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Can AFL strategies impact student behavior?

The simple answer to the title question is "Yes".  If you're just interested in the simple answer, then you can stop reading.  If you'd like more details, read on.


I'm going to share a specific example of how AFL can be used to impact student behavior; however, first I'd like to take a look at the topic from a philosophical standpoint.  We should start by reminding ourselves why it is that AFL helps students learn content.  AFL practices help students learn because as a result of regular/daily assessments:

  • Students receive feedback on their progress,
  • Students are trained how to use that feedback to guide their own learning,
  • Teachers receive feedback on how effectively they are teaching, and
  • Teachers use that feedback to guide their teaching.


Those first two bullets are especially important.  When students are given the proper feedback and the tools to use that feedback, then the potential increases for them to take control of their learning.  AFL demands that we move beyond simply assigning grades and on to providing feedback that will guide students toward learning - which in turn leads to grades.


When AFL strategies are not present, students are more inclined to view a grade as something that a teacher assigns - instead of something that they have earned.  In other words, there is less ownership of a grade.  The grade is an external stimulus.  For some students - those internally motivated to do well - the external stimulus is a great reward.  But for those not internally motivated to excel, the external stimulus usually does not have the desired effect.   When AFL is practiced properly, students gain greater ownership over their grades because the focus becomes more internal as students are trained to guide their own learning.  Could this also apply to behavior?  


For many of our students - especially those inclined to misbehave - good behavior is something that the teacher makes happen by repeatedly requiring students to behave.  The stimulus or reinforcement for these students is completely external.  We tell them to do better, to sit still , to participate properly, to pay attention, to ask questions, and to behave.  We continue to apply external reinforcement and hope that eventually they comply.  This method is not without merit, but wouldn't it be better if we could somehow move from all external to at least some internal motivation?


The Salem High School freshman team of Emily Herndon, Mark Ingerson, Wes Lester, and Jason Sells is trying to do just that.  So far they are reporting a fairly high level of success.  Here's what they have done:

  • A student who is identified as having behavior problems in class meets with the team of teachers to discuss their behaviors.
  • Those students receive an Academic Self-Reporting Form and the team of teachers teaches the student how to use the form.
  • The student then begins rating him or herself in class each day with a possible high score each day of 24 points per class period.
  • The student shares his or her self-rating with the teacher on at least a weekly basis.


So can this actually work?  Is it actually possible to get students to assess themselves and then make behavioral decisions based on that assessment?  So far, it is working.  Here are a few anecdotes shared with me by the teachers on that team. (Note: student names have been changed.)

  •  John: All year, John has been one of the worst students in all of our classes. However, now that he uses the self-reporting form he has improved dramatically. He has the form on his desk and looks at it throughout class. One of the parts of the chart is participation in class. Prior to using the form, John NEVER participated in any classes, but now he looks for opportunities everyday to share or answer questions. He knows that he regularly fails quizzes in the class but he wants to be able to put a good grade on his form.  Now when he puts that quiz grade on the form he is really proud, and works hard to do even better on quizzes. He now comes outside of class to get help - which he never did before. We really stressed that he needs to be honest with himself and his scores and he takes it seriously. 
  • Jake: Jake exhibits very poor classroom behaviors. His mom met with us and we went over the chart with her and Jack. She loved it and asked us to send it back to her on Fridays. It helps her know how her son is truly behaving.  One day in English, Jake had a rough day. Mrs. Herndon had him fill out the chart. She reminded him, "Be honest." He ranked himself a 4 out of 24 possible points. He hung his head and said to Mrs. Herndon, "Tomorrow is going to be a better day."
  • Josh: Josh is a boy with whom we have had a lot of trouble this year.  Josh saw another student filling out a form and  said, "Hey, what is that sheet? I think that would help me." He has just started the sheet, but we were very excited that he knew it was something that could help him focus, an issue with which he has had trouble. 
We'll see how this goes as the year progresses, but my hunch is that it will have great success - especially since four teachers are reinforcing the practice.  Could you use a practice like this to help your students internalize their behavioral decisions?  Feedback is powerful.  It allows students to take ownership of their studies and increase learning.  It also allows students to take ownership of their behavior and improve their learning.
An example of the Academic Self-Reporting Form can be found below and a pdf version can be downloaded here:




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