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Sharing assessment & grading strategies that help students learn

Today I had the privilege of observing a Salem High School Algebra 1 Part 1 class being taught by Jennifer Shannon. I watched a teacher very intentionally make sure that her classroom assessment - in this case the test she had given the previous day - was used as a LEARNING TOOL instead of simply a GRADING TOOL.

Essentially Mrs. Shannon allowed her students to make corrections to their tests and earn partial credit as a result. This practice is fairly common. However, Mrs. Shannon added a few wrinkles to this common practice to ensure that students were doing more than just going through the motions of making corrections and instead were actually learning content not previously mastered.

To give some context, this was a 9th grade Algebra 1 Part 1 class taught in a traditional 50 minute class period. Algebra 1 Part 1 students at SHS - there are only about 30 - are the students who struggle the most with learning math concepts.

At the start of class Mrs. Shannon divided her 14 her students into groups. She explained to them that the groups were based on the types of errors made on the test given the previous day. So for example, one of the groups consisted of students who had had difficulty on the section of the test that dealt with properties. Another group consisted of students who had had trouble simplifying radicals. Another group of students all had what Mrs. Shannon termed as general problems. A fourth group had done quite well on the test.

Mrs. Shannon had one of the groups move to a separate area of the room and work with her student teacher. Another group moved to another area of the room and worked with the special education professional that cooperatively teaches with her. Mrs. Shannon worked with the remaining two groups, which included the one that had done well on the test.

In their groups, students were to rework the problems they had missed and ask for help as it was needed. They were allowed to use their notes to help them.

The students who only had a few corrections to make were given laptops. When they finished their few corrections they were to ogin to Quia and begin working on an enrichment activity that would prepare them for the next unit of study.

So what was especially AFL-ish about this that made it stand out? Good question. Here are some answers:
  1. Typically teachers will tell students that they can take their test home and do corrections on their own. Some will. Some won't. Some will do it just to get back points but won't actually learn the content better. Some might even cheat to get the right answers. Mrs. Shannon made sure that this assessment was a learning tool by having the corrections be a classroom activity guided by teachers.
  2. Mrs. Shannon clearly used assessment-elicited evidence to design her lesson. It was from the test results the day before that she was able to group her students so that they would receive the help and instruction that they need in order to learn.
  3. The entire activity occurred because Mrs. Shannon realized from the test that the students as a whole had not mastered the content. This test gave her the feedback she needed to know that if her goal was to increase learning she was going to need to find a way to reteach some of the material. The beauty of this activity was that it then allowed her to reteach to each student only what he or she needed.
  4. The idea of earning back points was not the major focus of this activity. The major focus was learning the material. In fact, because Mrs. Shannon made this a class activity I would bet that the outcome would have been almost identical if students hadn't been able to get points. In other words, this was about learning. The test the day before was used by Mrs. Shannon NOT as a way to determine the students' grades but rather as a way to determine their learning so that she could adjust her instruction with the ultimate goal of having her students learn.
In the hands of a skilled practitioner even a traditional and a routine activity like making test corrections can become a powerful AFL learning moment.

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Comment by Scott Habeeb on January 12, 2011 at 8:31am
Joseph - if it works well for you, be sure to share on here your experience.  If it doesn't work well, share your experience as well and maybe include the reasons or ideas for making it work in the future.
Comment by Joseph Quinlan on January 11, 2011 at 10:50pm
Thanks for sharing.  I have often given my students the chance to do the re-work for partial credit, but never as a class assignment.  I am going to try this on the next test that requires rework.  Awesome idea!!

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