assessment (31)

Do they know if they know?

Here's a quick and easy way to analyze how well you are applying AFL principles in your classroom:

If a parent were to ask his or her child how they were doing in your class, could the child give an accurate, detailed, and specific answer about his or her progress?

If you are regularly providing descriptive feedback to students then they should be able to tell their parents not only if they are doing well or not, but also what their strengths are, what they have mastered, and in what areas they still need improvement.

Of course, many young people - because they are young people - will tend to answer with a simple "Fine" or "I don't know". However, if we could magically control for the idiosyncracies of youth, the question remains, could your students specifically and with detail tell their parents how they are doing in your classroom?

If the answer is "No" then it probably means you are not giving enough feedback - which in turn probably means that you are not assessing them regularly enough. Or perhaps it means you need to focus on training your students to better use the feedback that you are giving.

Don't confuse a student being able to report on his or her grade with a student being able to answer the question in detail. Being able to say, "I'm making a B" is very different from being able to say, "I've mastered grammar but am having trouble with analyzing poetry."

So what can you do to give your students more descriptive feedback so that they can better answer the question?
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The Assessment Network has grown to the point where that it now contains many different examples of how the power of assessment can be maximized in the classroom. These ideas are scattered throughout the site. To make this site easier to navigate, this one blog will include links to all of the other classroom AFL examples. It's sort of like an AFL Wal-Mart - everything you need in one blog!


Please note that while these blog posts are grouped by content area, the vast majority of them can be used in any content area. So be sure to explore examples listed in content areas other than your own.
Also, please note that as more examples are added to this site, they will also be added to this blog.

Physical Education
General Examples
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Assessment FOR Learning reaches its most effective level when students are able to use assessment feedback to guide their own learning. Many activities that teachers are already using in their classrooms have great potential for this type of use. What makes the difference in the "AFL-ishness" of an activity is often not as much the activity itself as it is the way the teacher communicates its purpose to the students.

Pam Carter, an Ancient World History teacher at Salem High School, has taken a traditional activity and increased its AFL capacity by very purposefully training her students how to use the activity to assess their level of mastery.

As Pam teaches her students about the time period from the Paleolithic Era to the Agricultural Revolution she stops periodically to have students assess their level of understanding. They do this by completing portions of a 2-sided worksheet called the Ancient World History Guild (see images below or click on link below to download a pdf version of each page). As they move through the lessons/unit, students have to use their knowledge to answer the questions.

What makes this particularly "AFL-ish" is the fact that the questions are grouped into categories. Based on what you can answer you may have reached Apprentice Level, Journeyman Level, or Master Level. Students are trained to do more than just answer questions. They are trained instead to also assess how well they have mastered the content by the level they have reached. Students can use this worksheet as a study guide that will compare for them what they currently know with what they need to know to reach the goal of Master Level. In other words, they can use assement-elicited data to make decisions about their learning - AFL in a nutshell.

This is a perfect example of how AFL is not really about what assessment you use - it's about HOW you use the assessment.

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Assessment in on-line classes presents significant challenges for both students and teachers, especially for teachers like me who give a lot of importance to evidence gathered throughout the course by performance tasks.

The purpose of framing assessment around performance tasks is to clearly distinguish between those who really understand from those who only seem to because through performance understanding becomes "visible". This is the reason that assessments are frequently designed as projects, which are essentially complex, “messy,” and multi-staged problems to be solved. These critical-thinking elements help teachers see levels of comprehension displayed by students. Tasks with these characteristics also go beyond furnishing a snapshot of student understanding to providing "scrapbook" of understanding - in other words a collection of evidence gathered over time, instead of through a single event. This is crucial because "understanding develops as a result of ongoing inquiry and rethinking". (Wiggins pg. 152)

However, this way of framing assessment still goes against many assumptions our students have about learning and thus about grading as they are often considered equivalent. I have spoken with my students at length about this to understand their perspectives, and they offer a variety of interesting ideas that can be summed up in the following two phrases. Whatever is given a grade by the teacher is important, and anything else can be skipped. Further, grades are derived from quizzes and tests.

Several problems arise from these opposing perspectives to learning that need to be looked at carefully. Among them is how forums are approached. Forums provide opportunities for students to put concepts found in the readings in their own terms and bounce ideas off their fellow students. Groups collaboratively plan a product or performance by facing contextualized issues. These exercises give students feedback and practice at doing the task, both valuable for the summative assessment that will come later in the course.

Fellow teacher and blogger Lisa Lane is particularly concerned about the second point because like me, she wants students to extend their understanding of the topic at hand through discussion in forums.

"In terms of course design, I don’t consider the discussion 20% of the course, just 20% of the grade. It’s more like half the class, because it’s the processing and sharing of the knowledge learned via presentation and reading. It’s the heart, not a side activity. It’s lower stakes (not 50% of the grade) because I want the students to feel free to explore." (Lane, 2009)

This seems simple enough, but my experience corroborates Lisa's - the students just don't get it. The message that students receive is that discussions held in forums are 20% of the class and deserve that much of their energy devoted to the course.

I have found a way to begin to resolve this problem. From the beginning of my courses I make it clear that grades will be based on summative assessment only which will take place at or near the end of the course. All other activities are formative and for that reason are not graded. To avoid misunderstandings regarding the importance of non-graded formative activities, I give a mark to each activity, a number according to its relative value. I keep these on a Google spreadsheet permanently linked to the course so it is always up to date and visible to students. The Google spreadsheet is a link so I never have to upload new versions or save them under new names or send the document out to students because they can see updates made to the document in real time or any time they check into the course.

