Over the past several school years as our school and division have focused on Assessment FOR Learning as a primary professional development topic, I have consistently noticed the following:
When I witness or hear about an excellent and highly effective teaching practice, essential components of Assessment FOR Learning are present.
I know that might sound like too absolute a claim to be true, and perhaps I've witnessed some exceptions that I am currently forgetting, but it really seems to be the case. At least some amount of what I have dubbed "The Heart of AFL" - frequent assessments, teachers using feedback to guide instruction, students using feedback to guide learning, and grading systems that allow practice to count as practice - seems to show up in every excellent teaching practice I see.
Recently I was in a meeting in which a group of teachers and a counselor were talking about a student's progress with that student's parent. The teachers were explaining to the parent how their classes worked and what the student could do to be successful. Anika Armistead, a Science teacher at Salem High School, explained to the parent that at the beginning of each unit she gives her students a test review. Throughout the course of the unit, she has students assess their progress. At least theoretically, by the time the test finally rolls around the students should have a personalized study guide as a result of the feedback they have given themselves.
Here's an example of the type of study guide Mrs. Armistead gives her students:
You probably noticed that this test review looks pretty much like a typical test review that could be or has been used in classrooms for years. If you noticed this, you are exactly right. You might remember from earlier discussionson this Ning that AFL-ishness doesn't depend on what type of assignment you give. AFL-ishness instead depends on how you use the assignments you give. This is a perfect example of how something as ordinary as a test review can be used in an AFL-ish manner. And when essential AFL components are present - in this case, students using feedback to guide their learning and a grading system that allows practice to be used as practice - excellent teaching takes place.
Read below for Mrs. Armistead's personal account of how and why she uses test reviews in this manner:
A few years ago, I decided to create review sheets for each test. I taught the unit, then a day or two before the test, I handed out the review sheet for the students to complete, check their answers, and ask for clarification on topics they weren't sure about. Some students caught on that the review sheets could really help them, but others didn't and still scored poorly.
Last year while I was out on leave, I got to thinking about how I could make these review sheets more useful for my students. My review sheets were designed to show my students exactly what I expected them to know for the final assessment. So I decided that I shouldn't wait until test time to let them know my expectations. This year, I'm giving each student a copy of the review sheet at the start of the chapter.
I remind my students that the review sheet will not be collected, nor will it be graded. I have heard this comment several times, "Then why should I do it?" I've found that students often decide not to complete an assignment unless there's a grade attached to it. I tell my students that the review sheet is their time to practice and that they will get the chance to prove what they know on the test that will be graded. I know that some students won't complete the review sheet, but I'm not going to change something good for the few who decide not to take advantage of the chance to tailor their studying.
When I give out the review sheet, I remind my students to use this to their advantage. I recommend reading over the questions to see what the students already know. As we progress through the unit, I periodically ask the students to pull out the review sheet. I ask that students complete a section in class (like a chart or diagram) as a way to review something covered the day before, or I write on the board the numbers to the questions the students should be able to answer at that point in the unit.
I tell them to try to answer the questions without using any notes or outside help the first go round. I tell them that if they can easily answer a question, then don't spend too much time studying something they already know. I also tell them that if they don't know the answer to a question, then they need to circle or star that question as one that needs more of their attention.
By using this process, I want my students to see that by tailoring the review sheet to their needs that they will find how to best use their time. Overall, they need to focus on the stuff they don't know (the circled or starred items) and just do a quick review of the material that they already know.
Students are welcome to ask questions about the review sheet at any time. For these questions, I try to guide the students to the correct answer without giving them the answer directly. As we near the end of the unit, I let the students know that they should have the review sheet completed by a particular date, usually a day or two before the test. At that time, I go over the answers with the class to make sure everyone has the correct answers to study. I remind them again to focus on any questions they got wrong or weren't sure about.
On the day we go over the answers, I try to walk around to see who has completed the review sheet and who hasn't. This gives me an opportunity to target those students who didn't use the review sheet as intended. If a student doesn't do well on the test, I suggest they try completing the review sheet as we work through the next unit and not wait until the end to just copy down answers.