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AFL and Learning to Drive

Have you ever watched a teenager prepare for the DMV Learner's Permit test? If you have, then you'll know what I mean when I say that it is an excellent example of Assessment FOR Learning.

(As an aside, I'm having a hard time coming to grips with the fact that my oldest child is now learning to drive a car. Kaitlin is everything I could ask for in a daughter with one exception - she has moved beyond the age of 8!)

The Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles has what amounts to an online textbook. They also have online practice tests. Kaitlin began by studying the materials online and then quickly moved to the online practice tests. As soon as she finished each practice test she was immediately given her score. In the week leading up to her DMV visit, she must have taken 100 practice tests - each one slightly different than the one before. The big day finally arrived and her mother took her to the DMV where she passed her actual Learner's Permit test with a score of 100%. On the one hand I was proud of her, but on the other hand I was wishing she had failed so that I would have had a good excuse to not let her drive!

I hope that all readers of this are familiar enough with AFL to see right away the "AFL-ishness" of this example. I'll go ahead, though and highlight a few key points:

1. After each assessment (the online practice tests) Kaitlin received immediate descriptive feedback. This descriptive feedback from the teacher (the website in this case) was given for the purpose of helping her learn for the next attempt rather than simply describe what her grade was.

2. Kaitlin used the assessment-elicited feedback to alter/guide her learning. Over time (remember she took about 100 tests) she began to realize her strengths and weaknesses. This enabled her to study the online material more purposefully and, therefore, to learn better.

3. The more she was tested, the more she learned. This relates back to a recent post on this site called Test 'em more. That blog post referenced a study that was detailed in the NY Times. That study found that the act of taking a test - of being assessed - actually led to more learning. Therefore, many assessments/tests are better than fewer.

4. Finally, the end result, the grade that comes from the eventual summative assessment (the one taken at the DMV) truly reflected Kaitlin's level of mastery. The practice was not counted against her. The practice was important. In fact, it was essential. But in the end, it was just practice. Learning was what mattered most. Kaitlin passed with a 100%.

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Do they know if they know?

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what can you do to give your students more descriptive feedback so that they can better answer the question?
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An Assessment Becomes a Learning Tool

Today I had the privilege of observing a Salem High School Algebra 1 Part 1 class being taught by Jennifer Shannon. I watched a teacher very intentionally make sure that her classroom assessment - in this case the test she had given the previous day - was used as a LEARNING TOOL instead of simply a GRADING TOOL.

Essentially Mrs. Shannon allowed her students to make corrections to their tests and earn partial credit as a result. This practice is fairly common. However, Mrs. Shannon added a few wrinkles to this common practice to ensure that students were doing more than just going through the motions of making corrections and instead were actually learning content not previously mastered.

To give some context, this was a 9th grade Algebra 1 Part 1 class taught in a traditional 50 minute class period. Algebra 1 Part 1 students at SHS - there are only about 30 - are the students who struggle the most with learning math concepts.

At the start of class Mrs. Shannon divided her 14 her students into groups. She explained to them that the groups were based on the types of errors made on the test given the previous day. So for example, one of the groups consisted of students who had had difficulty on the section of the test that dealt with properties. Another group consisted of students who had had trouble simplifying radicals. Another group of students all had what Mrs. Shannon termed as general problems. A fourth group had done quite well on the test.

Mrs. Shannon had one of the groups move to a separate area of the room and work with her student teacher. Another group moved to another area of the room and worked with the special education professional that cooperatively teaches with her. Mrs. Shannon worked with the remaining two groups, which included the one that had done well on the test.

In their groups, students were to rework the problems they had missed and ask for help as it was needed. They were allowed to use their notes to help them.

The students who only had a few corrections to make were given laptops. When they finished their few corrections they were to ogin to Quia and begin working on an enrichment activity that would prepare them for the next unit of study.

So what was especially AFL-ish about this that made it stand out? Good question. Here are some answers:
  1. Typically teachers will tell students that they can take their test home and do corrections on their own. Some will. Some won't. Some will do it just to get back points but won't actually learn the content better. Some might even cheat to get the right answers. Mrs. Shannon made sure that this assessment was a learning tool by having the corrections be a classroom activity guided by teachers.
  2. Mrs. Shannon clearly used assessment-elicited evidence to design her lesson. It was from the test results the day before that she was able to group her students so that they would receive the help and instruction that they need in order to learn.
  3. The entire activity occurred because Mrs. Shannon realized from the test that the students as a whole had not mastered the content. This test gave her the feedback she needed to know that if her goal was to increase learning she was going to need to find a way to reteach some of the material. The beauty of this activity was that it then allowed her to reteach to each student only what he or she needed.
  4. The idea of earning back points was not the major focus of this activity. The major focus was learning the material. In fact, because Mrs. Shannon made this a class activity I would bet that the outcome would have been almost identical if students hadn't been able to get points. In other words, this was about learning. The test the day before was used by Mrs. Shannon NOT as a way to determine the students' grades but rather as a way to determine their learning so that she could adjust her instruction with the ultimate goal of having her students learn.
In the hands of a skilled practitioner even a traditional and a routine activity like making test corrections can become a powerful AFL learning moment.
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The Assessment Network has grown to the point where that it now contains many different examples of how the power of assessment can be maximized in the classroom. These ideas are scattered throughout the site. To make this site easier to navigate, this one blog will include links to all of the other classroom AFL examples. It's sort of like an AFL Wal-Mart - everything you need in one blog!


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

Physical Education
General Examples
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