This has effected a change in student's attitude towards formative activities because students can’t stand to receive a low number, even if it doesn’t count towards the grade. I have told them that because activities are formative, they can be improved by going over my qualitative feedback and the rubrics. This of course means being flexible with due dates and very patient with problems students and groups have in submitting assignments on time. It has motivated them to interact more with me, with classmates and with the rubrics and it has focused their attention, even if it is inadvertently, on the learning process - writing, editing, consulting, re-writing, re-editing, consulting again - and less on the grade itself.

Also, if a discussion is designed to last two weeks and it is worth six points (marks), I assign three to the first week and three to the second week. This gets students to participate more constantly and not just at the end of the designated period for that discussion.

Students can compare the number of marks they have to the total possible number at any given moment which serves as an alert for students who fall behind. At the end of the course, they are awarded a Professional Development score, which is simply the sum total of their marks. This indicates effort given towards the activities in the course and their level of mastery of the key course concepts. In nearly every case high marks coincide with high grades and low marks with low grades. Although this score is not part of the grade, students take it as seriously as the grades.

Although it may be counterintuitive to use numbers (marks) to encourage students to practice essential skills, it seems to be a language symbol that communicates a message far clearer than many of my attempts to explain and motivate.

---- References ----

Lane, Lisa. Ramblings on Assessments that work and assumptions that don't. Blog post, 2009. ?p=392

Wiggins, Grant and McTighe, Jay. Understanding by Design. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2005. pg. 152.

Article originally published in Online Classroom, August 2010.

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Did AFL guide my instruction today?

Here are a few questions you can ask yourself as you evaluate whether or not AFL principles are present in your classroom: 1. Did I leave class today with the assessment data/info I need to know for sure how well my students - as a group and/or individually - understood the lesson I just taught them? 2. Did my students leave class today with the assessment data/info they need to know for sure how well they understood the lesson I taught them? If the answer to both questions is a definite 'yes' then you obviously used assessment to enhance learning. If the answer to both questions is a definite 'no' then you did not use assessment to enhance learning. If you're answer is somewhere in between then you should now ask yourself, "What could I have done to assess my students so that i could know how well they comprehended and so that they would be able to analyze their own understanding?"
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My daughter's 7th grade English teacher at Andrew Lewis Middle School uses a time-tested easy-to-apply simple AFL strategy that motivates my daughter to work, helps her to learn, and ensures that her grade is an accurate reflection of that learning.


Every Monday the students are given a pre-test on that week's spelling words.  If the student spells 100% of the words correct on the pre-test, then the grade is recorded in the teacher's grade book, and the student does not have to take the post-test.  All other students will take a post-test on Friday of that week.


Simple but effective.  Students receive feedback on Monday.  They now have the rest of the week to work on improving.  More importantly, though, is that they know exactly what they need to do to improve.


I'm going to brag on my daughter, Kelsey, for just a moment.  She is a terrific speller, and almost always scores a 100 on the pre-test.  Knowing that she can get out of having to take the post-test is a wonderful incentive for her to prepare for the pre-test.  When she occasionally misses a word on the pre-test, she becomes a very focused and motivated studier when preparing for the post-test.


However, her teacher uses the pre-test in a more powerful way than just as a motivator.  Since Kelsey almost always scores a 100 on the pre-tests, the rest of the week's focus on spelling potentially could be a waste of time for her.  However, her teacher turns the better spellers into spelling tutors during the week.  This gives Kelsey a much-needed opportunity to be a leader.  It allows her to have fun serving her peers, and it helps her peers do better on their spelling by providing one-on-one assistance that a teacher would have a difficult time providing during a busy school day.


Most teachers in America have probably tried pre-tests.  This is not a ground-breaking strategy.  That's the beauty of AFL.  To be a good AFL teacher doesn't mean re-inventing the wheel.  It means taking the best of what you already do and focusing your purpose toward providing meaningful feedback that gets used by both the teacher and the students.


One word of warning: You can completely mess up the benefit of this AFL strategy by the way you grade.  Please do not ever average the pre- and post-tests together or allow the pre-test to factor into the grade at all unless the student reaches the desired benchmark on the pre-test.  Otherwise, allow the post-test score - the one that reflects the outcome of the teacher's instruction - to be the one that is recorded in the grade book.

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As we at Salem High School have been exploring AFL, we have begun to realize the power of testing students for the purpose of learning. So often we think of assessment as simply giving a traditional test at the end a unit of study for the purpose of determining mastery and calculating a grade. The principles of Assessment FOR Learning would instead lead teachers to assess along the way - to use tests, quizzes, and other assessments as a means to help students learn. Assessment is much more powerful than teachers often realize. It is a learning tool.

Here is how assessment is applied in what I'll call a traditional classroom:

1. Teach Content
2. Practice Content
3. Teach Content
4. Practice Content
5. Assess Mastery of Content
6. Move on to New Content

Here is one example of how assessment could be applied in the AFL classroom:

1. Teach Content
2. Assess Understanding
3. Practice Content
4. Assess Understanding
5. Teach Content
6. Assess Understanding
7. Practice Content
8. Assess Understanding
9. Assess Mastery of Content

A recent NY Times article seems to back up this AFL approach. The article (Forget What You Know About Good Study Habits, Benedict Carey, September 6, 2010) discusses studying content multiple times over a period of days v. cramming. Not surprisingly, several major studies have found that cramming does not work as well, in general, as studying material in multiple chunks over time. But what research is also showing is that the act of taking a test on material actually helps people remember the material for a longer period of time.

I have copied and pasted below an excerpt from the article. Follow this link to read it in its entirety.

Begin Excerpt

Cognitive scientists do not deny that honest-to-goodness cramming can lead to a better grade on a given exam. But hurriedly jam-packing a brain is akin to speed-packing a cheap suitcase, as most students quickly learn — it holds its new load for a while, then most everything falls out.

