– This issue we are looking at Assessment for Learning
The quote below sums up nicely how a positive learning environment should challenge and encourage young people to move forward in their learning. The following article contains many useful strategies and ideas that have direct application in all classrooms.
“There is no failure, only feedback”
An Assessment for Learning classroom Looks like…
1. Its part of every lesson, in every day for every student
2. All students’ achievements recognised.
3. Learning outcomes visible throughout the lesson.
1. Students describing how they can improve.
2. Students describing how they learn.
3. All students giving and using feedback.
1. Calm, can reflect on their successes
2. Safe, students take risks in their learning, as feedback is constructive
3. Motivating, students look to make their own improvements
A Safe Environment
Develop a “No put down zone” in your classroom. Display a sign like this one on the door of the classroom. It is a simple statement to the students that they are in an environment where they are free to learn, where no one will laugh or make fun of what they say, do or the questions that they ask. In this environment students will be more likely to ask questions and seek out help and guidance. They will also feel more comfortable taking risks in their learning, knowing that if they make a mistake no one will make fun of them. Class teachers will endeavour to set up consistently apply this rule making the message clear that students should support each other in their learning.
No Hands Up Policy
The idea behind a no hands up policy is to ensure all students are involved, and expect to be involved, in learning. When the teacher asks questions the same students will often put their hands up to answer. It is easier for the teacher to accept these offered responses, as the lesson can proceed quickly forward. It is also easy for the other students who did not raise their hand because they know that they are unlikely to be asked to contribute.
They can ‘buy out’ of the learning process. Teachers must know their students’ names for this strategy to work, of course. Using a random name selector can add a dimension of anticipation here. We can use ICT to display names at random on the whiteboard, or simply pick names out of a hat! The idea is to keep challenge high, whilst keeping the stress low. If students perceive too much stress they will stop participating and thinking. To avoid this a range of getout clauses will help your students manage high challenge but with low stress:
1) Training students to respond “I do not know yet, please come back to me later” when stuck with a question is a good starting point. This buys the student some more time to think, look up answers and consult with friends.
2) Sell the idea that we learn by our mistakes so that offering their ideas is better than not. Students’ misconceptions can be great start points to lessons.
3) Give the students some educative guessing strategies, and model these regularly.
4) Employ an “Ask the Audience” device, similar to the TV quiz show Who Wants to be a Millionaire. The student with the impetus to answer opens up the question to the class who offer suggestions. The student still has to choose the response and therefore maintains ownership of this learning.
Why Feedback is Important
One easy way of increasing the value students add to feedback is to ask students for their thoughts. Record this conversation on flipchart paper so that it can be displayed and referred to throughout the year. The example below contains genuine comments from year 9 students.
The agreeing of learning outcomes should be done at the beginning of most sessions. Some sessions, especially thinking skill lessons, are often better debriefed at the end so that the students reflect more on what they have learned.
Outcomes should reveal to your students the purpose of the lesson, so that they know what they know what they will be able to do by the end of the lesson rather than just today we are learning about “energy”, Anderson’s revision of Bloom’s taxonomy is useful here, as the words are active:
• Apply your knowledge of alkanes and alkenes to deduce difference between them
• Predict a heating curve for water
• These are very explicit examples of what success will look like, thereby making it measurable for teachers and students alike.
Increasing Student Engagement
As well as using positive language when selling the learning outcomes to students, raise interest and motivation by capturing their imagination and emotions. If students are to be really engaged in learning they must be able to see the point of it. Why should they learn about it? We must set the learning in context.
This can be done several ways such as WILF (What I’m Looking For) and TIB (This Is Because). The teacher outline what is to be learned and then gives reasons why this learning is important.
Although this is useful it is often more powerful to encourage students to create these links themselves. Once the lesson objectives have been shared, ask the students why it is important to learn about this. Once you get past the “I might get asked about it in an exam sir!” response, other questions can be asked to help students to make connections.
“What jobs or professions would find this information useful?”
“How does this connect with what you already know?”
“What will you be able to explain in your world with this knowledge?”
For example, a science lesson on heat transfer was linked to chefs, firemen and architects. By doing this the students saw their learning having real life applications.
Another way of involving students in this process is to ask them what they would like to find out about a topic. Students benefit from having a stimulus, such as books or magazine articles, while thinking about what they would like to know. It is vital that a response is taken from every student and that their ideas are recorded and displayed. This adds value to the students’ input, as well as increasing ownership of the learning.
This is ideally used at the beginning of a module so that a range of questions can be gathered and gives the teacher the chance to use these suggestions to plan lessons around. This gives students further ownership of their lessons, and as a result, should be more motivated.
Value Getting Stuck
“How wonderful that we have met with a paradox. Now we have some hope of moving forward.” – Neils Bohr
Change the culture of finding tasks difficult. Explain to your students that no one ever climbed on bike and rode off into the sunset. Everybody falls off a few times, so why should learning in school be any different? Learning should be exciting and when they get stuck they are about to learn something new. That is why they cannot do it at the moment. Share strategies with students to help them solve problems when they encounter them .
Increasing Challenge in Lesson Outcomes
Use Anderson’s revised taxonomy to plan lesson outcomes that are challenging for your students.
Consider the thinking that would be required by these two contrasting outcomes.
1.Draw a cooling curve for water.
2.Predict cooling curves for different materials
The first one requires students to translate numerical information into a graphical form. The student is translating and therefore showing “comprehension”. Where as the second requires the student to identify the important pattern in previous graphs, adapt it to create a new graph and speculate on the outcome of an experiment. In the second one the student is “synthesising” information.
The Thinking spiders included below and are a good start point to planning lessons and questions. See Darren, Julie or Fergus to get hold of a set of spiders or to discuss the many ways in which they can be used.
