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.
As I have come to comprehend better what Assessment FOR Learning truly means and how its principles can be applied, I find myself regularly thinking about how I would do things differently if I were still in the classroom. After recently observing Paola Brinkley, one of our school’s Spanish teachers, I realized yet another former practice of mine that I would now change. It’s in the area of reviewing for a test or a quiz, and I think teachers of all content areas will benefit from creating their own version of Mrs. Brinkley’s practice for their classrooms.
As a teacher, my methods of reviewing for quizzes and tests were fairly typical of many classrooms. I basically did one of two things:
1. Played a basketball review game:
This game was always fun. The kids and I both enjoyed it. If a student paid careful attention to each question I asked then they would have heard almost every question on the upcoming test/quiz. While it definitely was possible for all students to get a decent review from this method, in hindsight it had some drawbacks:
a. Because I asked one student at a time a question, there was almost never 100% participation – or anything even close to that.
b. I was not able to precisely gauge who knew what or what overall problems students were having with the material. Yes, I knew that the kid who kept wanting to answer questions knew it all, and I could safely assume that certain kids knew very little. However, I would not have been able to say with certainty the areas of strengths and weaknesses that the class shared.
c. The students left the room having enjoyed class, but they didn’t necessarily leave with a greater incentive to study or with a specific plan for studying.
2. Handed out a review sheet for students to complete:
Some years I graded the review sheet. In hindsight I definitely would change that practice. It really doesn’t make sense now to me to grade a review sheet. I understand the point of view that says that the grade might be an incentive for doing the review, but grades should reflect mastery more than be used as incentives (or punishments for not doing work). If a student didn’t do the review that wouldn’t necessarily reflect on his or her level of mastery. These review sheets generally consisted of all the questions on the test. While some students definitely completed the review and thereby raised their test grade, I wonder how much of what I was doing was encouraging memorizing the answers to specific questions rather than truly mastering content. Also, this method of review didn’t let me know how my students were doing in time to help them prepare for the test/quiz since I collected the review on the day of the test/quiz. Finally, I wonder how many students viewed this as a study guide v. just another assignment that just has to be done. How many students simply copied answers from a book or notes rather than really tried to study? Or worse, how many students copied a friend’s review sheet?
While the review game and the review sheet are practices with instructional value, I believe that their effectiveness pales in comparison to what I saw Paola Brinkley do in her Spanish 2 classroom recently.
Mrs. Brinkley had a quiz coming up the next day. Her objective was to review the conjugation of certain types of verbs. Each student numbered a sheet of paper 1-25. Each student also had a small whiteboard (approx. 8” x 6”) and a dry erase marker. 25 verbs were shown 1 at a time on the overhead. The students would write their conjugation on their whiteboard and hold it up so that Mrs. Brinkley could see it. As she looked around the room she would nod to them as she saw their correct answers. Then she would go over each answer basing her explanation on the answers she had seen written on the whiteboards. Students would then write on their numbered paper the verb, whether or not they got it right, and any other information about its conjugation that they needed to remember. At the end of the class period and after having gone through all 25 verbs, Mrs. Brinkley reminded the students that their numbered sheet of paper was now their own personalized study guide for the next day’s quiz.
I’m sure you can see the simplicity in this activity, and, hopefully, you can think of some ways to replicate it in your own classroom with your own content. As you do, I think it’s important that you remember the key AFL factors present in this review:
1. 100% Engagement – The students really appeared to enjoy writing on the whiteboards. This activity lends itself to a high level of engagement which means the teacher will get maximum feedback, as opposed to the one-at-a-time feedback I received during my basketball review or the not-at-all feedback I received from my review sheets.
2. Feedback for the Teacher - AFL is a process by which a teacher gains feedback that impacts his or her instruction. By seeing all of the answers at one time from each student, Paola was able to shape her review based on their needs. For example, several times throughout the class period she reminded the students that they would lose points the next day if they did not use accent marks. She knew to remind them of this from the fact that they were not using accents on their whiteboards. She also stopped several times and went into greater depth explaining verbs with which the students seemed to have the greatest difficulty.