“With many students, it’s not like they can’t remember the material” when they move to a more advanced class, said Henry L. Roediger III, a psychologist at Washington University in St. Louis. “It’s like they’ve never seen it before.”

When the neural suitcase is packed carefully and gradually, it holds its contents for far, far longer. An hour of study tonight, an hour on the weekend, another session a week from now: such so-called spacing improves later recall, without requiring students to put in more overall study effort or pay more attention, dozens of studies have found.

No one knows for sure why. It may be that the brain, when it revisits material at a later time, has to relearn some of what it has absorbed before adding new stuff — and that that process is itself self-reinforcing.

“The idea is that forgetting is the friend of learning,” said Dr. Kornell. “When you forget something, it allows you to relearn, and do so effectively, the next time you see it.”

That’s one reason cognitive scientists see testing itself — or practice tests and quizzes — as a powerful tool of learning, rather than merely assessment. The process of retrieving an idea is not like pulling a book from a shelf; it seems to fundamentally alter the way the information is subsequently stored, making it far more accessible in the future.

Dr. Roediger uses the analogy of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle in physics, which holds that the act of measuring one property of a particle (position, for example) reduces the accuracy with which you can know another property (momentum, for example): “Testing not only measures knowledge but changes it,” he says — and, happily, in the direction of more certainty, not less.

In one of his own experiments, Dr. Roediger and Jeffrey Karpicke, also of Washington University, had college students study science passages from a reading comprehension test, in short study periods. When students studied the same material twice, in back-to-back sessions, they did very well on a test given immediately afterward, then began to forget the material.

But if they studied the passage just once and did a practice test in the second session, they did very well on one test two days later, and another given a week later.

“Testing has such bad connotation; people think of standardized testing or teaching to the test,” Dr. Roediger said. “Maybe we need to call it something else, but this is one of the most powerful learning tools we have.”

Of course, one reason the thought of testing tightens people’s stomachs is that tests are so often hard. Paradoxically, it is just this difficulty that makes them such effective study tools, research suggests. The harder it is to remember something, the harder it is to later forget. This effect, which researchers call “desirable difficulty,” is evident in daily life. The name of the actor who played Linc in “The Mod Squad”? Francie’s brother in “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn”? The name of the co-discoverer, with Newton, of calculus?

The more mental sweat it takes to dig it out, the more securely it will be subsequently anchored.

End Excerpt

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I was in a workshop today with members of our Central Office and teachers and administrators from each school in our school system. The purpose of the workshop was to apply AFL to our division's AFL endeavors. Today we assessed each school's progress with AFL and our division's progress as a whole. We had discussions and made plans for how we need to move forward based on how things have or haven't been going so far. So we assessed our progress and will use the results of the assessment to guide our learning. When the four individuals from our school met together, Becky George, one of our English teachers, made a point that really resonated with me. Becky stated that for teachers to really understand how to apply AFL principles in their classrooms, they must first understand that AFL is a philosophy not a procedure. Let's consider that. Asking teachers to incorporate a specific procedure into their classroom practices would (for good reason) be an annoyance to many teachers. Some teachers would assume that the procedure was not necessary for them to do well. After all, there are many procedures from which to choose. Who's to say that this new procedure is the best one? Procedures come and go. They will view the procedure as yet another educational fad that will go away as soon as the next one comes along. These teachesr would rebel against the procedure and would refuse to embrace it. Other teachers might really like the procedure because it works well with their content. They would embrace it willingly. Others would do what they are asked to do, but would not really see the procedure as all that valuable. A philosophy is different, though, from a procedure. Where a procedure intrudes, a philosophy guides. Where a procedure looks a certain and specific way, a philosophy shapes how all things look. While a class or teacher must adapt to a procedure, a philosophy can be adapted to a class or teacher. One can argue that one specific procedure is better than another one depending on the situation. A philosophy is bigger than the situation and can take the form of many procedures as needed. So let's look at a specific example. A school system could decide that the best way to grade students is to count Homework as 10% of the grade, Quizzes as 40% of the grade, and Tests as 50%. This is a very specific procedure. Some teachers might love it. Others (myself included) might think it was a terrible way to grade for mastery. To apply that procedure to all classrooms in a school would be rather intrusive and micromanaging. (This, or something like it, has been implemented in many school systems, by the way.) The bottom line would be that all teachers would have to become very similar and there would be very little room for deviation or autonomy in order to implement this procedure. If a teacher was annoyed by this, I would understand. Even if the procedure was one I liked - such as having a daily quiz - I would understand if many teachers did not like being forced to do something so specific. Now let's consider AFL. AFL is a philosophy. What does AFL look like? Well that depends on the teacher, the classroom, the grade level, the unit, the content, the day. AFL doesn't look a specific way because it's bigger than any specific way of doing things. Instead, it is a governing philosophy that shapes the procedures in the classroom. Since it can fit into any situation it's a little harder to understand why one would be bothered by it. So is AFL just an amorphous catch-all phrase? Is everything AFL? No, not all. AFL is a distinct and clear philosophy. Here's what it is: Teachers regularly assess students and then use the feedback from the assessments to guide their instructional decisions. Teachers make sure that students receive assessment results and then equip those students to use the data to guide their learning practices. Students are encouraged and trained to take ownership of their learning, to view assessment feedback as their own personal road map to learning. Often teachers hear specific examples of AFL - specific procedures - and confuse them for the philosophy as a whole. That's a mistake, but an easy one to make. When a teacher in a school shares a good AFL strategy, it's good to share that strategy with the rest of the faculty. Touting that strategy can easily be confused with defining AFL as that strategy. But AFL is bigger than a strategy. Are you concerned at all that your school or system is trying to force you to adopt a specific procedure? If they are trying to do that, then they aren't really encouraging true AFL. In our system we are encouraging teachers to instead adopt a philosophy that will guide all their procedures, that will enhance their assessment practices, that will lead to students taking ownership of their learning, and that result in higher achievement - and that will manifest itself differently in different situations. Thanks, Becky, for a good phrase to describe that - AFL is a Philosophy not a procedure.
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As teachers attempt to incorporate AFL strategies into their daily practices it is helpful to have criteria to determine the "AFL-ishness" of an activity. Here are two (but by no means the only) questions a teacher can ask to reflect on how a specific activity falls in line with AFL principles. 1. Did the activity I did in class today allow my students to leave my room knowing what they need to know, what they do and don't know, and what they need to do to improve? 2. Did the activity I did in class today allow me, the teacher, to leave the room with a clear understanding of what my students do and don't know so that I can plan to meet their ongoing needs? If what you do in your classroom allows either or both of these to occur, then you have just done an AFL activity. Everyday, students should be guided in a direction that allows them to become more aware of their level of understanding so that they can then adjust their learning efforts. And by the end of each class, the teacher should have assessed students in a manner that allows him or her to get a solid read on how well students, at times individually and at times collectively, comprehend. So take a look at an activity you have planned. Will it lead to a "yes" response to either of those questions? If not, then can it be altered to do so?
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This post is excerpted from an article written by Stephen Chappuis and Richard Stiggins. It was originally published in Educational Leadership in 2002 and was then reprinted in the book, Assessment FOR Learning: An Action Guide for School Leaders. While professional reading can sometimes be dry, Chappuis and Stiggins really capture the heart of AFL. This excerpt can be used by a school as an overview of what AFL is all about - teaching and learning and getting students to take ownership of their progress. This article also includes practical examples of how teachers and students would practice AFL.

