A probe is a short, highly focused, quick-to-administer formative assessment tool. Each probe focuses on a specific mathematics concept and is carefully designed to elicit evidence of students' understandings, misconceptions, and difficulties. A probe is composed of 3?6 items designed for completion by students in about 10-15 minutes. Each item requires a two-part response from the student: a selected response and a written explanation using words and/or pictures. Together, these two pieces of data provide important evidence of a student's understanding and thinking about a mathematics topic to inform instruction. Probes are intended to be used to gather information that can be used to plan and teach targeted instruction that is responsive to students' strengths and needs. As such, probes are not assigned a score or letter grade. To support teachers in analyzing their students' work, the Probe Guides provide information and examples of successful approaches, common misconceptions, and difficulties. We have provided sample probes with accompanying guides below as well as implementation suggestions.
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Probes can be used in paper-and-pencil format or as interviews.
Suggestions and Considerations for Using a Probes discusses the what, why, when, and how of administering a paper-and-pencil probe to students.
Interviews: Using probes to conduct interviews is a powerful way to gather a fuller picture of student thinking, particularly from students who have difficulty explaining their ideas in writing. During the interview, the student is asked to 'think aloud' as they work on the probe items. The teacher's role is to listen and ask questions to find out more about the student's thinking, but not to provide instruction. After the interview, the teacher uses the findings to plan targeted instruction that builds on students' strengths and addresses areas of challenge.
Example Interviews: We have provided two examples of a teacher interviewing a 6th grade student by using the Probe: Label the Missing Points on the Number Line. The teacher conducted an initial interview to find out about the student's abilities to identify missing fractions on a number line. By using the interview findings, the teacher planned instruction to address the strengths and challenges of this student and others with similar learning needs. After teaching a sequence of targeted instruction, she did a second interview with the same probe to check in on his progress.
Initial Probe Interview
Probe Interview after instruction
Our series of books of probes spanning grades K-12 is available from Corwin Publishers:
Our article “Targeting Instruction with Formative Assessment Probes" in the October 2016 issue of Teaching Children Mathematics discusses how to use probes to gather and interpret evidence of students' mathematics understandings and misconceptions and then target instruction to address identified needs.
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This project is supported by the National Science Foundation Grant No. 1621294. Opinions expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the Foundation.