3. Feedback for the Students - I think the most powerful aspect of AFL is when students themselves are given feedback that they can use to guide their own personal learning. Sometimes students are intimidated by the idea of studying because in their minds it means go back over every single thing they’ve learned. This seems like too large a task to complete, so many don’t even try to start it. It also wouldn’t be a very efficient way to study. After all, why spend time studying something you have truly mastered? Each student left the class that day with a personalized study guide – something that Mrs. Brinkley wisely reminded them. Whether or not the student chooses to use the study guide is one thing, but each student received the feedback they needed to know exactly how to focus their studying. Surely this will increase the odds that students will study, and most important, it should guide learning. Mrs. Brinkley's students (as the 6th of the 6 Key AFL Ideas states) knew what they needed to know so they could know if they knew it.
This simple and easy-to-apply activity captured the essence of AFL – teachers and students basing teaching and learning on feedback that they are receiving from assessments. I wish I could go back and use a version of it in my World History classes. I would encourage you to consider how you might apply it to your content area.
This doesn't directly relate to Assessment FOR Learning, but it will be helpful to teachers trying to bring different resources into the classroom.
YouTube is full of wonderful video clips to use in a classroom. There are 2 problems with YouTube, though.
1. Some schools block it
2. Sometimes a slow network will make it difficult or impossible to watch a video
The solution is to download the videos to your computer (this can be done at home if your school blocks YouTube) and then either show them directly from your computer and/or embed them into PowerPoints. Here is the easiest way I know to do this:
1. Go to http://youtubedownload.altervista.org
2. Follow the instructions to download and install the YouTube Downloader software
3. Open up YouTube Downloader once it is installed. Check the radio button next to "Download video from YouTube". You will see a bar for "Enter Video URL".
4. Go to YouTube and find a video you want. Copy the url and paste it into the "Enter Video URL" bar on YouTube Downloader window. (On YouTube you can find the url either in the url bar at the top of your browser or in the upper right-hand corner of the website just below the information about the video.)
5. Click Ok - the video will download and will save to the place you designate
6. It will be in a format that won't embed into a PowerPoint. On YouTube Downloader, click the radio button next to "Convert video (previously downloaded) from file".
7. Now you will see a bar labeled "Select video file". Click the box to the right of the bar and choose your file from where it is saved on the desktop.
8. In the "Convert to" pull down menu, choose the type of file you want. Windows Media Video (V.7 WMV) works best for PowerPoints.
9. Click Ok.
This is a very simple process. In less than 10 minutes I downloaded, converted, and emailed 3 videos for a teacher in our school. Let me know if you have any questions about it.
A criticism of Assessment FOR Learning is that along with it comes pressure to make sure that students’ grades increase. In other words, some have been concernerd that AFL might lead to grade inflation.
I would hope that no school would ever encourage grade inflation while it encourages its teachers to try AFL techniques. I think that that the concern over grade inflation is probably first and foremost a misunderstanding about the purpose of AFL.
The primary goal of AFL is not grade inflation. I don’t know that it would ever be appropriate for educators to do things solely for the purpose of raising grades. In fact, if grade inflation was the goal then a focus on AFL wouldn’t be necessary. Many teachers already do an excellent job of grade inflation through several more traditional measures such as extra credit, dropping the lowest grade, or curving scores. These are practices that teachers have used for many years, and they all have the same outcome of inflating grades and making grades less representative of actual learning. AFL isn’t necessary for inflating grades.
The primary goal of AFL is instead LEARNING INFLATION. The entire purpose of AFL is to increase learning. When teachers assess students in an ongoing manner, use that data to guide their instructional practices, and teach students how to use their own assessment data to chart their progress and to guide their studies, then it is only natural that learning will increase.