Classroom Assessment for Learning

Classroom assessment that involves students in the process and focuses on increasing learning can motivate rather than merely measure students.

Imagine a classroom assessment as a healthy part of effective teaching and successful learning. At a time when large-scale, external assessments of learning gain political favor and attention, many teachers are discovering how to engage and motivate students using day-to-day classroom assessment for purposes beyond measurement. By applying the principles of what is called assessment for learning, teachers have followed clear research findings of the effects that high-quality, formative assessment can have on student achievement.

… largely absent from the traditional classroom assessment environment is the use of assessment as a tool to promote greater student achievement (Shepard, 2000). In general, the teacher teaches and then tests. The teacher and class move on, leaving unsuccessful students, those who might not learn at the established pace and within a fixed time frame, to finish low in the rank order. This assessment model is founded on two outdated beliefs: that to increase learning we should increase student anxiety and that comparison with more successful peers will motivate low performers to do better.

By contrast, assessment for learning occurs during the teaching and learning process rather than after it and has as its primary focus the ongoing improvement of learning for all students (Assessment Reform Group, 1999; Crooks, 2001; Shepard, 2000). Teachers who assess for learning use day-to-day classroom assessment activities to involve students directly and deeply in their own learning, increasing their confidence and motivations to learn by emphasizing progress and achievement rather than failure and defeat (Stiggins, 1999; 2001). In the assessment for learning model, assessment is an instructional tool that promotes learning rather than an event designed solely for the purpose of evaluation and assigning grades. And when a student become involved in the assessment process, assessment for learning begins to look more like teaching and less like testing (Davies, 2000).


Research shows that classroom assessments that provide accurate, descriptive feedback to students and involve them in the assessment process can improve learning (Black and William, 1998). As a result, assessment for learning means more than just assessing students often, more than providing the teacher with assessment results to revise instruction. In assessment for learning, both teacher and student use classroom assessment information to modify teaching and learning activities. Teachers use assessment information formatively when they:

Pretest before a unit of study and adjust instruction for individuals or the entire group.
• Analyze which students need more practice.
• Continually revise instruction on the basis of results.
• Reflect on the effectiveness of their own teaching practices.
• Confer with students regarding their strengths and the areas that need improvement.
• Facilitate peer tutoring, matching students who demonstrate understanding with those who do not.

We tend to think of students as passive participants in assessment rather than engaged users of the information that assessment can produce. What we should be asking is, “How can students use assessment to take responsibility for and improve their own learning?”

Student involvement in assessment doesn’t mean that students control decisions regarding what will or won’t be learned or tested. It doesn’t mean that they assign their own grades. Instead, student involvement means that students learn to use assessment information to manage their own learning so that they understand how they learn best, know exactly where they are in relation to the defined learning targets, and plan and take the next steps in their learning.

Students engage in the assessment for learning process when they use assessment information to set goals, make learning decisions related to their own improvement, develop an understanding of what quality work looks like, self-assess, and communicate their status and progress toward established learning goals. Students involved in their own assessment might:

Determine the attributes of good performance. Students look at teacher-supplied anonymous samples of strong student performances and list the qualities that make them strong, learning the language of quality and the concepts behind strong performance.
Use scoring guides to evaluate real work samples. Students can start with just one criterion in the guide and expand to others as they become more proficient in scoring. As students engage in determining the characteristics of quality work and scoring actual work samples, they become better able to evaluate their own work. Using the language of the scoring guide, they can identify their areas of strength and set goals for improvement - in essence, planning the next steps in their learning.
Revise anonymous work samples. Students go beyond evaluating work to using criteria to improve the quality of work sample. They can develop a revision plan that outlines improvements, or write a letter to the creator of the original work offering advice on how to improve the sample. This activity also helps students know what to do before they revise their own work.
Create practice tests or test items based on their understanding of the learning targets and the essential concepts in the class material. Students can work in pairs to identify what they think should be on the test and to generate sample test items and responses.
Communicate with others about their growth and determine when they are nearing success. Students achieve a deeper understanding of themselves and the material that they are attempting to learn when they describe the quality of their own work. Letters to parents, written self-reflections, and conferences with teachers and parents in which students outline the process they used to create a product allow students to share what they know and describe their progress toward the learning target. By accumulating evidence of their own improvement in growth portfolios, students can refer to specific stages in their growth and celebrate their achievement with others.

