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 (firstname.lastname@example.org). 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.
Over the past several years, I have had the opportunity to talk with educators from schools across the country about the philosophy of AFL. In doing so I have noticed several common reactions from educators to the idea of incorporating AFL-based strategies into their classrooms. One of those common reactions is the one that SOME (not all) teachers of higher-level students and more rigorous courses OFTEN (not always) have. That reaction goes something like this:
I see how AFL could work and don't necessarily disagree with it as a philosophy; however, I don't think it really applies to me or my classroom since I am teaching the most advanced students in college-level courses. AFL strategies might make earning high grades in my classes too easy. In a class like mine I need to make sure that a lot is required of my students, and I'm afraid that AFL will take too much responsibility away from them. I'm teaching the way college professors teach, which is something these students need to experience prior to college. Besides, the methods I use worked for me when I was a student, and most of my students get pretty good grades in my class - so why make changes.
If you are a teacher of higher-level courses and advanced students whose view toward AFL is at least somewhat consistent to the one I describe above, I would invite you to take another look at AFL and to reconsider your reasons for not adopting more AFL-based strategies in your classroom. (That is, IF you are someone who has been reluctant to adopt AFL-based strategies) In the following paragraphs I will examine each of the points of view described above and attempt to show why AFL does apply to higher-level courses.
1. I see how AFL could work and don't necessarily disagree with it as a philosophy; however, I don't think it really applies to me or my classroom since I am teaching the most advanced students in college-level courses.
AFL is definitely a philosophy as opposed to a specific set of practices. It is a teaching philosophy based on the reality of how people learn. People need feedback and opportunities to learn from mistakes. This applies to all students - from our weakest and most unmotivated to our strongest and most talented. Applying an AFL philosophy to a classroom simply means assessing more frequently (not necessarily testing), providing regular feedback,and grading in a manner that allows students to learn from mistakes and, therefore, master content better. (see The Heart of AFL) With that being the case, how would AFL's usefulness change based on the level of rigor associated with the course? Do smarter kids not need feedback? Do highly motivated students not learn better when they receive regular feedback? Do college-bound students not need opportunities to learn from mistakes? Of course not. AFL-based strategies will help ALL students learn and should, therefore, be used in classrooms of ALL levels.
2. AFL strategies might make earning high grades in my classes too easy.
I have actually heard this exact statement made, and honestly, it baffles me. While I believe it to be imperative that teachers require students to work hard, I also believe that our primary job is to make difficult content relatively easy to learn. Both situations can coexist - hard work and content made easy to understand. That's our purpose - to take content and skills that students cannot learn on their own and make them learn-able. We are called to communicate in a manner that enables young people to do more than they ever thought possible and more than they could ever do on their own. We make the hard, easy. Along the way, students will be asked to work very hard, but our goal is to not make the content hard to learn - it's already hard to learn. Our goal is to make it easy to understand.
The rigor of a course should come from the inherent rigor of the content and NOT from the way we teach the course. I repeat, the rigor of a course should come from the inherent rigor of the content and NOT from the way we teach the course.
Therefore, if the grade we assign a student TRULY reflects learning and mastery, then making a good grade really shouldn't be all that difficult. Some students may CHOOSE to not earn a good grade, but that should be their choice not a result of our teaching. And while some students may occasionally be in a class that's over their head, that is the exception not the rule. Therefore, if applying AFL strategies to a classroom leads to a increase in learning which in turn leads to an increase in the level of grades earned, why is that a problem? (For more, see an earlier post entitled Does AFL lead to grade inflation?)
3. In a class like mine I need to make sure that a lot is required of my students, and I'm afraid that AFL will take too much responsibility away from them.
Thinking along these lines represents a fundamental misunderstanding of AFL. In discussions related to AFL it is common to talk about how AFL-based strategies will result in students learning more. To me, this should excite teachers since our job is to find strategies to help students learn. However, for some educators, this idea gets turned into, "Since students are not doing what it takes to learn, I now need to do these new and additional things for them." There is a fundamental flaw with thinking that way: It presumes that the way you have been teaching is perfect, and that any problems that exist are student-centered.
