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Sharing assessment & grading strategies that help students learn

A sure sign that you don't really get AFL...

Here's a sure sign that you don't fully understand AFL and how AFL practices will lead to your goal of helping students learn the content you teach:

You teach a primarily fact-based class or are currently teaching fact-based content - such as History, Biology, or Health - and the first time that your students are assessed/quizzed/tested/etc on facts it's on a graded assignment that goes into your grade book and is averaged with other assignments to determine a final grade.

Think about it for a moment.  AFL is all about assessment FOR THE PURPOSE OF LEARNING.  If you assess your students and put the outcome of that assessment into your grade book - WITHOUT PROVIDING STUDENTS AN OPPORTUNITY TO CHANGE OR IMPROVE THE GRADE AS THEY MASTER CONTENT - then that assessment was for the purpose of determining a grade NOT for the purpose of learning.  

There is nothing wrong with assessing for the purpose of determining a grade.  You are required to do this as a teacher.  However, you are first charged with helping students learn.  Your students' grades should be determined AFTER your students have had ample opportunity to learn by practicing and failing and practicing again IF you want the grade to reflect learning.  If you give students notes on the facts of your content, have them take a quiz on those facts, assign a grade to that quiz, and then put that grade in your grade book to be averaged with other grades HAS YOUR ASSESSMENT HELPED STUDENTS LEARN?  

The answer is yes - it has helped them learn.  Now that they realize what they have missed they better understand the content.  We definitely learn by mistakes.  In fact, we need to give students more opportunities to make mistakes (see this post).  BUT IF THAT GRADE ON THAT FIRST QUIZ IS ETCHED INTO GRADE BOOK "STONE" THEN THERE IS NO WAY FOR THE FINAL GRADE TO ACCURATELY REFLECT LEARNING.  

Here's an example of what I mean: Let's say a student got a 75 on a quiz about people or vocabulary or dates.  If as a result of that 75 the student learns from his or her mistakes and could get a 95 on a similar quiz the next day, then it's safe to say that you have taught them - at least for the short-term - the content at a 95 level.  BUT THE GRADE IN THE GRADE BOOK IS A 75.  If you are satisfied with this - if you allow this to happen in your classroom - then it's safe to say that you don't really get AFL.  You're probably teaching as YOU were taught - or assuming that all students learn in the manner in which you learned - without really thinking about how your assessment strategies and grading strategies are inconsistent.  You've taught content, but you're just not really skilled at assessment.  You might be doing an excellent job of covering content, but you are not giving your students enough opportunities to practice.  Some of your students are probably experiencing a certain level of grade deflation that doesn't indicate the degree to which they are learning from you.

So what are some solutions?  How about if before you give and then grade the assignment that will go into the grade book, you first try one or more of these 4 easy AFL strategies:

  • Try starting each class or most classes off with a short 5-10 question practice quiz.  The practice quiz grade can go in the grade book as long as it can be replaced or improved by a later graded assignment.  I guarantee you that your students will master the content better this way than they would if you gave 1 summative quiz/test after taking notes on the content.  You could even give the same quiz several days in a row.  
  • Try ending each class with a quick check for understanding.  Take 5 minutes and make sure EVERYONE has grasped that day's main points/terms/vocabulary.  You might try this flashcard review method.
  • Use white boards once a week to see how well students are understanding the content.  Read here to see how this could work in your classroom.
  • Start off a unit by giving students a review sheet or rubric.  Then have them assess daily how well they understand the content.  Here's an example of a review sheet and here's an example of a rubric.

Here's my next question?  Why would you not try one of these ideas?  Or more importantly, why would you teach something, give a graded assignment on it, and then put that grade into your grade book without FIRST doing a meaningful AFL activity?  I can promise you this: If you give your students multiple opportunities to fail content and learn from mistakes prior to putting a permanent grade into a grade book, your students will start finding it easier to master the content in your classroom.  And getting students to master difficult content is what teaching is all about.

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Comment by Scott Habeeb on January 12, 2012 at 10:40am

Good point, Kelly.  It's great to work in a school like ours where so many teachers are truly taking to heart the concepts of AFL!

Comment by Kelly Dalaski on January 12, 2012 at 10:19am

On a broad scope I do see a difference at SHS.  When I first started here I would ask students why they were doing poorly or what they did wrong on a test or a quiz.  Most couldn't tell me.  Or would say the teacher keeps the quizzes and they don't see them again because the teacher wants to reuse them the next year.  Knowing these students were not working to their potential anyways, I always took it with a grain of salt.  However now, students tell me that they know they have a chance to "fix" their work or use small quizzes/assignments to help them study for the "big" test.  The opportunity is there for the individual to see what they need to work on.  I like to tell those underachievers, "Don't you see that saves your precious time!  You don't have to go over stuff you know, just the stuff you don't - and now you know what it is!" 

Comment by Scott Habeeb on January 11, 2012 at 1:52pm
good point, michael.
Comment by Michael Rulon on January 11, 2012 at 1:34pm


Well said, in addition I think the power of AFL becomes realized that every activity that teachers do in a classroom cannot only be utilized for learning but also for assessment. If a teacher really thinks about the criteria for success of every activity in their room, and then is mindful in gathering the evidence then formative assessment happens continuously every day. I agree that formative assessment should not be graded, but the teacher who is surprised by a students performance on a summative assessment is another candidate for "those who don't undertand AFL".

Comment by Wes Lester on January 11, 2012 at 9:08am

This whole idea of AFL and having students practice the content over and over has totally changed my teaching over the past - I wish my high school teachers and especially my teachers in college had been aware of this!!!

Comment by Scott Habeeb on January 11, 2012 at 8:30am

PK - I love that idea that strategy that you and Mrs. Gilpin are using.  Great AFL example! 

Comment by Paula Kay Gerrol on January 11, 2012 at 8:23am


  This is soooooo true.  Ms Gilpin and myself (6th grade Math) do something that has really helped us target areas where certain students need a bit more instruction.We  give a quiz AFTER we feel our students are grasping what we have been practicing together.  Then we collect this short quiz and tally up which problems were missed AND WHY.  We then qiickly make up 5-10 questions that will require them to do the skills we saw were missed in the quiz.  The next day we pair the kids up - one coach and one player. ( coaches know the material)  Together they work through our questions and we cruise around them providing help as needed.  Now the third day we return the quizzes to the students to redo any problems that were not checked off.  Our students are really learning not only the math, but how to focus and evaluate a skill. No retesting without reteaching.

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