Viegut, D.  Common Formative Assessment 2.0 (2014). Thousand Oaks: Corwin Press.

Allison, E., Besser, L., & Campsen, L. (2010).   Data Teams: The Big Picture: Looking at Data Teams Through a Collaborative Lens. Englewood, CO: Lead and Learn Press.

Black, P., & Wiliam, D. (1998). Inside the black box: Raising standards through classroom assessment. Phi Delta Kappan , 80 (2): 139-148.

Clarke, S. (2011).  Active learning through formative assessment.  London: Holder.

Csikszentmihalyi, M. A. (2005). Flow. In A. C. Elliot, Competence and Motivation (pp. 598-608). New York: The Guilford Press.

DuFour, R., & Eaker, R. (1998) Professional Learning Communities at Work. Solution Tree Press .

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Johnson, D. W., Johnson, R., & Holubec, E. (2008). Cooperation in the classroom (8th ed.). Edina, MN: Interaction Book Company.

Marzano, R.,  Pickering, D. J., and Pollock, J. E. (2001) Classroom Instruction that Works. Alexandria, VA: ASCD

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Siobhan L.,  Lyon C., Thompson M., and  Wiliam D. (2005). Classroom Assessment: Minute by Minute, Day by Day.  Educational Leadership., Volume 63, Number 3, Assessment to Promote Learning Pages 19-24.

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Wiliam, D., Lee, C., Harrison, C., & Black, P. J. (2004). Teachers developing assessment for learning: Impact on student achievement. Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice, 11(1), 49–65.

Wiliam, D. (2005). Keeping learning on track: Formative assessment and the regulation of learning. In M. Coupland, J. Anderson, & T. Spencer (Eds.), Making mathematics vital: Proceedings of the twentieth biennial conference of the Australian Association of Mathematics Teachers (pp. 26–40). Adelaide, Australia: Australian Association of Mathematics Teachers.

Willingham, D. T. (2009). Why Students Don’t Like School. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.


About the author:

Dr. Ward pioneered student response pads in both the K-12 market and the higher education beginning in the late 1990s as CEO of eInstruction.  Prior to that he taught at the University level at Texas A&M, the University of Mississippi (initiated the Computer Science Program at Ole Miss in 1973) and the University of North Texas.  His paper in 1977 was his first foray into utilizing technology as a classroom teaching tool and with the later introduction of personal computers and projectors led to the use of student response pads as an “in the moment” teaching tool.  He is currently CEO of ALL In Learning a major advocate of daily student engagement, assessment, feedback and standards-based progress tracking as a student achievement and growth tool.