There is no doubt whatsoever that students and their choices play a huge role - perhaps the major role - in student learning. Absolutely no doubt at all. However, there is also no doubt whatsoever that teacher choices play a huge role - perhaps the major role - in student learning, as well. (I realize there cannot be 2 majority roles, thus the word "perhaps".) Just as doctors must continually hone their skills and gain new ones to meet the medical needs of their patients, teachers should seek continuous improvement to meet their students' needs. So if your students aren't doing all that they should, but you could change something that you're doing that would result in increased learning, why would you not do so? Why would a teacher stubbornly cling to, "I'm not going to do that, because students aren't doing their part"? Our goal is to get all students to learn, not just the ones who do all that they should.
The other fundamental flaw with that line of thinking is that is presumes incorrectly that somehow AFL-based strategies require less of students. I think what happens is that some people confuse talk of wanting to help students do better with making school too easy or not rigorous enough. When it comes to AFL, that is an erroneous conclusion. In fact, the exact opposite is true. In a classroom where the teacher is using sound AFL-based strategies, the students are being trained to take ownership of and responsibility for their own progress. By its very nature, AFL should place more responsibility on students. (For more on that topic, read It's About Students Taking Ownership of Learning and/or Which Parent Do You Most Want to Please?)
4. I'm teaching the way college professors teach, which is something these students need to experience prior to college.
I'm going to be brutally honest here even though it might offend some of the college professors who read this blog. While college professors are true experts in their field, and while many of them are skilled lecturers, and while I"m sure most are passionate about educating, my opinion is that the worst TEACHING in all of the educational world occurs in college classrooms. The typical college classroom - as I have experienced it now at 3 universities - consists of the professor lecturing and the students taking notes. Then, 2 or 3 times per semester, a test/exam is given on the notes. While many of us have learned a lot content in this format, I would contend that our level of learning is not a result of how well we have been taught as much as a result of how much we have chosen to learn on our own.
Think about it for a moment. If a teacher provides students with notes on a topic, has them read about it in a book, DOESN'T give them opportunities to practice the content and learn from their mistakes, and then tests them, what is that teacher actually assessing? I believe that the teacher is assessing how well students can learn on their own from the content provided them. If a student gets an A in that class is it a result of wonderful teaching? No - it's a result of the student's wonderful studying. This must be true because this sort of teacher strongly defends the opposite situation - when a student fails such a class few teachers would say that it was a result of terrible teaching but rather terrible study habits. You can't have one without the other.
So here's where that leads us: College-style teaching is not - in general - the best teaching. To teach in that style - even remotely like that style - is to adopt poor teaching strategies. We should find it ludicrous to even consider doing anything less than the best job possible for our students. Why would we let bad teaching at the next level cause us to be less than stellar at our current level? HOWEVER, AFL STRATEGIES COULD PREPARE STUDENTS FOR DEALING WITH POOR TEACHING. If we train our students to seek and use feedback to guide their own learning - in other words, to take control of their education - then they will be more likely to succeed in any type of future classroom situation. AFL-based strategies are the very skills that our college-bound students need us to teach them.
5. Besides, the methods I use worked for me when I was a student, and most of my students get pretty good grades in my class - so why make changes.
The fact that the way you teach is the way you liked being taught is in no way an indication that the way you are teaching is the best way to teach - unless, of course, everyone is just like you! This would be a terrible reason to not try AFL-based strategies. So would the fact that most of your students are finding success. In every high school there are some students who are easier to teach than others. They are the students who behave, have good attitudes, do what is asked of them, and want to be successful. Let's face it, those students tend to be found in our higher-level more rigorous classes. Please do not hear me wrong - I fully understand that teaching these students - any students - is not without its challenges, but the truth of the matter is that strong students can really make a teacher look good. In my lifetime I have run into teachers whose teaching strategies work in their classrooms more because of WHO they are teaching than because of HOW they are teaching. Bottom line, we must never allow ourselves to grow complacent with our professional growth. So having success teaching strong students should never be a reason to not explore new ideas and strategies.
My main point is this: AFL is a philosophy that, when used properly, improves learning. Since ALL teachers of ALL students should want to improve learning, there really is NO teacher who could not benefit from adding a little AFL to the classroom.
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.
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.
- 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.
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?
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.
After studying Assessment FOR Learning pretty intensely for the past few school years, I am now beginning to think that we might do ourselves a favor if we would change some of our terminology. Specifically, I think it's time to stop using the words "grading" or "grade" as often as we do and replace them - at times - with "scoring" or "score".
