The Assessment Network

Sharing assessment & grading strategies that help students learn

Practical Examples of LOOPING: AFL/SBL Philosophy in Action!

A recent post on The Assessment Network titled Redos and Retakes? Sure. But don't forget to Loop! received a lot of attention via social media and led to quite a few productive discussions.  Without repeating all that was already shared in that post, the basic premise was this:

If we care about learning more than grading and if we want to communicate that to students, then we will need to understand that:

The power of assessment is greatly enhanced when Standards Based teaching and assessment practices - such as Looping - are interwoven into the daily instructional process.

This concept of Looping was juxtaposed with the common practice of allowing students to ask for Redos and Retakes. While Redos and Retakes were not directly discouraged, educators were encouraged to focus first on building reassessment into the very fabric of the learning process instead of waiting to reassess after students decide they don't like their grades.

The post and the concept of Looping generated quite a bit of feedback via social media.  A common response went something like this:

I really like the idea of Looping.  Could you share practical examples of what this might look like in a classroom?  

If you haven't read the original post yet, I would suggest doing so before moving on.  Once - or if - you have, then read below for very practical and applicable examples of Looping shared in her own words by Robin Tamagni, an Earth Science teacher at Salem High School in Salem, VA.


How do I loop in my class?

The first thing that I do is teach my Earth Science content to the best of my ability.  I try to explain and break down everything and have no assumptions that my students just ‘know what I’m talking about’.  Once I teach something, I make sure the very next day I go back and have my students practice it with one another, especially the vocabulary.  In Earth Science there is an abundance of new vocabulary that students have never heard of, so going back and practicing it every day with their partners is crucial for maintaining, establishing, and growing knowledge throughout the year.  I use partner quizzing of vocabulary words, flash cards, Quia.com and Kubbu for review games, and acronyms to help students remember the words.  This constant review and practice is Looping in its simplest form. 

Once we have taught and practiced the content, I assess my students.  Specifically, I like to use PowerSchool Assessment (formerly Interactive Achievement) so that instead of just finding an overall grade I can receive and give feedback in terms of mastery of specific content standards.  The data from the assessments shows me areas of strength and weakness for each individual student.  This is an example of what that data looks like for a student. 

Instead of just seeing a grade of 63%, PowerSchool Assessment provides me with more specific and standards-based feedback.  I learn that a student does better with the topic of Igneous Rocks, but struggles with Sedimentary and Metamorphic Rocks.  Therefore, I am able to focus on their problem areas so they can grow rather than waste their time and mine reteaching them everything about rocks.

As important as this standards-based data is for my decision making, it is even more important to get the data in the hands of my students so they can trained to let it guide their decision making. Training them to understand and interpret data is something I begin doing early in the school year and then am very consistent with all year long.  To help make the students' data meaningful, I give them what I call the "Weak Areas Sheet" (see example below or click link to download a Word file). 

On each student's Weak Areas Sheet I fill in the mastery feedback from PowerSchool Assessment into the blank for each assessed standard.  Now the students know exactly which specific topics they need to work on. 

On my classroom website, our school's other Earth Science Teacher, Wes Lester, and I have compiled a huge list of resources for practicing each specific standard.  (Visit Mrs. Tamagni's Study Center)  These practice activities include Quia "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" games, YouTube video clips to reteach a topic, Kubbu games to practice sorting vocabulary, Purpose Games to practice labeling features of the earth, practice quizzes, etc.  Each standard has a list of these types of activities that are specifically labeled for easy access. 

My typical lesson planning involves giving students opportunities each week go to my website and work on their weakest areas.  Generally this looks like students taking about 15 minutes in class to login, pick 3 games in each of their weakest areas, and practice.  I ask them to complete the review game and then show me their results when they have done so.  I may use this as a Do Now/Bell Ringer activity or as an Exit Ticket activity.  If I find that I have 10 unexpected extra minutes near the end of class having my students get our their Weak Areas Sheet and doing some Looping is a practical and meaningful way to "fill that time". 

Looping in this manner also works great for students who are accelerated.  First of all, this method of assessment lets me know who has actually mastered the standards rather than just who happens to have a high grade.  It is rare to find a student who has truly mastered ALL taught standards.  However, when I do find someone who has reached this level I can let the student go ahead and start practicing standards that will be taught in the future, or I can give that student an opportunity to serve others by coaching peers who are weak in standards they're strong in. 

As the school year progresses, my looping practices expand somewhat.  By mid-year I have worked hard to create an abundance of practice stations in my room.  Each station correlates to a specific content standard. By mid-year, my students definitely know where their weak area(s) is (are).  I strategically pair students up with one another (one weak, one strong) and have them travel around my classroom to all the different stations beginning at their weakest standards.  The stronger student is coached on how to act as a peer teacher and to make sure they take the opportunity to explain and help their partner through their weaker standards. While serving as a peer coach does not come naturally to all students, if I focus on developing great relationships with my students they become more willing to work at it as a way to help me.

Opportunities for Growth

A final key component of my looping strategy involves "never letting go of the past".  Each time students take a test in my class they will always have a retest on old standards at the same time.  For example, students will take their first test on our Rocks and Minerals standards in September.  Then in October, they will take a test again on Rocks and Minerals and a separate test on Plate Boundaries.  Then in December students will take another test on Rocks and Minerals and Plate Boundaries, but this time we'll add in Earth’s History. 

This method of looping means that each time a student takes a test they have an opportunity to demonstrate growth - as opposed to just demonstrating how well they have learned (or memorized) the current content.  Let’s say a student scores a 60% on the first Rock and Mineral Test in September.  A 60% does NOT reflect what they will know about Rocks and Minerals by April.  Students are encouraged to continuously get better and grow in each standard instead of just moving on and forgetting about it. 

In October when we test again on Rocks and Minerals along with Plate Boundaries students will have worked on their weaknesses in the category of Rocks and Minerals and will hopefully show some sort of growth within that standard.  If a student has demonstrated growth I will replace the old score with their new score since that new score is now a better reflection of what they actually know.  If a student has scored the same or lower I will add that score to the grade book and use it as communication for where they need additional growth and practice.  

The Looping strategies I have described are essential to getting kids to learn and master content.  There is definitely a lot of infrastructure that must be created before it can be done well.  However, the payout is worth the effort.  

Thoughts or questions?  Feel free to leave comments below.  You can also reach Robin at her profile page on this network or email her at rtamagni@salem.k12.va.us.  Similarly, Scott can be reached at his profile page on this network or reached via email at scotthabeeb@gmail.com.

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