Formative Assessment Quickfire: Pixton for Storytelling about the Mongols

Using formative assessment to answer: What advantages did the Mongols have in creating their Empire?

Sadler (1989) insists that formative assessment is an essential aspect of education. Formative assessment also involves “fuzzy feedback” (pg. 124) that is more about finessing an assignment than a traditional grade. It is certainly necessary to a 21st century skill framework as presented by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills. The “Learning and Innovation Skills” aspect of the framework lends to an assessment based on creativity that culminates in a formal product. By focusing on creativity in this assignment, I let go mastery of content in favor of demonstrating formation of logical arguments. 

I have a problem as a history teacher when I let go of content. To a great extent, my mastery of content is my expertise. However, this lesson plan is less about the skill of obtaining content, and more about forming a logical argument by using a life skill: storytelling. Ultimately, historians tell stories using speculation, data, and logic. This is a very important skill set that encompasses a number of 21st-century skill standards.

I chose Pixton for my lesson plan because I see no better medium for storytelling than comics. Students are asked the question “What advantages did the Mongols have in creating their Empire?” and will be allowed to make narrative comics that incorporate images, text, and commentary that demonstrates how they answer the question. This assessment would be used formatively. I would comment on these criteria in my feedback:

  1. Are the facts the student chooses to use correct and relevant (on topic)?
  2. Does the comic have a logical progression? If I read the story and can’t understand where it begins and ends, I would sit with the student and ask where they are going with it. I think peer review would apply here too, once students have a basic story down.
  3. Does the student show clearly what the path of the comic would lead to? I would have my students guess what the student’s paper would be about based on the comic. This provides feedback on the clarity of the student’s presentation.
  4. Is the comic visually demonstrative of the student’s ideas? Did s/he choose a format that showed their progression of ideas? Note I did not say “visually pleasing” on purpose here: I am assessing a student’s ideas more than their ability to make it look good. There are too many students who use visually attractive presentations as a “smokescreen” to hide gaps in logic and/or content. I want to avoid that, and I would make it clear in their feedback.

I have a rubric for projects that makes clear that ideas and organization are more important than visual attractiveness. I love pretty things (I am an art historian, after all!) but I am also a historian, so I always look for balance in assignments that involve visual components. Art is great: art and history are the sweet spot. If I am to use Sadler’s trope of apprenticeship (pg. 135) in my teaching, I definitely need show balance between beauty and content. Perhaps my students might think more about the merits of art history in an increasingly visual world then? They would become novices (Sadler 1989) in a real sense with the completion of this project.

In short, I don’t think there is such a thing as a “historian” in the visuals-heavy 21st century — that is if we look at “traditional” methodologies used in history. All “historians” are “art historians”!

Yeah. I’m sticking it to some of my history professors by saying that. 🙂

The comics the students generate could then be used as a framework for writing a formal essay on the same subject. In a way, the comic replaces a traditional outline. I think it is more than that, however: it is a creative process with a clear product that the teacher can interject her expertise into, as well as engage the students’ peers in a more active process.


Sadler, D. (1989) Formative assessment and the design of instructional systems. Instructional Science 18, 119-144

Varshavsky, T. et. al. (2011). Partnership for 21st Century Skills. Retrieved from

It could be better…but it gives you the idea.


One response to “Formative Assessment Quickfire: Pixton for Storytelling about the Mongols

  1. Pingback: Module: About the Mongols: a formative assessment « MizzQ's 9th Grade Modules·

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