assess (3)

The Power of Asking "Can You"

My daughter, Kelsey, is an eighth grader at Andrew Lewis Middle School where she, as her sister before her, is blessed to have Beth Swain as her Geometry teacher.  


Geometry is proving to be a challenging class for Kelsey.  She is very intelligent and a hard-worker, and while Math is and always has been her favorite subject, she's starting off slower than normal in Geometry.  Thankfully, Mrs. Swain uses the kind of AFL strategies that help young people master content.  


So far, Kelsey's Geometry class has had 3 large tests.  Kelsey scored a D when she took the first test.  In many classrooms a large test like this would be used as a summative assessment; however, Mrs. Swain uses tests in a formative/AFL manner.  This means that the D was not the end of the story.  The grade could still improve since the purpose of the assessment was to promote learning as opposed to the purpose being to provide a grade.  Mrs. Swain chooses to use even large chapter tests formatively - like check-ups - rather than summatively - like autopsies.  After taking the first test, Kelsey's class was allowed to perform a "test analysis" that led to her mastering the content and earning a 95 A on the test.


Then came the second test.  Again, the content was not easy for her, but she worked hard.  Kelsey scored a C on that test.  Again, Mrs. Swain used the test in AFL manner, and Kelsey again was able to perform a test analysis which resulted in her understanding the content better and earning a B+.


So this brings us to the third test and the power of asking "Can You?"   On Monday, October 31, Beth Swain communicated the following message to parents via email:


Good afternoon!  The chapter 3 test will be this Friday with the vocab test being on Thursday.  To help students prepare for the test, they were given a "Can You"? sheet today.  If they can answer yes to all the "can you.." questions on the sheet by Thursday night then they should be prepared for the test.  If they can't answer yes then they need to practice those concepts so that they fully understand them.  Please make sure your child is making use of this sheet as they prepare for the test. 
As always, I am available in the mornings to help them if they need me.

As a parent, I was so encouraged to receive this email.  I don't know if your kids are like mine, but there seem to be a few standard answers to the questions my wife and I ask.  Those answers seem to be "Nothing" and "I Don't Know."  It's always nice to hear from a teacher information that allows me to ask more effective questions.  In this case, I was able to ask Kelsey, "How are you doing on your 'Can You' sheet?"  All week I was able to encourage Kelsey to make sure she was using the "Can You" sheet as it was intended.


More importantly, though, was the fact that this "Can You" sheet and the way Mrs. Swain used it enabled Kelsey to take better control of her own learning and studying.  She was given a tool that assisted her in assessing herself on a daily basis and then making decisions based on the feedback she received.  


So on the first test Kelsey scored a D the first go around.  On the second test, Kelsey scored a C the first go around.  On the third test - the one with the "Can You" sheet - Kelsey scored a B+ the first go around.  She told me that she felt much better heading into that test than she had on the previous two.


AFL strategies are rarely "revolutionary".  Rather, they are often as simple as asking students "Can You".  It's very encouraging to see teachers using strategies like this that empower parents to assist their children and that train students to assess themselves and to take ownership of their own progress.   


(For some other similar examples check out Using a Review Sheet in an AFL Manner and A Self-Assessment Rubric for Math.)

Read more…

Recently I spent a few minutes in the classroom of SHS Marketing teacher Michelle Kovac.  Her Marketing students had just turned in projects that day.  


When I came into the class the students were in the process of evaluating similar projects turned in by last year's students.  Mrs. Kovac had given her students a rubric when they started the project.  Now she was having them use that rubric to assess the projects that had been turned in last year.  After the students assessed last year's projects they told Mrs. Kovac what grade they had assigned to the projects.  Mrs. Kovac then told them what grade she had given.  By doing this, the students learned 2 things:

1. They realized that they were harsher graders than Mrs. Kovac was, and

2. They realized exactly how Mrs. Kovac would be grading their projects.


This led to the students falling right into Mrs. Kovac's "trap".  After truly understanding how their projects would be graded, the students asked exactly what Mrs. Kovac wanted them to ask - "Can we have some more time to work on our projects?"  Mrs. Kovac smiled and told them that they had the rest of the class period to finish their projects.  With their new assessment-elicited data in mind, the students literally sprinted to their projects to add finishing touches.  It was joy to watch students so eagerly wanting to work on a project, and it would not have happened if Mrs. Kovac hadn't taken the time to train them how to assess.


A student named Zac then made a statement that "one-upped" Mrs. Kovac's excellent lesson plan.  Zac told Mrs. Kovac that next time she should let them assess the old assignments either at the beginning or half-way through their work on their projects.  That way they could learn from the assessment and make sure they had the best possible project ready to turn in on the due date.


Mrs. Kovac liked Zac's idea and told the class that that was exactly what she would do.


What a great AFL idea.  Can you apply this to your classroom?  Is there a way you could give students examples of the work you are asking them to do?  Could you then train them to assess it the way you do?  Would this have any impact on the quality of the work the students did for you?  In my opinion, the answer to all of those questions is "Yes".

Read more…

A great reminder for students

Kudos to Salem High School math teacher, Erin Stenger, for thinking to put a sign like this right next to her doorway where students will see it each day as they leave her class.

It has been noted before on this website that for AFL to truly have its greatest possible impact, the students need to be using assessment-elicited feedback to measure their own progress and guide their own learning. Like most things that we want students to do, though, we must train them to do it. This is especially true for AFL since most students (just like most parents and most teacher) tend to look at grades from a summative position.

If we want students to view grades as feedback that guide their learning rather than just get averaged together to determine a grade, then we must 2 things:

1. We must grade and assess in a formative manner rather than just collect a bunch of scores to average.

2. We must train our students.

This picture in Mrs. Stenger's room is a subtle but important example of this. Most importantly, it reveals the fact that AFL is a core philosophy that permeates the way Mrs. Stenger runs her classroom.

Here are some other blog posts that deal with the same idea of students knowing what they know:

1. Do They Know If They Know?

2. Did AFL Guide My Instruction Today?

3. Assessment FOR Learning - A quick and easy indicator

4. AFL - It's about students taking ownership of learning

Read more…

Blog Topics by Tags

Monthly Archives