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Sharing assessment & grading strategies that help students learn

Often, the most profoundly powerful concepts are simple at their core. AFL is such a concept.

Doesn't it just make sense? If we want young people to learn content or skills, we need to gather feedback - and help them gather feedback - on how their doing in relation to specific standards and then use that feedback - and train them to use the feedback - to guide learning.  

It's a lot like going to the doctor when you're sick.  You tell the doctor what's wrong with you so he or she can use your feedback to guide the application of medical treatment.  You would never think of NOT telling the doctor your symptoms - unless you weren't interested in getting better..  It's just common sense.  It's a simple practice that leads to powerful results.  There's no reason the classroom shouldn't function the same way - unless we're not interested in students actually learning....

The PE Curriculum of Salem (VA) City Schools has changed in recent years to have a primary focus on fitness as opposed to the traditional game-based physical education.  The goal is to teach a student what she needs to be able to maintain a healthy lifestyle for a lifetime.  Kids are taught to:

  • analyze their own fitness activity,
  • recognize various fitness levels,
  • analyze their heart rate and how it relates to fitness levels
  • determine what type of activity is required to reach various fitness levels

All of these skills will help students take control of their own physical well-being and live healthy lives.

Recently I was in a PE class at Salem High School taught by Ashley Mathis. Mrs. Mathis did an excellent job incorporating the goals of Salem's PE curriculum into her activity.  Her students were working out in the school's fitness room.  They were paired up at stations around the room.  The students would be active for two minutes at their station.  After two minutes they would stop, measure their heart rate, and then rotate stations.  They had a goal of being in a certain fitness level for a certain number of minutes.  They used the feedback from taking their pulse to increase or decrease their intensity at the next station appropriately.  

My first thought as I watched the class was that this is what a PE class should look like.  All kids were engaged.  All kids were active.  All kids were working hard.  And - at least as best I could tell - all kids were having fun.  This was a meaningful class teaching students meaningful skills that have the potential to lead to healthy and active lifestyles.

But the other thing I thought was how natural the principles of AFL fit into this the class.  To make a big deal out of this class's "AFLishness" seems unnecessary because it seems so natural or normal.  Yet there is something profoundly important to be learned from once again realizing how to best use assessment in the classroom.  Specifically, in Mrs. Mathis's class:

  • The assessment strategy was well-planned and intentional, rather than an after-thought.  Assessment was woven into the activity and integral instead of something additional that was done when the activity was over.
  • The feedback was constant and given throughout the activity - every 2 minutes to be exact.  Students always knew where they were and how they were doing.  They didn't have to wait until everything was finished to see how they did.
  • The teacher used the feedback to know how to encourage students and how to direct their upcoming activities.
  • The students used the feedback to self-regulate and take control of their own growth.
  • The assessment was unrelated to a grade.  Instead, the assessment-elicited feedback was directly related to growth and learning.

AFL is how people learn.  It's not just how we learn in school.  It's how we learn period.  It seems so simple, yet sometimes the bulleted list of principles evident in Mrs. Mathis's class are not evident to the degree they should be in our classrooms.  They need to be.  Whatever you teach, use this PE example as a model on which to base your assessment strategy.

Thanks, Ashley!

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