One of exciting things I've come to realize about AFL is that so many teachers are already practicing it in their classrooms. To become a more "AFL-ish" teacher usually doesn't require making major changes in practices. Instead it's usually a matter of focusing one's intent and purpose. When this happens, it seems that what we find is that the best classroom practices tend to be AFL in nature. When one's mind is focused on AFL purposes, it becomes much more likely that these best practices will become more frequent and pervasive.
Here's a simple activity that Mrs. Kelley, my daughter's 3rd grade teacher at South Salem School, does with her students. Everyday they review key Social Studies facts and key Science facts. Take a look at the worksheets pictured below (you can enlarge them by clicking on them) and then read on for some AFL analysis of this activity and the lesson that secondary teachers can take from it.
At first glance, there is really nothing extraordinary about this activity. The teacher teaches the content and then has her students review it daily. This isn't extraordinary because it is - and should be - a very ordinary activity. Everyday students should be reviewing content.
This is a perfect example of the fact that our best activities are usually AFL in nature. Rather than simply teach and then assess at the end (summative assessment), Mrs. Kelley is choosing to assess daily (formative assessment). If she uses this activity properly, 2 important AFL objectives will be accomplished:
- She will daily receive feedback on how well her students are mastering content, and
- Students will daily assess their own progress.
This type of activity needs to occur at all levels of education. I would contend that not a single class period should go by in which ALL students don't assess their understanding and provide feedback to the teacher. It's not enough for a teacher to rely solely on the feedback from the handful of students who answer questions in class. A systematic approach is necessary to make sure that ALL students are assessing their progress. In fact, I would strongly encourage all teachers at all levels to do exactly as Mrs. Kelley has done. Create a daily review activity and then train your students on how to use the feedback they receive from it.
I can think of 2 possible negative reactions that a secondary teacher might have. They are:
- Printing out this many daily review sheets would use too much paper, and
- This is an elementary-style activity. At the secondary level students should take more ownership of their own studying/reviewing.
Let me try to address both of those. The first is easy: Don't print out a daily review sheet. Project the daily review from a computer/LCD projector/overhead on your screen at the last part of class each day and have students use their own paper. Write it on the board. Review orally. There are many alternatives that will work great.
So is this activity too "elementary-ish"? I would respond to that with the following question: Would students learn content better if at the end of each class period/lecture/activity the teacher made them stop and review what they had just covered? I think it's pretty easy to say the answer to my question is "yes". Our first of order business is to NOT to make sure that students review on their own. Our first order of business is to make sure that our students learn. Therefore, if there is something we're not doing DURING our class time that would increase learning, then we're not doing all that we should.
Think about your own classroom. Are there ever days when your students leave without you being able to quantify how well they have mastered the content? Are there ever days when your students leave your class without you having provided them with a way to quantify their own level of mastery? Thinking back to my own classroom, I think the answer for many if not most teachers is probably "yes" to both questions.
The next obvious question is, "What should we do about this?" Some would say that the answer is to tell students to go home and review. I agree with that answer, but that answer isn't complete unless I don't feel a sense of ownership of my students' success. If I feel a sense of responsibility for how well my students do, then I will make sure that each and everyday I provide students with a time to check their understanding.
So go ahead and figure out a way to daily let your students assess themselves. It works great in 3rd grade and it will work in your classroom as well.