Source: From "Classroom Assessment for Learning," by S, Chappuis and R.J. Stiggins, 2002, Educational Leadership, 60(1), pp. 40-44. Copyright 2002 by ASCD.
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A School Counselor uses AFL

One of the tricks of staff development is finding ways to apply ideas/strategies/concepts to the many different departments and content areas that make up a school. That's one of the goals of this Ning - to document ways to use AFL in many different settings. For example, there has been a PE example, a World Language example that could apply to any content course, a Social Studies rubric, an English rubric, a World Language example (really a vocab example), an example from a Marketing class, and a Math example. In addition there have many other examples that could apply to any class or that speak to the underlying philosophy of AFL.

However, there is one part of the typical school setting has not yet been addressed well by this site - the School Counselor. So let's address it....

Regina Meredith is a school counselor at Salem High School in Salem, VA. National Board Certified, innovative, hard-working, positive, and caring, Regina is everything a school could look for in a counselor. (Also, she's excellent with fluff!) But could she apply AFL to the position of school counselor? Yes...

Regina has developed an AFL Chart that she uses with certain students. One of the goals of AFL is to get students to use feedback/data to guide their own learning. Often a teacher might find this a difficult goal to reach with certain students. Certain students believe that their lack of progress is the teacher's fault or is an unavoidable reality over which they have no control. In a classroom full of students, this child is often a difficult one for the teacher to reach. This student probably needs some one-on-one attention. In steps the counselor...

This past year Regina had 3 students with whom she used the chart you see below. She regularly met with them on an individual basis and had them set goals and analyze their progress. She had them document their efforts to improve and seek out evidence of improvement. In doing so she at the least had the opportunity to plant important seeds for future growth. She got students to begin to realize the relationship between their effort and their progress. At best she was able to get students to truly take ownership of their progress.

So is this AFL? You bet it is. Students are analyzing their assessment data to guide their instruction. Would a classroom teacher be able to do this with a student? Definitely. However, for that harder to reach child, this is a great opportunity for the school counselor to step in and play a productive role in helping a student succeed.
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Rubrics are a great way to help students learn from their mistakes and to assess their own knowledge (#5 and #6 of the 6 Key AFL Ideas). In the typical high school setting, rubrics are most commonly used by English teachers to show students how they will be grading essays/papers. Other teachers will sometimes use them to show students how projects will be graded. Essentially these rubrics detail how the teacher breaks the assignment down into specific parts and then show how many points each part will be worth. While there is nothing wrong at all with using rubrics this way, I would like to describe an additional way to incorporate rubrics into the classroom. The use of a rubric is a highly effective and easy to apply AFL strategy. In fact, I would contend that rubrics could be implemented into any content area and any classroom. If you teach content or skills then a rubric then you can use a rubric. For just a moment forget about using a rubric as a way to show a student how he or she will be graded. Instead, think of a rubric as an overview of the key knowledge/skills that you will be teaching during a set period of time – whether it’s a month-long, week-long, or even single-day unit. In this model, students are given the rubric – the overview of content – at the beginning of the unit. At regular intervals – perhaps daily, perhaps every other day, perhaps every ½ hour – students are given an opportunity to look over either the entire rubric or a portion of it and use it to assess their understanding. Students will look over the portion of the rubric to which the teacher directs them and will then rate themselves in one of three categories: 1. Category 1 – Content the student knows/understands and will not forget 2. Category 2 – Content about which the student has questions 3. Category 3 – Content the student still doesn’t know One of the nice side benefits of using a rubric in this manner is that it helps the teacher stay focused on what is most important. Especially with a young teacher or with a teacher who is teaching a specific unit or class for the first time, it is very easy to get sidetracked. Sometimes the content plays itself out over the course of teaching the unit. Often by the end of a unit a teacher might look back and realize that the core content had not received the appropriate level of focus as compared to some less-essential knowledge. By creating a rubric that students get at the very beginning of the unit and by then referencing that rubric throughout the unit, the teacher will be more likely to focus on the key content and to create graded assessments based on that key content. As students assess their understanding along the way, they become more aware of what they do and don’t know. Awareness of what one doesn’t know is a major step toward learning something. When it comes time to study for a summative assessment, the rubric becomes an excellent study guide. Students have rated their knowledge of the content and can spend their time focusing on the lower-rated items. While it is common for a teacher to hand a study guide to a student, it is less common - and much more effective - if a student has a personalized study guide that they have created and of which they have a sense of ownership. So what might such a rubric look like? Below is an example of how a rubric that follows this model might be used in a World History class that is learning about World War One:

(Click on the above image to download a pdf version of the rubric.)
Below is an example of how a rubric that follows this model might be used in a senior-level English class that is reading The Freedom Writers (thanks to Cammie Smith for her help on this one):

(Click on the above image to download a pdf version of the rubric.)
Helpful Hints:
  • The teacher will have to guide/train students about how to use the rubric in this manner. Don’t expect magic the first time.
  • This will work best if the teacher provides class time for the students to use their rubrics.
  • The teacher might want to keep the rubrics in the classroom so that they do not get lost. Students might not take them home until the night before a large test/quiz/graded assignment.
  • Be very explicit with your students about the purpose of the rubric. Don’t let this become just another "thing". This could be yet another worksheet provided by a teacher but not effectively used by students. Instead help your students view self-assessment as a core learning strategy and something that they can apply to future classes/learning. Help them view the rubric as a key to success.
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AFL Flashcard Review

It's pretty common for a teacher to finish a lesson and still have a few minutes left until the class period ends  Here is an extremely easy and practical way to turn those remaining minutes into a meaningful AFL opportunity.  