You don't have to go very far down the AFL road to realize that traditional grading practices often get in the way of our attempts to use AFL strategies. Traditional grade books and grading strategies typically average together all of a student's grades for the grading period to determine a final grade. Therefore, practice assignments such as homework and classwork will have an impact on the student's grade. Since the concept of assigning lots of practice so that students and teachers can receive the feedback necessary to increase learning is central to AFL (see Heart of AFL), averaging practice grades into a student's overall grade becomes obviously problematic. What if the additional practice helps a student learn but also lowers the student's grade? The natural reaction to this problem is for teachers to feel that they should not grade practice assignments. For more on this topic see:
- I Want to Be the Starting Tailback - a football analogy about grading practicing interfering with assessment
- Why is Allen Iverson on Assessment FOR Learning? - An explanation of the "Practice" video
- Of batting averages, grading, and MVP seasons... - Are you ruled by an inaccurate grade book average?
So the philosophy of AFL naturally leads to teachers feeling as though they should not grade practice assignments. This is where Newton's third law of motion comes into play: "To every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction." When students realize that some things are graded and some things are not, they react by asking before most assignments, "Is this going to be graded?" Implied in their question is the idea that if the answer is "Yes" then they will work harder than if the answer is "No". As a result, teachers are reluctant to not grade assignments - even if they agree with the philosophy of practice assignments not lowering a grade - for fear that students won't work hard and, therefore, won't learn as much.
So we're left with a quandary. We don't want to let practice impact the student's final grade but we want students to work on each assignment as though their final grade depended on it. Part of this quandary is of our own making. As explored previously in What we WANT students to do v. What we TRAIN students to do, we wish that students worked for the love of learning but we then use points and grades as a Sea World trainer uses a fish. It's difficult to argue that students should not be motivated by grades when we, in turn, use grades as motivators. We have to find a new way. Perhaps our new AFL philosophy requires some new terminology.
What would happen if we started "scoring" all assignments and "grading" only a few? The term "grading" implies the following:
- The teacher will assess how well the student did on the assignment.
- The student will receive feedback on well they have mastered the content.
- The grade will go into the grade book to be used to help determine the student's final grade.
"Scoring" could be the new tool needed to help us out of our quandary. The difference between scoring and grading is in implication #3 from the list above. Both scoring and grading provide the teacher with feedback and both provide the student with feedback. However, a score on an assignment may or may not be used by the teacher to determine the final grade. Here's how I envision scoring working in a typical AFL classroom:
- The teacher assigns practice everyday.
- The teacher provides feedback on all practice. While this feedback is often provided very informally, the majority of feedback given formally is in the form of a score.
- The score looks very similar to a grade.
- The score goes into the grade book.
- The students understand up front that the teacher will be looking over all of a student's scores - and grades - to determine what the appropriate final grade is for the student. While graded assignments are the few that will definitely count toward the final grade, they will be much fewer in number than the scored assignments. Rather than being tied down to averaging all graded assignments, the teacher who uses scoring will now be able to study the evidence and arrive at the most appropriate final grade.
The point here is that every score counts toward helping the teacher determine a grade. When students ask, "Is this graded," what they really means is, "Does this count?" With scoring, the answer to that question is:
"Yes, it counts. Everything counts. As the teacher, I will be analyzing ALL the evidence - just like a good detective - before arriving at a conclusion (your grade). How it counts could be different for each of you, depending on how you perform, but ALL assignments count."
Scoring satisfies our desire to be AFL-ish:
- teachers receive feedback
- students receive feedback
- practice doesn't have to lower - or overly inflate - the final grade
At the same time, scoring doesn't entice students to fall into the trap of only working "when it counts."
What do you think?
- Homework would still be given but would either not count for points or all homework assignments would add up to one homework grade of approximately 30 points. Another idea I have contemplated would be that at the end of the grading period students with all homework completed would get a reward, perhaps a pizza party, while students with missing assignments would spend that time completing their work.
- Quizzes would still be given almost daily but would now only count 10 or 15 points each. In addition, if a student's test grade was higher than the quizzes that led up to it I would excuse the quiz grades for that student.
- Tests would count more. In the class I taught the tests were used as the ultimate gauge of mastery learning. The tests would continue to build on themselves but would probably start somewhere around 300 points and build up to around 800 points.
- To build on the point I made above, the quizzes would be excused if the student's test grade was higher. The quizzes would be considered practice grades. Students would be trained to not fret about quizzes but to instead use them as ways to gauge their learning. I might even borrow Beth Moody's GPS idea occasionally and allow students to retake an occasional quiz; however, this would probably not be the case for most quizzes since whenever possible I would be repeating quizzes anyway.
