In the old days we compartmentalised. First we planned our schemes of work in folders that lived on shelves. Then we taught our lessons. Then we marked our students’ books retrospectively writing comments like ‘good work, keep it up’ or rhetoric questions like ‘where is your underlining?’
Then came Assessment for Learning.
Dylan Wiliam the ‘guru’ of Assessment for Learning explains it here as:
- Questioning to clarify where the learners are
- Feedback to move the learners forward
- Activating students in helping each other to understand success criteria
- Activating students as teaching resources for one another through peer assessment
- Activating students as owners of their own learning through self assessment
However, the AfL model has not been uncontested. David Didau explores some of its pitfalls here.
How do we find out where learners are?
To assess learning we have to make it visible by questioning it through oral or written questions that are constructed to accurately evaluate the quality of the learning. However, assessing the quality of learning is problematic because there are stages to the learning process. Students do not meet a new concept in a lesson and leave the lesson 50 minutes later having ‘learned’ it. Tom Sherrington talks here about the Learning Arc.
How to assess
1. Consider the 6 stages of learning
Initial understanding: Do the students GET IT. This is the first crucial step in learning. In Principles of Instruction, Rosenshine found that “Less successful teachers ask fewer questions and almost no process questions… [whilst] the most successful teachers spent more time…asking questions [and] more time checking for understanding.”
Task fluency: Can the students DO IT? In Principles of Instruction, Rosenshine suggests that, “A success rate of 80 per cent shows that students are learning the material, and it also shows that the students are challenged.” Harry Webb points out the importance of simple as well as complex assessment. He argues here that, “by mimicking the performances of experts we obscure the areas that novices need to develop.” He advocates “a mixed economy of assessment. If you have an independent means of assessing, say, history content knowledge then you will be better able to isolate the particular issues surrounding the writing of a history essay.”
Process fluency: Can the students DO IT DIFFERENTLY? In Why Don’t Students Like School? Daniel Willlingham points out that only shallow understanding has occurred while “knowledge is tied to the analogy or knowledge that has been provided.” In order to develop deeper understanding, students must be able to practice across examples.
Research here found that “assessment which encourages students to think for themselves – such as essay questions, applications to new contexts, and problem-based questions – shifts students… towards a deep [learning] approach.”
Understanding of deep, rather than surface, structure: Can the students UNPICK IT? Do students have an expert understanding of the underlying principles? In Why Don’t Students Like School?Daniel Willlingham points out that, “to see the deep structure, you must understand how all parts of the problem relate to one another.” Sweller and Tricot argue here, that this demands a different approach to the task: “novices work backward from the goal… using a means-ends strategy…while experts work forward from the givens.”
Permanent learning: Can the students RECALL IT from their long-term memories? ‘Learning’ is not enough. As Nuthall points out in The Hidden Lives of Learners “as learning occurs, so does forgetting.” Information only becomes ‘learned’ rather than ‘learning’ when it is transferred to the long-term memory. Brown et al. write in Make it Stick that, “to be useful, learning requires memory, so what we’ve learned is still there when we need it.”
Synoptic learning: Can the students DO IT ANYWHERE, for example when it is interleaved with other tasks? Brown et al. write in Make it Stick that, “mass practice give[s] rise to feelings of fluency that are taken [incorrectly] to be signs of mastery.” For secure understanding, students need to be able to apply learning in circumstances that are:
Ideas on assessing initial understanding
- Introducing hinge questions: @Improving Teaching
- How to construct an effective hinge question @Improving Teaching
- Hinge questions hub @Improving Teaching
- My Favourite No @Huntingdon School
- Pose, Pause, Pounce Bounce @Teacher Toolkit
Ideas on assessing task fluency
- Using Quick Key for in-class assessment @Mr Thomas’ Blog
- Five Minute Flick @Andy Tharby
- Using multi choice questions to assess understanding @Pragmatic Education
- Using multi choice questions to assess knowledge @must do better…
- Using multi choice questions to assess complex knowledge @clio et cetera
- Using hinge questions at the end of the lesson @mrbenney
Ideas on assessing process fluency
Ideas on assessing deep, rather than surface, structure
Ideas on assessing permanent learning
- Considering the benefits of multi-choice questions @…to the real
- Using student self quizzing @Memrise
- Closed questioning for retrieval @Reflecting English
- An assessment strategy to embed learning @BodilUK
- Assessment to elevate learning @Ron Berger
- Creating flashcards online
Ideas on assessing synoptic learning
- Spaced Testing of Everything @Mr Thomas’ Blog
- Formative use of summative tests @Headguruteacher
- Assessing the big picture @Radical History
2. Use feedback to move the learner forward
3. Keep the process manageable
Ideas from @Teacher Toolkit here on keeping the marking load sensible
4. Consider tests for learning as well as assessment
Roediger et al. point out here that “The act of retrieving when taking a test makes the tested material more memorable, either relative to no activity or compared to restudying the material. The size of the testing effect… also increases with the number of tests given.”
Richland et al. suggest using pre-testing before explanation to improve learning, explaining here that “tests can be valuable learning events, even if learners cannot answer test questions correctly, as long as the tested material… is followed by instruction that provides answers to the tested questions.”
David Didau outlines the benefits of testing as learning here.
5. Remember the pitfalls
Treat peer and self-assessment with caution: As Nuthall points out in The Hidden Lives of Learners, 80% of what students learn from each other is wrong.
Beware of your own bias:
- Alex Quigley writes here about the danger of the ‘halo effect’ when assessing students’ work and considers randomised marking.
- @surreallyno outlines here the various ‘effects’ to be taken into account when marking.
- @digicoled reports here on research that suggests that personality similarity affects teachers’ estimationof student achievement.
Keep it real:
- A warning from Tom Sherrington: “As we seek to measure learning with some degree of accuracy, we risk losing contact with the meaning of what the nature of learning is.” Assessment Uncertainty Principle
- Don’t overemphasise assessment @MissDCox