These help students (and teachers!) focus on the success criteria of a piece of work. They help agree what a high quality piece of work will look like. Over time the following steps can develop students from teacher dependant to independent. These steps also increase the learners’ capacity for self-assessment.
Some examples of assessment tools.
1. The checklist. The first assessment tools you use may just be a simple tick exercise to acknowledge that criteria have been met. The next step will allow space for comment or guidance.
Teacher assessment tool for homework Example ‘Why is the Thermos (Vacuum) Flask the greatest invention of all time?”
2. Structure space to invite comments – simple graphic organisers. Example – Students are asked for two positives and one improvement. Positive can-do language will encourage valuable contributions.
Assessment tools are great way to start training students to give each other feedback, as they provide a structure for the advice. This is especially powerful if the students have an input into the criteria. Next time your students make posters, agree a list of five success criteria that a good poster should have, and then use this to feedback their successes.
When students have assessed the work of others, make them sit face to face to give their feedback. To do this the emotional environment in the classroom must feel safe. The feedback process is useful for both parties; as the person must really scrutinize the others work against the success criteria. This process helps them reflect on their own work. The student receiving the feedback will benefit from someone providing an alternative view on his or her understanding.
1. Beware – students find giving objective feedback very difficult, and tend to avoid doing so, preferring just to say positive things. To avoid this establish the following ground rules:
2. The group / person receiving the feedback must sit in silence and only speak if they are asked a direct question. This allows them to focus on the feedback, and makes it safer for the people giving feedback.
3. The person / group giving the feedback must feedback only against he agreed criteria. This helps to keep the feedback fair and open.
4. The feedback must include successes and advice on how to improve.
5. The feedback must be finished by saying I / we have finished our feedback. Thereby drawing a line under the feedback.
6. The person/group must respond “Thank you for your feedback” This shows that the effort made is appreciate.
7. No further discussion must take place after the feedback is over. To help with this it is advantageous to have groups feeding back to different groups that they received feedback from.
Teachers spend hours marking students work, but, how effective is it in helping students learn? To make the most of this effort it is most useful just to provide them with comments only. Research shows that when students receive a grade along as well the impact of the written comment is reduced.
Good written feedback
1. Informs the students if they are on the right track.
2. Encourages improvement
3. Provides guidance on how to improve
Steps to take
1. Plan key pieces of work into schemes of work that you will mark in detail. Do not aim to mark everything in a student’s book.
2. Use comment only marking. 3a. Make sure praise is specific, such as “You have listed some reasons behind global warning. I particularly liked the layout of your news article. Well done.” 3b. Only comment on agreed success criteria
3. Plan lesson time for students to respond to your feedback.
4. Plan opportunities for students to go back to the targets you set.
5. Plan self and peer assessment into schemes of work
Comment only marking strategies
Strategy 1 – Provide a hint.
This will help your students think through the problem whilst keeping ownership of learning. For example – Giving the first letter of the answer, or starting a sentence, or drawing their attention to where they have useful information in their book or worksheet.
Strategy 2 – Rephrasing the question can help students think about a problem in a different way.
Questions can lead students to the answer.
Strategy 3 – Provide a structure for your students to work in, such as sentences with gaps in so that students have to fill in key learning points. This can really help weaker students to focus on the subject.
“Some other ways to keep food fresh are r________ (make it cool), p________(heating to kill microbes), and i__________ (using gamma rays to kill microbes)”
Strategy 4 – Provide model answers.
Highlight them in the student’s work. Refer to them when work slips below the required standard. Use them as a targets for students to match structure and quality.
Strategy 5 – Colour coding student’s work
Using one colour, say green to highlight where the student has met the leaning outcome of a lesson. Where a learning outcome has not been met highlight using a different colour say blue. This could be used in connection with a praise sandwich – two pieces of positive feedback bread to one filling improvement.
Strategy 6 – Guidance can develop a students understanding.
Specific tasks should be quick to complete so that the student can see the improvement. For example, ‘A good explanation – insert these key words in to your answer: antagonistic, fulcrum”
During question and answer session the effective use of wait time can help students reflect more on their understanding. Teachers often answer their own questions, when a student appears stuck, often the time waited for a response is only around one second. So, this technique simply aims to increase the time to about 4 seconds. At first the silence of four seconds will feel uncomfortable, but once the students start thinking and responding with thoughtful answers it will seem worthwhile. It should be used directly after a question has been asked to allow the students time to think through possible responses.
When a response has been pause again. This sends a strong message to them that further elaboration of their ideas is required. Any response given by the teacher at this point may stop the student in their tracks. A smile would convey that a correct answer is being given, although it may not yet be complete. A furrowed brow may indicate that a incorrect answer is being given. Feedback can be this simple.
When listening to responses an open body posture and impassive facial expression will help the students complete their thinking. The effective use of wait time is an integral strategy in the assessment for learning classroom.
• It increases student motivation, shown by more student contributions and questions.
• It helps build confidence prompting students to be more speculative.
• They will test their ideas, as they know they are being supported
• It develops students’ ability to self-assess their answers. These are likely to become longer of better quality.
The celebration of progress is also a big motivator for students. Rather than the familiar rank order of ability, this display can be motivating for all students, regardless of ability. The list is ranked in order of the degree to which students had beaten their own personal target. At the top the students had beaten their targets by more than those at the bottom. It is not a rank of ability. Watch out for this list grows each time it is used, and more students achieve and move beyond their targets. Certificates are awarded on the basis of how much they beat their target by. Gold by more than 15% Silver more than 5% and Bronze for achieving their target score. Clearly, those students who are very high achievers have a real challenge ahead of them to appear on this progress chart.
Adapted from TEEP