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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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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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