Now let’s be honest, when learning increases grades tend to increase as well. That is, grades will increase if we are grading accurately while learning increases. This is why it is impossible to discuss assessing with AFL techniques without also discussing grading practices. While assessment is not the same as grading, and while not all assessments need to be graded, if teachers aren’t careful with their grading practices they can negate their assessment efforts. For example, if a teacher’s assessment practices cause a student to increase learning to a B level but the grading practices cause the student to earn a D then the incentive for learning will decrease.
Once the conversation moves to grading practices it is very easy for that subject to dominate the discussion, but don’t be fooled – grading is secondary to learning. As you make plans to use AFL in your classroom, focus on this simple mantra: AFL is about how you use assessments to increase learning. Whatever types of assessments you use, use them in ongoing manner, use the data you receive to guide your instruction, and train/require your students to use their own data to guide their studies.
You’ll be using AFL and learning will inflate.
I would imagine that many Physical Education teachers must feel as though much of the professional development activities and workshops in schools do not apply to them. Typically, discussions of state standards and NCLB expectations dominate these discussions. While these apply to PE, they apply in a different manner than they do in a core area classroom. And let’s face it, PE is a very different world from the typical classroom. PE teachers are dealing with a completely different environment than most other teachers. They are dealing with a different set of behavior issues, a different set of classroom expectations/procedures, and a different set of skills than other teachers are.
One reason that I have become a big fan of Assessment FOR Learning is the fact AFL principles are universal. Even though a PE classroom differs greatly from a regular classroom, AFL ideas still apply and can still help students learn in such a setting.
I have spoken with PE teachers who can see how AFL could be used in teaching and assessing certain skills in PE – such as foul shooting (I’ll share such an example in a moment). Along with AFL comes the importance of accurate grading practices – grading that reflects mastery of content and skills. However, the trend in PE these days is to move away from grading based on the mastery of skill acquisition in favor of participation and effort. Therefore, one could conclude that AFL would not be appropriate to use in the PE environment.
The trick is to separate assessment from grading. The purpose of AFL is to assess in a way that helps students learn. The purpose is not to assess to get a grade. While a grade may be an outcome, it is not the primary goal. Therefore, one can assess a student (create feedback that can be used to guide learning) and still not grade based on those assessments. Let me explain.
I regularly work out in our school’s weight room. When the football players are there lifting weights, they each carry around a piece of paper with a chart on it. They use this chart to keep track of their lifting. They each have goals that they would like to reach for various lifts. The coaches let them know how much they should be lifting each week if they are going to reach their goals by “max out” day. The players make sure that their progress is matching the path that leads to their goal.
While perhaps no one has called it this before, I think that the weight lifters are participating in an AFL activity. They are part of a “planned process in which assessment-elicited evidence of students’ status is used by… students to adjust their current learning tactics.” (James Popham) They are taking ownership of their progress. They are aware of what they need to do to achieve a goal, they are constantly assessing how they are doing, and they are adjusting their lifting patterns to make sure they reach the goal. No one is grading them based on how much they lift. However, because of the feedback they are receiving and the way they have been trained to use that feedback they are getting stronger and stronger This is an example of how AFL can be used to teach an athletic skill.
So let’s say that the skill being taught is shooting foul shots in a PE class. The students could take a pre-assessment by shooting 10 foul shots. They could then set a goal for improvement. Then the teacher could demonstrate/teach/instruct the students on the various sub-skills necessary to shoot a foul shot – proper foot placement, bending knees, holding the ball properly, where to aim, arm extension, wrist/hand motion, ball rotation, arc of the ball, and follow through. Students could learn a sub-skill, practice it, assess how well they are able to use the skill, and chart the impact that it has on their foul shooting as they repeatedly apply their new skills to the act of shooting 10 foul shots. They could work to assess/critique each other as well.
As someone who has never taught PE, I’m sure that the model I just described has some flaws. I’m sure it could be tweaked to be made more practical for a PE setting. However, it is an example of AFL. AFL isn’t always teachers using assessment data. In fact, AFL is probably at its most powerful when students are using the data themselves to guide their own learning. In a skill-based class like PE this is definitely possible.