Instead of allowing students to sit and talk quietly until the bell rings, these few minutes can be used as a chance for the teacher to assess his or her students so that the teacher and the students know how well content was mastered that day - and so that they can identify areas that need improvement.  The use of AFL flashcards is a simple way to do this.

You will need to create a set of flashcards for each desk in your room.  There will be 2 cards per desk.  Card 1 will have an A on the front and a B on the back.  Card 2 will have a C on the front and a D on the back.  You might want to make a pouch out of paper and tape it to the edge of the desk.  The 2 flashcards can go in this pouch so that the students always have them handy.

Have you ever finished a lesson by asking questions about the lesson only to have very limited response from students?  Perhaps a small handful of students are answering your questions or even asking additional questions, but many in the room have mentally "checked out" and are just waiting for the bell to ring.  It seems as though the following question, "Do you have any questions about what we learned?" in student-language means "Go ahead and pack up and start forgetting everything we did".  Your new flashcards should change this situation.  

Ask all students to pull out their flashcards.  Begin asking the entire class questions about the day's content.  You could even ask about content learned on previous days.  Ask easy question, hard questions, simple questions, and complex questions.  Ask the type of questions you expect them to know for a test.  They will answer by holding up the appropriate flashcard.  You will be able to see how the class as a whole is doing and also how each individual student is doing.  The students will gain a more useful review than they would have from the normal question/answer period at the end of class, and, therefore, will be better able to assess their own level of understanding.

You could use the cards to represent various types of answers.  For example:

  • A,B,C,D could be multiple choice answers.  
  • A could equal true, and B could equal false.  
  • A could equal "I can answer that", and B could equal "I am unable to answer that".  
  • A could mean "I completely understand that topic". B could mean "I sort of understand but am not ready to take a test on it", and C could mean "I do not understand the topic".    



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Here is a conversation you will probably never hear:

Sea World Trainer 1: "I am so tired of these seals. They always want a fish every time they do anything!"
Sea World Trainer 2: "Tell me about it. It's like they don't understand how important the show is. They only care about getting fish!"

The other day I was talking with Jamie Garst, a Chemistry/IB Biology teacher at Salem High School. He mentioned that he recently decided to use Smart Pals (a plastic sleeve that allows an ordinary piece of paper to be used like a small dry erase boards) as a way to review in his classroom. (See previous post on using white boards to review) This was his first experience doing this with his students. As he was instructing them on what to do he told them that they would also need a blank sheet of paper. As he started to tell them the reason why, the kids said, "We know - it's to keep track of what we don't know." This was the first time Jamie had done this with his students. Therefore, their knowledge of what to do is evidence of the fact that someone had trained them. It's not natural for students to get out paper to assess their understanding. These kids had been trained by another teacher or other teachers in the school.
As educators, what do we want students to do?

We want them to learn for the sake of learning.
We want them to work hard because it's the right thing to do and because it leads to learning.
We want them to be internally motivated to do their best.
We want them to care more about learning than they do grades.

I think you'd be hard pressed to find a teacher who wouldn't agree that he or she wants those previous statements to be true for his or her students. However, we train them quite differently.

We train students to learn for the sake of getting a grade.
We train them to work hard or else they'll get a bad grade and because it leads to good grades.
We train them to be externally motivated by grades.
We train them to care more about grades than learning.

Think about it for a moment. The typical classroom at any grade level is not all that different from the seal show at Sea World. The student does the work; he gets a grade or points. The seal does the trick; he gets a fish. The student doesn't do the work; he doesn't get the grade or the points. The seal doesn't do the trick; he doesn't get the fish.

Have you ever assigned something and had students say, "Is this graded?" Have you ever felt like your students wouldn't work as hard if they weren't getting a grade? Have students ever complained that you weren't grading them after they put effort into an assignment or activity? Does it ever seem like all the students (and parents) care about is the grade on the report card or transcript?

Look back at the start of this post. Wouldn't it be ridiculous for the Sea World trainer to complain about the seal always wanting a fish for the tricks it does? Why is it not just as ridiculous for an educator to complain about a student always wanting to know if something is graded or about a student being motivated by grades rather than learning?

Perhaps the answer is because unlike the seal, the student is capable of rational and logical thought processes and should, therefore, know better. However, think about how students have been conditioned from day 1 in school. Do the work - get a reward. Now consider that this has been the case for generations. Is it any wonder that our students tend to be more externally than internally motivated? Is it any wonder that they tend to focus so much on grades and lose sight of the bigger picture of learning?

So what can be done about this? Is it possible to change years of conditioning to get to what we really want from students? Of course, if all teachers in the educational system made a change then we could definitely alter the situation; however, that's probably (definitely) a bit of a stretch. So can students be trained to be more internally motivated and to look at grades differently?

The story of Jamie and his students tells me that the answer is "yes". From my experience, the typical student expectation of a review activity is that the teacher will tell the student everything he or she needs to know - or ask all the questions he or she will eventually be asked - and then the student goes home and studies everything that will be on the test. (Or in some cases, doesn't study at all.) However, what Jamie found out was that his students were being conditioned to expect something different. They now expected that when a review was finished each student would leave class with a personalized list of what that student had not yet mastered. This personalized list would become the student's unique study guide. What Jamie experienced is an example of the fact that student expectations can be changed.

