We need to develop the process of gaining insight into what our students know, understand and can do as a result of what we have taught them. In doing this, we will understand what appears to have been learnt, what needs to be consolidated or revisited and – most importantly - where the gaps are.
At its lightest touch, assessment can be done through talk. Assessment for learning involves high-quality conversations about learning and then acting on that information.
Dylan Wiliam, whose work was instrumental in driving assessment for learning in schools, said ‘responsive teaching’ is one side of the coin: I have taught something and I need to know whether my pupils have ‘got it’ and to what depth? The information I gain from this light-touch assessment will determine where the learning and the work go next. It is through the ‘to and fro’ of questioning conversations in the classroom that I know not only whether pupils have completed something, but whether they have understood and are able to apply it in different contexts.
There are very effective ways of developing this across a class - the work done by Alex Quigley on techniques such as A, B, and C:
The teacher asks a question, one pupil gives an answer (A) a second pupil builds on it (B) and a third either contradicts or contributes (C).
Building this kind of structure during lessons, with no hands up, so that any child, within reason, can be asked a question without warning, ensures that all are kept on their toes, and have to listen to one another’s answers in order to be able to contribute. If, as a result of doing something like this, I find that pupils are able to respond with A and B but have less to either contradict or make further contributions, then I will realise that there is more to do. Conversely, if all seem secure, then I will make the decision to move on. The second side of the assessment for learning coin is this: what pupils will do differently as a result of the feedback: how will they change their work and how will I know?
If the purpose of this light-touch assessment is to provide information about where to go next, then this is formative assessment. The critical thing is that it provides information about where the gaps are and also what can be celebrated, in terms of the distance travelled - so that we and our pupils are able to say we didn't know that before and now we do. And there is still this to be grappled with and understood. Whatever information is gathered and whatever feedback is given to pupils, the important thing is that they act on it.
Mary Myatt's Blog: Thoughts on assessment
‘DISCIPLINED DISCUSSION’ – AS EASY AS ABC
From The Confident Teacher by Alex Quigley 26/12/2013
‘ABC Feedback‘: This is one of my most effective teaching strategies. No handouts, cut ups or laminated cards. Simply clear, guided steps for quality feedback.
This simple strategy has probably had the biggest impact upon my practice, relative to the effort it takes to implement, over the last couple of years in the classroom. It is incredibly easy, but it adds a sophisticated degree of differentiation into the questioning process. By asking students to Agree with; Build upon; or Challenge the answers of other students it allows students to develop their ideas in a more disciplined fashion, whilst giving a helpful scaffold to their ideas. By selecting the right students based on an escalating degree of challenge, we can give them options – the Agree with often being the ‘easiest‘ response, but not always; whereas some students can Build upon and Challenge previous responses. By bouncing these questions around the room you can exemplify differentiated progress of the highest order.
Here is an example:
Teacher question: Which character would you most like to sit next to?
Student A answer: I would most like to sit next to Crooks. As he can read well, because he owns books, he could help me with answers and we could discuss our ideas.
Teacher question: Student B, give some ABC feedback based on A’s answer.
Student B answer: I would build upon that idea: Crooks would be good to get answers from, but he might result in me being excluded from my friends, just because I was speaking to a black man in such a racist place. Therefore I would probably challenge A’s answer, choosing Slim instead. Slim is also intelligent, but he is popular, and you have to think about having friends as well as giving good answers in class.
By bouncing the questions around the class, it increases the level of inclusivity, whilst also potentially increasing engagement and listening skills, as students know they may be asked to respond to the answers given by other students. I think this has an attendant benefit for student behaviour too as it ensures active listening and creates greater discipline to the classroom talk.
Once embedded, this simple code can become synonymous with disciplined peer discussion. You could create ‘talking trios‘ (any group larger than three often encourages individuals to lag and leave the ‘work‘ to others) that use ABC to structure their discussion.