Now, here’s the kicker: the result of the self-assessment – in other words, how well the student can shoot a foul shot when the unit is finished – does not have to have any impact whatsoever on the student’s grade. Instead, the grade the student earns could come from how diligently the student completed the self-assessment process. A daily grade could be earned based on how completely the chart was filled out each day. A final unit grade could be assigned based on the completed chart. This would be a more objective way to grade than a perceived level of participation or simply dressing out. It would be an accurate grade of effort and achievable for all students. (Of course, I realize that does not mean all students will decide to achieve a good grade.)
But again, the point is that the Assessment FOR Learning practices are there to help the student learn the skill, and the grade does not have to be based on the mastery of the skill. Assessing and grading are two very different things. Assessment in AFL is all about getting students to learn.
I plan to create a series of posts that will help teachers better understand AFL so that they can apply AFL ideas into their classrooms. One way to do this is to define what AFL isn’t.
AFL isn’t replacing quiz grades with test grades. However, replacing quiz grades with test grades could be AFL – does that make sense? Here’s what I mean:
When a good AFL idea is shared with a faculty it is very easy for people to begin to see that idea as a definition of AFL instead of one example of how AFL ideas can be applied. With my own faculty at SHS and on this site I have recently shared an excellent example of how a teacher at SHS (or as it turns out, the majority of the SHS Math Department) is letting sections of unit tests replace grades earned on previous quizzes that correspond with that section of the test. (For more on that click here.) After a meeting with our school’s AFL committee I realized that based on that post and on other discussions we have had as a faculty, it would be easy to assume that our school was expecting teachers to apply AFL in this manner. In fact, it could be easy to assume that this example was what AFL was all about.
Such an assumption would be wrong. Not all classes assess in the same manner. Therefore, if this one example was AFL then AFL could not apply to all classes. The beauty of this example is that for this teacher, or these teachers, it is a way for their assessments to be used in an AFL manner. Before going any further, let’s look at a definition for AFL:
AFL is a planned process in which assessment-elicited evidence of students’ status is used by teachers to adjust their ongoing instructional procedures or by students to adjust their current learning tactics. (James Popham)
Also, let’s remember something that has been stated repeatedly at Salem High School regarding AFL:
AFL is about how the results of the assessments will be used – not what the assessments are.
The example shared in my previous post is an example of AFL practices being put into place because it is an example of a process in which assessment-elicited evidence of students’ status is used by students to adjust their current learning tactics. The types of assessments being used – essentially traditional quizzes and tests – are nothing new or groundbreaking. What is exciting – what makes this an AFL example – is HOW these traditional assessments are being used.
Typically, when quizzes and tests are given they serve as a series of summative assessments. While in theory a student should use the results of the quizzes to study for the test – and many students have done just that – there is not a great incentive to do so. Even if the student improves on the test the quiz is still averaged into the grade. While we would like to think that the student would see the quiz as a learning experience, in many cases the quiz is viewed as simply another grade in the series of grades that determines the final average.
However, when the math teachers at SHS explain to their students that the test will be an opportunity to not only show that they have learned but also to change a previous low grade, the incentive to study for the test has been increased. As a parent I saw this occur this very morning when my daughter, who normally does not like to go into a classroom before school for extra help, went to her math teacher on her own volition this morning to get help. Kaitlin knows that she has an opportunity to raise her grade and is, therefore, working harder than normal. And with hard work comes learning.
Don’t be confused about the grade part either – AFL isn’t about making sure that a student receives a high grade. AFL is about making sure that a student learns. Of course, a higher grade will probably come as a result (unless the teacher’s grading practices are flawed), but the grade is secondary to learning. The beauty of the way the SHS math teachers are operating is that they are putting assessment data into the hands of students and then providing them with an incentive to use that data to change their learning tactics. That is why this is an AFL technique – because assessment is being used to encourage learning instead of being used primarily to create a grade.
Does that mean that all teachers must use this same strategy in order to be using AFL ideas? Of course not. What teachers need to do is to look at the assessments they are currently using and determine how the data that comes from them can be used by students or teachers (and it’s most powerful when it’s used by students) to enhance learning.