- The goal of quizzes would be to practice for the test. In the past I viewed the quizzes more as grades unto themselves. The problem with this, though, was that if I had four 30 pt quizzes before a 100 pt test, then the quizzes added up to more than the test. Adding in the four or five 10 point homework assignments further got in the way. Yes, they were assessments that helped the students learn, but they also had an inappropriate impact on the grade. They could help the student master the content as evidenced by the high test score while simultaneously lowering the student's grade.
- If I was in the classroom today I would add an entire new element of students assessing themselves. I would want students to take control of their own learning. and to know what they do and don't know. I would then want them to use that knowledge to guide their own studies.
- One thing I would do would be to make sure that everyday (if possible) the students and I would both receive feedback. As I prepared my lessons I would ask myself the questions posed in this earlier post.
- When I reviewed with students for tests I would change my method and adopt a strategy similar to this one used by Paola Brinkley and many other teachers in our building. (I would probably find a way to turn it into a game since I love playing games in class.)
- At the beginning of each unit/topic I would give students a rubric like the one in this post. At some point during most class periods I would have the students use the rubric to assess themselves and see how well they are mastering content. They would then use the rubric as a study guide as described in the post.
- I would also have students analyze their grades regularly so that they would know how well they needed to do on a test to reach their grade goal. (Implied in this is the fact that I first would have students regularly set goals.) I would use a strategy similar to this one used by Lewis Armistead.
Salem High School teachers on this Ning know the answer to that. When our school first started taking a serious look at AFL, we realized right away that how you chose to grade assessments could negate the learning that they generated. In other words, if you use AFL strategies well they will lead to an increase in learning. Students and teachers will be using feedback to guide learning and instruction. However, if we want the student's grade to reflect the learning that occurred, we must be very careful and deliberate about how we grade (or don't grade) the assessments we give. Allen Iverson - believe it or not - has something to say about that. Watch the video and then I'll explain.
It's been awhile since I've seen that video. Could someone refresh my memory about what he was "talkin' 'bout"? Oh, that's right - PRACTICE!
First of all, my posting this video is not in ANY WAY making a point about the need to practice when you're on a team. I'm not AT ALL an Iverson fan. It's just posted because it gives us an image to which we can relate - We're Talkin' 'Bout Practice!
If any members of this Ning are going to be attending the Virginia Association of Secondary School Principals annual conference this week in Williamsburg, I would invite you to attend my presentation on The Heart of AFL. It will be on Tuesday, June 28 from 1:30-2:30 and will repeat from 2:45-3:45. Here is a link to the handout for that presentation.
Hope to see some of you there!
- If everyday the students left class knowing what they know and being aware of what they have not yet mastered - this happens because of specific classroom assessment activities led by the teacher - then students will perform better on the summative assessment. Have you ever experienced a situation as a student where you thought you knew what was going on until you took the test? You studied, and you thought you understood the content. Then you took the test and realized you didn't know it at all. This is all too common - but it shouldn't be. If this is happening to students in your class then you need to apply more AFL strategies. This is a clear sign that you need to provide activities that require your students to assess themselves throughout the learning process so that they are acutely aware of how well they're doing and what they need to do to prepare for the summative test.
- If students were quizzed/tested/assessed repeatedly leading up to the summative assessment, then the summative assessment would not catch them by surprise. Do you ever hear your students complain that they understood the content but were surprised by the types of questions on the summative test? Unfortunately, this is a common occurrence as well. It's a clear sign that a teacher has not employed an AFL philosophy. AFL is about using assessment FOR learning. Teaching and then giving a summative assessment only is AFG - Assessment FOR Grading. It's using assessment to find out how much people know. While this has to happen eventually - there is nothing wrong with a summative assessment - it does little to help the learning process. If students are assessed regularly - DAILY - then the feedback from the assessments will actually help them learn - thus the name, Assessment FOR Learning.
- But what about students who still refuse to work? They could still come into class completely unprepared and fail the assessment? Of course. But they are also the outliers. Let's focus on the majority of students - the ones who do what we ask. Let's not lose a good strategy just because a few students continue to make bad decisions. HOWEVER, I would contend that those poor decision-making students would learn more if they were assessed daily and provided with opportunities to assess themselves - even if they didn't work hard outside of class.
