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Assessment FOR Learning - Practical ideas for more frequent assessment to enhance learning

As a teacher, have you ever experienced anything similar to the following scenario:

You teach your course content over a period of time. The day before your big test you have a review activity of some sort. The review activity is a good one. It goes well, but during the activity you realize that your students don’t know the material all that well. Considering the number of days you spent covering it, you would have thought they would have known it better by now. The next day on the test the students end up doing fairly well – but probably not as well as they could have done.

If you have experienced a situation like this then you have experienced a situation in which AFL has been used but not to its fullest extent.

If kids did better on the test than they did the day before on the review, then they have obviously used the feedback from the review to guide their studying. That is AFL at work.

But what if the kids had come in on the review day already knowing the content as well as they did on the test day? If that had been the case, then the review day could have been an opportunity to go even further with the content, to master it even better, or to apply it in new ways. AFL strategies could have been used to make this happen.

AFL assessment strategies could be used along the way to help learning “sink in and stick.” I would encourage you to consider assessing more frequently so that students are more frequently engaged with the content and regularly (daily) analyzing their understanding. By the time the review comes along, they should already know what they know and know what they have yet to master. This would be the ideal learning situation.

Here are some strategies that IF USED FOR THIS PURPOSE could be helpful AFL practices:

1. A short daily quiz – The same quiz could even be given on multiple days. It doesn’t have to count much. It might not count at all. On a daily basis, though, the students have a chance to analyze what they know and what’s important. Students need to be informed that this is the purpose of the daily quiz or else they will just see it as another assignment.
2. Rubric for students to check – This idea will be described more elaborately in a future post. For now, what if students had a rubric of important information? Each day they could have time in class to rate how well they know the content. This would allow them to daily assess themselves and to daily review material.
3. Exit questions – Each day students could have a few questions to answer at the end of class. They could find the answers in their notes which would cause them to look back over what they had learned. Never end a class by simply ending notes. Always have students go back over what was covered and analyze how well they know the key points.
4. Do Now about the previous day – Students could start each day with a Do Now (Anticipatory Set) that requires them to look back at what they learned the day before.

None of these strategies are unique to AFL, and I doubt any of them sound all that revolutionary to a teacher with any experience. Remember – AFL isn’t about what strategies you use as much as HOW and WHY you use them. This is what causes a teaching strategy to become an AFL tool. You are assessing students frequently in a manner that allows the students to use the feedback to guide their learning. That’s AFL.

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Comment by Scott Habeeb on November 2, 2009 at 8:22pm
I agree about the "are you going to grade this" issue. Many teachers struggle with this question.

My suggestion would be to go ahead and grade everything. After all, a grade is feedback from an assessment that a student can use to guide his or her studying - which is what AFL is all about.

One of the great things about PowerSchool is that you can easily determine whether or not to then count a grade. You might consider grading everything and developing a system whereby students are trained to make a plan based on the grade. (Lewis Armistead does a really good job of this in his classroom by training his students to use the Record of Achievement.)

Also, you could always decide later on to "un-count" certain assignments or to replace smaller grades with larger assignments.

I guess we all need to start looking at grades differently. Instead of seeing a graded assignment as one that we must average into some mix that creates a final grade, a graded assignment should be viewed as first and foremost feedback from a teacher. We, the educators, are in charge of how we determine a final grade - we each create our own grading system. We not to not become slaves to our own self-created grading systems.

Grades are good because grades are feedback. So go ahead and grade away!!! :)
Comment by Beth Swain on November 2, 2009 at 9:52am
The Do Now idea is one I use frequently to let me know how the student are progressing with topics - the majority of the time I do not grade them. It often shows misconceptions the students have and give us a starting place for discussion. The biggest challenge is getting students past the "are you going to grade this" stage.
Comment by Scott Habeeb on November 2, 2009 at 7:59am
Nice application of the concept. It's good to know that there are many ways of applying sound strategies and that practices that work at one level (high school) have relevance for another (elementary). It's also nice to hear about how non-traditional classrooms (the library) can still use AFL strategies.

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