In future posts I will share some more ideas of how this can be done. But for now, remember: You don’t have to come up with new assessments to use AFL. Instead, you need to make sure that your assessments are used more to guide learning than to simply create a grade.
I’d like to share a recent AFL experience from three different perspectives – that of a school administrator, that of a parent, and that of a student.
My daughter is a freshman taking Algebra 2. While she typically does very well in math, she has a tendency to start slowly. She is often somewhat overwhelmed by new concepts. It takes her a little bit to gain confidence in a new math class.
Kaitlin received a C on her first Algebra 2 quiz of the school year and after a week or so of school, had a C for the class. (The teacher assigns many “practice” assignments but assigns very small point values to these assignments. Essentially quiz and test grades determine the grade for the marking period.) Kaitlin earned a B on her second Algebra 2 quiz. This raised her grade to a B for the class.
Kaitlin is typically a straight A student. While we as a family try to pay more attention to learning than we do grades, I couldn’t help but wonder what it would take for Kaitlin to raise her grade to an A. After she received her mid-term which showed the 2nd quiz grade and the B average, I asked her what her plan was to get an A. I loved what I heard next.
Kaitlin replied that she wasn’t worried about her grade. Her teacher had explained to her that there would soon be a test. The test would be divided into sections with each section representing a previous quiz. If Kaitlin did better on a particular section than she had done on the corresponding quiz, then the grade on the test section would replace the grade from the quiz.
Here is how I viewed this situation as an administrator:
I was really proud of Kaitlin’s teacher and of the fact that members of our staff are being so creative in the way that they assess and grade. Her teacher was using a classic style of assessing – small practice assignments,(homework and classwork), quizzes, and then a test. This is a tried and true method of teaching math. The feedback from the assessments help Kaitlin guide her studying and will no doubt help her to learn the content by test time. What is really exciting to me as an administrator is the way the teacher is grading in a non-traditional manner to ensure that the ultimate grade truly represents learning. Typically a teacher would average together all the assignments. Or perhaps the quizzes together would count a certain percentage of the overall grade with the tests counting another percentage and the practice assignments combined for the remainder. The problem with this traditional grading is that it doesn’t reflect learning progress. For example, if Kaitlin manages to get a 100% on the test that covers the 2 quizzes she has already taken, then how valid will those quiz grades be? The 100% will be a better indicator of her learning. Her teacher is doing an excellent job of combining AFL strategies with mastery grading techniques. As an administrator, I am proud to be able to tell parents and students that our teachers are making every effort to encourage learning and to grade accurately.
Here is how I viewed this situation as a parent:
As a parent, I was relieved to find out that my daughter’s teacher was using the grading techniques described above. It’s easy to put too much emphasis on grades; however, as a parent I want my daughter to do the best she can, to want to work hard, and to earn the grades that will open up doors of opportunity. As a parent, I also desire for my children to have great teachers who inspire, motivate, and push while being fair and student-centered. It’s not that I want someone to give Kaitlin an A. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. I want a teacher who will challenge her with rigor and get her to learn content that she might think above her own head. But once Kaitlin meets that level of rigor and learns that content, I want her to have a grade that reflects that accomplishment. I know that while learning the content might be the most important thing, the grade on the transcript will open and close doors down the road. So when I realized that my daughter’s teacher was assessing and grading in a manner that would encourage my daughter to keep working hard to get the grade she wanted, I was relieved and excited.
Here is how I watched my daughter view this situation as a student:
Kaitlin wasn’t really worried about the grade in the class. It’s not that she didn’t care about the grade – she just wasn’t worried. The reason she wasn’t worried was that she could tell that her teacher was getting her to learn. She wasn't stressed over the grades she had earned on the quizzes because she understood that they were learning opportunities. She understood that they were points along the journey rather than the destination. She felt challenged yet encouraged by the way her teacher was assessing and grading her. To Kaitlin, her teacher’s methods seemed fair, and they inspired her to want to keep working and to learn.
Thanks, Mrs. Denton.