So what if teachers in your building stopped practicing AFG? AFG is Assessment FOR Grading. AFG is what I did very intentionally as a new teacher. I assigned lots of graded assignments so that I could have lots of grades in my grade book. The main purpose of my assignments and my assessments was to get grades in the grade book which could then average together to get a final summative grade. I used points as rewards and withheld points as a consequence. This use of AFG would naturally lead to my students thinking that everything they did had to be graded. I was training my seals - I mean, students - to work hard for the fish - I mean, grade.

AFL is so different. AFL is about assessing and assigning to gain feedback. It's about teachers and students using that feedback to guide learning. The whole point of the assessments and assignments is learning - thus the name, Assessment FOR Learning. This site is full of resources and ideas for applying AFL principles to the classroom.

I think that we can train kids to think differently about grades. It will take effort and a lot of change on our part. It will take great consistency, but it can be done. Until we truly begin applying AFL principles with this goal in mind, does it make sense for us to complain that students react exactly as we have trained them to react?

The best part of this is that if we alter their view of grades, we will ultimately increase their level of learning.
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Confusion over Formative Assessment

Salem High School Earth Science teacher, Wes Lester, recently sent me this link to a post on Edutopia about Formative Assessment (AFL). I found it to be an excellent post and worth reading, so I left a comment stating this. Because I left a comment I then received an email every time someone else posted a comment. One such comment made me realize that some people out there do not fully understand Formative Assessment or AFL.

Here was the comment:

Yes, I think formative assessment is important however it is not the only measure of a student's success. Unfortunately we are currently in an environment that places so much emphasis on formative and standardized testing. In my school, it seems as if the formal testing never ends. They are tested in September (a formative), October (SRI), January (formative), March (state test), April (SRI), and finally in May (formative) not to mention the unit test required by the district. The structure, lenght and environment that is created around these test are such that students become desensitised. In an effort to help make this over testing environment tolerable, I must come up with alternative ways of conducting my own assessments.

It has gotten to a point that the students moan when they are told that it's a testing day. Several pupils have even asked why there is so much testing. I candidly explained that testing won't go away and that even when you get older there are yet more test to come. (driver's test, SAT's, professional test, etc.) This explanation seemed to make it more palatable. In truth, I feel that these children are tested because of the demographics of the district and past performances. Neighboring counties within the same state don't administer nearly as many assessments.

This person has confused Formative Assessment with an official testing program. It's probably not this teacher's fault as it sounds as though the school district has bought into a specific benchmark assessment program and called it formative assessment. While benchmark tests and testing programs can be used as formative assessments, effective Formative Assessment is what occurs in a classroom each and everyday.

Formative Assessment is graded and it is ungraded. It is formal and it is informal. It is big and it is small. It is ANYTHING that provides the teacher with feedback on how well students are learning, and it is ANYTHING that provides students with feedback so they can guide their learning. It should not lead to students asking "why there is so much testing" or "moan[ing] when they are told that it's a test day." It should not be "the,,, measure of a student's success" but rather an indicator of how they are learning so that they can end up having success.

I'm glad that our school is encouraging teachers to view Formative Assessment as a tool/philosophy that can look different in each and every classroom.

Click here to read the entire post from Edutopia.
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Seven Practices for Effective Learning

Check out Seven Practices for Effective Learning from the November 2005 edition of ASCD's Educational Leadership.  This is a great description of how to use assessment to promote learning.


Followers of this site will find the 7 practices outlined in the article to be quite familiar.  They are:

  1. Use summative assessments to frame meaningful performance goals.
  2. Show criteria and models in advance.
  3. Assess before teaching.
  4. Offer appropriate choices.
  5. Provide feedback early and often.
  6. Encourage self-assessment and goal setting.
  7. Allow new evidence of achievement to replace old evidence.


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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

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What a privilege it is to be able to observe great educators practicing their craft!

Recently I had a chance to be in the classroom of Michelle Kovac, Salem High School's Marketing teacher. She was teaching Advanced Marketing. Two things stood out to me.

1. Mrs. Kovac did an excellent job of weaving AFL strategies and techniques into her classroom.

2. The strategies employed by Mrs. Kovac were highly successful IN PART due to the strategies themselves but MAINLY (in my opinion) due to the enthusiastic manner with which she employed them.

Let's start with the second thing I noticed - enthusiasm. In my interactions with teachers at various schools over the years I have often heard teachers bemoan the fact that while they have tried to use creative or new strategies they have been unsuccessful due to the weak level of their students. I would be overly "Pollyanna-ish" if I said that students had no bearing on the ability of a teacher to be effective. However, what I have noticed more often is that strong students mask poor teaching much more frequeently than weak students destroy great teaching.

Mrs. Kovac's Advanced Marketing class was an example of this situation. Advanced Marketing students are a diverse group. Some of them have been excellent students over the years. Some have struggled greatly. Some have had no disciplinary issues while others have had quite a few. Here's what they have in common, though. They are seniors in the spring - a time when seniors can be difficult to motivate.

I was amazed at what I saw in class that day. Mrs. Kovac's enthusiasm for the content was absolutely infectious. She acted as though Marketing was the coolest thing in the world, and as I sat in her class I began to to agree! She was a cheerleader, an entertainer, and a motivator - and the kids appreciated it. It was obvious that this was who she was in class on a daily basis because the kids thought it totally normal. Try faking enthusiasm on an occasional basis and students will see right through you.

The atmosphere is Mrs. Kovac's class was almost the way I envision an elementary classroom. What I mean is that these kids - these seniors - were excited to be there. They laughed. They joined in. When it was time to start working on projects they actually got up and RAN to get their supplies. One kid begged Mrs. Kovac to let her correct her quiz from the day before - not for points, not for a higher grade, just to be able to be correct. Mrs. Kovac finally "relented" and gave the student "permission" to correct her quiz!