- But what about rigor? Shouldn't a rigorous class by its very nature lead to a bell curve of sorts? The rigor in a class should not be demonstrated by the student grades that result. The rigor of the class is inherent in the difficulty of the content. However, assuming that the students who are in the class have been properly prepared and have academic strengths on par for the class, then there is no reason that students shouldn't enjoy great success in a rigorous course. Our job as teachers is to get students to learn. That is no less true in a rigorous class than it is in a "general level" course. Unfortunately, it is common for teachers in rigorous classes to feel that the rigor of the course justifies the lack of success of some students. Again - grades aren't the goal. Learning is. But if AFL strategies can lead to students in rigorous courses getting higher grades that are reflective of increased learning, then how could we not employ those strategies?
The Salem Spartans Football Team has enjoyed great success for many years. People who watch Salem play often comment about how consistently excellent the Spartans are. Year after year they win games, often beating teams that appear to have much more talent. It’s easy to say that coaching is the reason (in fact, coaching is the only logical reason for the year-after-year success), but what does Salem’s coaching staff do that makes the difference? I think a few quotes from recent news articles will shed some light on this.
This quote was in the Roanoke Times and World News on September 12, 2009, after Salem defeated William Byrd:
"I think we're a successful team because we study film a lot and we know when they're running certain plays," [Seth] Fisher said. "We set up a blitz when they were running the quick pitch. I knew it was coming and expected to get the ball. I went for the ball instead of the tackle."
Notice what this player realized. He realized that by studying he could learn. He realized that by mastering the basics of content he could then apply his knowledge to new situations and make correct decisions. This doesn’t happen by studying just a little, and young people don't usually come to realizations like this accidentally. Obviously the coaches gave a lot of feedback and opportunity for practice. By doing so they made the complicated easy. How hard is to predict what someone else will do? Not that hard once you have studied their tendencies and practiced how to react to them.
This quote ran in the same article about the same game:
Salem, stifled on the ground last week in a 35-0 win at Lord Botetourt, got its running game off the ground. Coles scored on runs of 33 and 9 yards in the first half, and Daniel Dyer added a clinching 16-yarder with 11:13 to play. "We got together as a team this week," offensive lineman Kyle Wilson said. "We were more serious ... all of us."
These players (actually, these students) learned that if you get serious and work hard you can improve. First they needed to realize that they had a need to improve. The Salem coaches helped them understand that despite a 35-0 win the week before, these players had a lot of work ahead of them. They gave the players feedback and guided the players’ practice experience. The result was not only another win, but more importantly, the players believe even more in the coaching staff and understand that the feedback they receive from the coaches will help them succeed. They would not have figured this out on their own or solved the problem on their own. They needed the coaching staff to devote practice time to improving from last week.
After Salem beat Cave Spring, the following appeared in the Roanoke Times on October 11, 2009:
Salem defensive back Hunter Thompson intercepted a pass from Cave Spring's Josh Woodrum on the Knights' first play from scrimmage and returned it 44 yards to the 2-yard line. "We went over that route in practice the entire week," Thompson said. "He looked at the guy the entire time. I just ran to it and picked it off."
Similar to the quote from Fisher, Thompson discusses the importance of practice. You can just picture the coaches going over and over the Knights’ pass plays. I’m sure that Thompson didn’t get it right every time. However, the coaches’ gave feedback and taught him and the other players exactly what they needed to know. Come game time, Hunter was able to apply his knowledge to a new situation. The coaches again made the complex become simple.
This quote was in the same article:
"Every time I see one-on-one my eyes light up real big," McGarrell said. "I'm thinking touchdown every time." "Every time we read single coverage, we're on the same page every time," Barnette said.
Again, the complex becomes simple. The players study the opponent. They practice. They mess up. They receive feedback. They practice again. The work is hard. The reward is great.
So what would it look like if AFL strategies weren’t employed by coaches? Frankly it would be ridiculous to even imagine. Can you picture a team where the coach doesn’t give feedback? A team that doesn’t work toward a specific goal of beating the opponent? A coach that doesn’t have kids go over and over things until they get it right?
I doubt you will ever hear a coach say:
AFL is inherent within coaching. Players constantly receive feedback. Repetition is the norm. Coaches study film, analyze practice, and watch players – also known as assessment – so that the coaches can know what they need to do better and emphasize more so that the team can reach its potential.
AFL strategies – repetition, lots of practice AND feedback, teachers USING feedback to guide instruction, and students USING feedback to guide learning – should be just as common in the classroom as they are on the field or court.
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