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An AFL review strategy that can be used by any teacher in any content area

As I have come to comprehend better what Assessment FOR Learning truly means and how its principles can be applied, I find myself regularly thinking about how I would do things differently if I were still in the classroom. After recently observing Paola Brinkley, one of our school’s Spanish teachers, I realized yet another former practice of mine that I would now change. It’s in the area of reviewing for a test or a quiz, and I think teachers of all content areas will benefit from creating their own version of Mrs. Brinkley’s practice for their classrooms.

As a teacher, my methods of reviewing for quizzes and tests were fairly typical of many classrooms. I basically did one of two things:

1. Played a basketball review game:
This game was always fun. The kids and I both enjoyed it. If a student paid careful attention to each question I asked then they would have heard almost every question on the upcoming test/quiz. While it definitely was possible for all students to get a decent review from this method, in hindsight it had some drawbacks:

a. Because I asked one student at a time a question, there was almost never 100% participation – or anything even close to that.

b. I was not able to precisely gauge who knew what or what overall problems students were having with the material. Yes, I knew that the kid who kept wanting to answer questions knew it all, and I could safely assume that certain kids knew very little. However, I would not have been able to say with certainty the areas of strengths and weaknesses that the class shared.

c. The students left the room having enjoyed class, but they didn’t necessarily leave with a greater incentive to study or with a specific plan for studying.

2. Handed out a review sheet for students to complete:
Some years I graded the review sheet. In hindsight I definitely would change that practice. It really doesn’t make sense now to me to grade a review sheet. I understand the point of view that says that the grade might be an incentive for doing the review, but grades should reflect mastery more than be used as incentives (or punishments for not doing work). If a student didn’t do the review that wouldn’t necessarily reflect on his or her level of mastery. These review sheets generally consisted of all the questions on the test. While some students definitely completed the review and thereby raised their test grade, I wonder how much of what I was doing was encouraging memorizing the answers to specific questions rather than truly mastering content. Also, this method of review didn’t let me know how my students were doing in time to help them prepare for the test/quiz since I collected the review on the day of the test/quiz. Finally, I wonder how many students viewed this as a study guide v. just another assignment that just has to be done. How many students simply copied answers from a book or notes rather than really tried to study? Or worse, how many students copied a friend’s review sheet?

While the review game and the review sheet are practices with instructional value, I believe that their effectiveness pales in comparison to what I saw Paola Brinkley do in her Spanish 2 classroom recently.


Mrs. Brinkley had a quiz coming up the next day. Her objective was to review the conjugation of certain types of verbs. Each student numbered a sheet of paper 1-25. Each student also had a small whiteboard (approx. 8” x 6”) and a dry erase marker. 25 verbs were shown 1 at a time on the overhead. The students would write their conjugation on their whiteboard and hold it up so that Mrs. Brinkley could see it. As she looked around the room she would nod to them as she saw their correct answers. Then she would go over each answer basing her explanation on the answers she had seen written on the whiteboards. Students would then write on their numbered paper the verb, whether or not they got it right, and any other information about its conjugation that they needed to remember. At the end of the class period and after having gone through all 25 verbs, Mrs. Brinkley reminded the students that their numbered sheet of paper was now their own personalized study guide for the next day’s quiz.

I’m sure you can see the simplicity in this activity, and, hopefully, you can think of some ways to replicate it in your own classroom with your own content. As you do, I think it’s important that you remember the key AFL factors present in this review:

1. 100% Engagement – The students really appeared to enjoy writing on the whiteboards. This activity lends itself to a high level of engagement which means the teacher will get maximum feedback, as opposed to the one-at-a-time feedback I received during my basketball review or the not-at-all feedback I received from my review sheets.

2. Feedback for the Teacher - AFL is a process by which a teacher gains feedback that impacts his or her instruction. By seeing all of the answers at one time from each student, Paola was able to shape her review based on their needs. For example, several times throughout the class period she reminded the students that they would lose points the next day if they did not use accent marks. She knew to remind them of this from the fact that they were not using accents on their whiteboards. She also stopped several times and went into greater depth explaining verbs with which the students seemed to have the greatest difficulty.

3. Feedback for the Students - I think the most powerful aspect of AFL is when students themselves are given feedback that they can use to guide their own personal learning. Sometimes students are intimidated by the idea of studying because in their minds it means go back over every single thing they’ve learned. This seems like too large a task to complete, so many don’t even try to start it. It also wouldn’t be a very efficient way to study. After all, why spend time studying something you have truly mastered? Each student left the class that day with a personalized study guide – something that Mrs. Brinkley wisely reminded them. Whether or not the student chooses to use the study guide is one thing, but each student received the feedback they needed to know exactly how to focus their studying. Surely this will increase the odds that students will study, and most important, it should guide learning. Mrs. Brinkley's students (as the 6th of the 6 Key AFL Ideas states) knew what they needed to know so they could know if they knew it.

This simple and easy-to-apply activity captured the essence of AFL – teachers and students basing teaching and learning on feedback that they are receiving from assessments. I wish I could go back and use a version of it in my World History classes. I would encourage you to consider how you might apply it to your content area.

Any thoughts?

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Comment by Hunter Routt on December 2, 2009 at 3:12pm
Elementary kids love to use a whiteboard, chalkboard, or even a laminated file folder and overhead marker. This would be a great strategy for keeping their attention and assessing learning before a test or quiz.
Comment by Beth Swain on October 23, 2009 at 10:38am
At ALMS and SHS, the math departments have smartpals - like a whiteboard but you can put templates in the sleeve for students to work with - grids, number lines, venn diagrams, etc. Just like Paola, teachers can instantly see who understands, who need more practice and what common mistakes the students are making. The students love them. Even for high school students, it is often the simplest things that will engage them. I do like the idea of having student write down the problems to review later - a great idea!
Comment by Scott Habeeb on October 22, 2009 at 8:41pm
Good point, Cat, about the PRS. I see Paola's whiteboards as a cheaper version of the PRS. It also takes less set up time and would be nice for someone who isn't technologically savvy. But the real kicker is the personalized study guide. I'll be interested to hear how it works for you.
Comment by Cat Mejia on October 22, 2009 at 5:08pm
Another way to get all students involved in answering questions is to use the Personal Response System (PRS). I've used this in my classroom several times and the students love it. It allows them to answer questions without the fear that everyone else will know if they got the answer right or wrong. As a teacher, it gives immediate feedback for each question so you will know whether to review that question in more detail. What I like about Ms. Brinkley's review is the sheet of paper where students write notes about what they need to study further. I will definitely add that to my reviews from now on.

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