Sometimes - or maybe all the time - perception is everything.
We have all realized this at some point or another in our lives. We have said something, written something, or done something with a positive purpose in mind only to see it have the completely opposite effect due to the way it was perceived. Perhaps no where is this more true than in the classroom. Students watch what we do through various colored lenses. As a result, our actions are often not perceived the way we would like.
This is why SPIN is so important. I know that typically SPIN has a negative connotation. However, it's a powerful concept in communication. SPIN doesn't have to mean lying or telling half-truths, as it often does in the political sense. Instead, think of SPIN as preemptively and proactively making sure that our students hear us the way we intend to be heard.
The concept of SPIN applies to almost any topic, but in this case we'll apply it to AFL. Assessing students more frequently could be viewed negatively by both students and parents. Assessment tends to be viewed through the lens that believes students are tested and/or assessed too much. However, as AFL-savvy educators, we realize that we need to assess more frequently so that both students and teacher receive the feedback needed to make important educational decisions. This doesn't necessarily mean more grading or more grades, but AFL does mean more assessment.
So how do students react when you start assessing them daily or testing them on a very regular basis? The answer probably depends on how well you SPIN. AFL can mean more testing. Or AFL can mean that the teacher is going to ensure that the students know what they need to know to succeed. AFL can mean more work. Or AFL can mean that students will feel more confident in their learning because they have had more practice and more feedback.
Below is what I find to be a great example of proactive AFL SPIN. Jamie Garst, a Science teacher at Salem High School, has a summer assignment for his IB Biology 2 students. This summer assignment will require them to come to school during the summer. Did you hear that? Students will have a summer assignment AND they will have to come to school during the summer. I don't know about your students, but ours tend to NOT get excited about assignments and visits to the high school over the summer!
To pull this off, Jamie needs to SPIN. He needs to make sure his students understand that that his AFL strategies will benefit them. Read his letter to students (posted below) and assess how he did:
Greetings from Salem High School!
I hope this letter finds your summer break off to a relaxing start. I want to touch base with you to let you know how excited I am to be teaching IB Biology 2 next year. I truly look forward to meeting and working with each of you in the fall.
As part of your summer assignment, I am requesting that you attend a brief workshop on internal assessment laboratories that will be a major part of our year next year. At the workshop, we will learn about the general structure and format of internal assessments, design a simple experiment and obtain data, as well as evaluate labs of previous students. I anticipate the workshops lasting approximately 4 hours. I am offering a variety of dates to accommodate everyone’s busy schedule.
Workshops will begin at 9:00 AM and will be held in my classroom (RM 266). Please let me know via email at your convenience which date you would like to attend (email@example.com). If none of the above dates work, additional times can be available.
Following the workshop, you will be required to submit a complete lab write up based on the data we acquire during the workshop. This will be due the first day of school. I realize that the first attempt at an internal assessment is a learning process. The labs will be marked and returned for you to fix and re-submit for an actual grade during the first 6 weeks.
I look forward to hearing from each of you. Please let me know if I can be of any assistance at any time. Sincerely,
James F. Garst
So what do you think? How was the SPIN? If I was a student recipient here's how I think I would perceive this teacher's message:
- Mr. Garst is going to be a very positive person and he seems to like me before meeting me - "truly look forward to meeting and working with each of you"
- Mr. Garst likes the content and maybe won't be boring - "how excited I am to be teaching IB Biology 2 next year"
- While I do not want to do summer work, completing this assignment will help me because it will give me valuable practice.
- I don't need to stress over this assignment because the feedback will be used as practice. I'll be able to re-submit it for an actual grade after it has been marked.
Of course, SPIN will only get you so far and must be backed up with action and results. However, the way students perceive the teacher and the assignments either makes the teacher's job easier or harder. If you're using solid AFL strategies - such as Jamie's summer PRACTICE lab - then you have a genuine source of positive SPIN. When properly explained to students and parents, it's easy to see how AFL strategies are all about helping students learn. But it's imperative that we control the SPIN to guide the perception.