When one student asked a particular question Mrs. Kovac said, "I feel a song coming on!" The entire class broke into a song about marketing. Seniors in high school willingly singing a song about Marketing in class - wow! That's what enthusiasm can do. It's what Parker Palmer describes in his book, The Courage to Teach. A teacher can lift up a class with his or her enthusiasm if the teacher has the courage to step out from behind the wall of safety that educators often erect. The courage that Mrs. Kovac showed to be herself, to be enthusiastic, and to share her love of her content is what made the assessment strategies she used work so well.

Here are the strong assessment strategies used that day by Mrs. Kovac:

Do Now Assignment - Predict Your Score
On the smart board were the numbers 3, 7, and 5. There were also 3 statements: "Guessed Correctly", "Guessed Wrong - Scored Higher", and "Guessed Wrong - Scored Lower". Students had to match a number with a statement. The day before students had taken a quiz and had predicted what their grade would be based on how well they had prepared for the quiz. For this day's Do Now assignment students had to match the numbers with the correct phrase. In other words they were trying to figure out that 3 students had correctly predicted their grades, 7 students had guessed wrong but scored higher, and 5 students had guessed wrong and scored lower.

So what are the assessment strengths here? Mrs. Kovac was training her students to analyze their preparation which in turn should help her students understand the role that preparation has in a student's success. This sort of feedback will hopefully encourage students to prepare more effectively in the future. Going back and analyzing how accurate their predictions were should help this knowledge sink in even more. It also gave Mrs. Kovac an opportunity to build them up by (enthusiastically) pointing out that they tended to underestimate themselves.

Why Did You Miss What You Missed?
When Mrs. Kovac handed back the students' quizzes she asked them to go over them and write down next to each question they missed why they missed it and what messed them up. She was not going to go over the quizzes with them that day. Instead, she told them that she first wanted to collect their feedback on why they missed what they missed. She told them that this feedback could alter how she goes over the quiz with them. She wanted it to be a learning experience rather simply listing out correct answers. When she went over the quiz with them the next day she wanted to be able to reteach/explain to them what they NEEDED to hear so they wouldn't miss the question next time around. This was a great example of a teacher collecting assessment data to guide instruction. She also told the students that she wanted them to get feedback for themselves so that they could ask appropriate questions. (By the way, this was when the one student begged to be able to correct her quiz.)

Analyzing the Competency List
Marketing classes teach based on a Marketing competency list the same way other courses might teach specific state or national standards. Mrs. Kovac had her students pull out their competency lists. The fact that they all had them and quickly pulled them out spoke volumes! Then they went through the competencies that they had recently covered and each student rated each of those competencies on a scale of 1-5 based on how well the student understood the specific competency. These students were fully involved in analyzing their own progress. Their competency list was becoming a study guide for the end of the year and a way for them to take ownership of their studies. Mrs. Kovac's students obviously did this sort of activity regularly because they were very familiar with the competency list. One of them even pointed out that she had forgotten to mention 2 of the competencies they had covered. Another kid excitedly pointed out that they were almost done with the list. When Mrs. Kovac (enthusiastically) asked, "Doesn't it feel good?" A chorus of students answered, "Yes!"

Mrs. Kovac's classroom is a good example of small ways to use AFL strategies to give students ownership of their own progress. Would those strategies work in any classroom? Yes - but they will work BEST when coupled with genuine enthusiasm.

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A Sports Analogy for Assessment

On page 96 of the book "A Repair Kit for Grading", the author (Ken O'Connor) draws a useful
analogy between performance-based assessment and a band or a sports team:

"It is critical that both teachers and students recognize when assessment is primarily for learning (formative) and when it is primarily of learning (summative). Students understand this in band and in sports, when practice is clearly identified and separate from an actual performance or game."

If we follow this analogy, then the final exam for a unit and/or course becomes the big game for
the sports team. If you are training basketball players, don't you think that the best way to test their abilities is to have them play a game? In this way the coach sets out the big game as the final exam, and in the same way all of the activities that lead up to that game are meant to help the players prepare for that game.

The diagnostic assessment is an initial activity that puts students in a simulated game to see what their strengths and weaknesses are. Once they have been identified, the formative assessments are the practice sessions that help students refine specific technical skills, build leadership skills, raise stamina and work on team building, all necessary for each player to perform at his/her best and for the team to win.

Note that in this case,

• All of the players clearly understand what is expected of them by the time the big game comes

• All of them understand what their individual and collective strengths and weaknesses are and are motivated to improve their skills in order to support the team.

• The coach wants the players to do their best and pushes the players to practice hard so they can do so.

• The team knows that the practices don't give them points in the final game, and for that reason its the game that counts and not the practices, although the more they practice the better they will play in the game. After the big game, the team evaluates its performance, draws up new strategies to improve and starts practicing again.

Designing a multi-stage, complex performance task as the final exam allows teachers to identify
all of the discrete skills students will need to perform well at the end so they can be practiced in low-stakes situations, tried out in scrimmage games and practiced again so that everybody feels ready for the big game. This movement back and forth between instruction and applying, between drilling discrete skills and performance of the whole task is what helps students learn well. It also helps them learn to learn, which is a capacity that comes in handy as the students take on further personal and academic responsibilities.

Although teachers don't give the same or similar tests more than once as coaches do, we do teach more complex skills that build on what students had to learn for the previous exam. In this way the capacities teachers aim to develop in our students by the end of the semester or year are complex and broad.

This analogy has provided me with a variety of new perspectives on assessment as well as some criteria to evaluate my own assessment strategies. I have become a better teacher by practicing this concept and I hope it gives others some valuable insight too.

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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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