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.Read more…
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?
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.