A sure sign that you don't really get AFL...

This was originally posted on Assessment FOR Learning

Here's a sure sign that you don't fully understand AFL and how AFL practices will lead to your goal of helping students learn the content you teach:

You teach a primarily fact-based class or are currently teaching fact-based content - such as History, Biology, or Health - and the first time that your students are assessed/quizzed/tested/etc on facts it's on a graded assignment that goes into your grade book and is averaged with other assignments to determine a final grade.


Think about it for a moment.  AFL is all about assessment FOR THE PURPOSE OF LEARNING.  If you assess your students and put the outcome of that assessment into your grade book - WITHOUT PROVIDING STUDENTS AN OPPORTUNITY TO CHANGE OR IMPROVE THE GRADE AS THEY MASTER CONTENT - then that assessment was for the purpose of determining a grade NOT for the purpose of learning.  


There is nothing wrong with assessing for the purpose of determining a grade.  You are required to do this as a teacher.  However, you are first charged with helping students learn.  Your students' grades should be determined AFTER your students have had ample opportunity to learn by practicing and failing and practicing again IF you want the grade to reflect learning.  If you give students notes on the facts of your content, have them take a quiz on those facts, assign a grade to that quiz, and then put that grade in your grade book to be averaged with other grades HAS YOUR ASSESSMENT HELPED STUDENTS LEARN?  


The answer is yes - it has helped them learn.  Now that they realize what they have missed they better understand the content.  We definitely learn by mistakes.  In fact, we need to give students more opportunities to make mistakes (see this post).  BUT IF THAT GRADE ON THAT FIRST QUIZ IS ETCHED INTO GRADE BOOK "STONE" THEN THERE IS NO WAY FOR THE FINAL GRADE TO ACCURATELY REFLECT LEARNING.  


Here's an example of what I mean: Let's say a student got a 75 on a quiz about people or vocabulary or dates.  If as a result of that 75 the student learns from his or her mistakes and could get a 95 on a similar quiz the next day, then it's safe to say that you have taught them - at least for the short-term - the content at a 95 level.  BUT THE GRADE IN THE GRADE BOOK IS A 75.  If you are satisfied with this - if you allow this to happen in your classroom - then it's safe to say that you don't really get AFL.  You're probably teaching as YOU were taught - or assuming that all students learn in the manner in which you learned - without really thinking about how your assessment strategies and grading strategies are inconsistent.  You've taught content, but you're just not really skilled at assessment.  You might be doing an excellent job of covering content, but you are not giving your students enough opportunities to practice.  Some of your students are probably experiencing a certain level of grade deflation that doesn't indicate the degree to which they are learning from you.


So what are some solutions?  How about if before you give and then grade the assignment that will go into the grade book, you first try one or more of these 4 easy AFL strategies:

  • Try starting each class or most classes off with a short 5-10 question practice quiz.  The practice quiz grade can go in the grade book as long as it can be replaced or improved by a later graded assignment.  I guarantee you that your students will master the content better this way than they would if you gave 1 summative quiz/test after taking notes on the content.  You could even give the same quiz several days in a row.
  • Try ending each class with a quick check for understanding.  Take 5 minutes and make sure EVERYONE has grasped that day's main points/terms/vocabulary.  You might try this flashcard review method.
  • Use white boards once a week to see how well students are understanding the content.  Read here to see how this could work in your classroom.
  • Start off a unit by giving students a review sheet or rubric.  Then have them assess daily how well they understand the content.  Here's an example of a review sheet and here's an example of a rubric.


Here's my next question?  Why would you not try one of these ideas?  Or more importantly, why would you teach something, give a graded assignment on it, and then put that grade into your grade book without FIRST doing a meaningful AFL activity?  I can promise you this: If you give your students multiple opportunities to fail content and learn from mistakes prior to putting a permanent grade into a grade book, your students will start finding it easier to master the content in your classroom.  And getting students to master difficult content is what teaching is all about.

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