I think I'm finally, after 6 years of teaching, having an "ah-ha" moment that should really be an "oh, duh" moment! In working to use AFL more and more in my daily class activities, I have really been focusing on using technology to reinforce learning.
Yesterday in one of my Algebra I Part 2 classes, I had a student say, "Oh, this is totally making sense now." He wasn't using technology at the moment, but merely working out of a textbook while at one of my station activities. I loved it! Today in my Algebra I Part 1 class, I heard a girl say, "Oh, I'm getting it." She was using an online game to review solving multi-step inequalities. We had worked the two days prior on learning this material and today was a chance for me to watch each student individually work at their own pace to reinforce what had already be taught. It wasn't for a grade, but for me to see what I needed to do on Monday before their Tuesday test.
It isn't hard to use AFL - I bet you are already using it! And let me tell you how rewarding it is to see a student have that lightbulb moment after you have taught it and they are practicing their skill in your classroom. I rarely have a student say, "Oh, I'm getting it" or "Oh, this is totally making sense now" in the midst of my typical class lecture.
Use AFL and get the chance to watch your students have those "Ah-ha" moments!!!
Kudos to Salem High School math teacher, Erin Stenger, for thinking to put a sign like this right next to her doorway where students will see it each day as they leave her class.
It has been noted before on this website that for AFL to truly have its greatest possible impact, the students need to be using assessment-elicited feedback to measure their own progress and guide their own learning. Like most things that we want students to do, though, we must train them to do it. This is especially true for AFL since most students (just like most parents and most teacher) tend to look at grades from a summative position.
If we want students to view grades as feedback that guide their learning rather than just get averaged together to determine a grade, then we must 2 things:
1. We must grade and assess in a formative manner rather than just collect a bunch of scores to average.
2. We must train our students.
This picture in Mrs. Stenger's room is a subtle but important example of this. Most importantly, it reveals the fact that AFL is a core philosophy that permeates the way Mrs. Stenger runs her classroom.
Here are some other blog posts that deal with the same idea of students knowing what they know:
- 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?
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