Learning Techniques and Educational Assessment
In an article that explores the future of Assessment for Learning (AfL), Popham (2006) draws on the difference between the traditional approach known as assessment of learning, which focuses on determining what pupils know for the purposes for grading and reports and Assessment for learning, which focuses on helping ‘teachers use assessment, as part of teaching and learning, in ways that will raise pupils’ achievement’ (Assessment Reform Group, 1999, p. 2).
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Robert S. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.
Black et al. (2006, p. 119) draw on this shift of focus in education from ‘Learning to Learn’ which is driven by the quality of teaching to ‘Learning How to Learn’ which is driven by the quality of learning. The umbrella term used is ‘Formative Assessment’. Chappuis (2009, p. 4) explains that it is ‘not an instrument or an event, but a collection of practices with a common feature: they all lead to some action that improves learning.’ The information gathered can then be used to adjust further teaching, which significantly improves learning. The use of formative assessment is explored by Black and Wiliam (1998), who state that for it to be productive, teachers need to believe in ‘teaching through interaction to develop each pupil’s power to incorporate new facts and ideas’ and nurturing a ‘classroom culture of questioning and deep thinking’ (Black and Wiliam, 1998, p. 13).
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Marking and feedback are essential parts of the assessment when carried out effectively. A variety of methods include allocating grades or providing comments or suggestions for improvement. Clarke (2005) explains that to be effective, marking is the beginning of a learning process where pupils are given a chance to act upon specific, personalized improvement suggestions to ‘close the gap’ between their current position and the aimed position in their learning. This is important as ‘feedback should cause thinking to take place.’ (Black et al., 2002, p. 10) It is also a chance for the teacher to modeling ‘effective marking, aiming to gradually relinquish control so that students are trained to be effective self- and peer assessors’ (Clark, 2005, p. 72). Whilst the process of marking can be a success when done effectively with the goals in mind, there is potential for marking to remain a process where teachers write a grade in their mark book and leave that phase of learning behind, detached from the next learning phase. This is ineffective in drawing on links to prior knowledge.
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Research of Assessment Techniques
In their research of self-assessment, Wiliam et al. (2004, p. 4) found that almost all the teachers were making use of fast-paced, straightforward strategies. It was found that comment based self-assessment activities proved to be difficult. Teachers were having to train their pupils and practice ‘to think of their work in terms of a set of goals’ (Black et al. 2003, p. 49) which once the skill had been grasped, proved effective. Pupils were aware of the success criteria and were assessing their work against this criterion which allowed for transparency between teacher and pupil. Whilst using the traffic-light cards for an individual task can be successful for the teacher. The element of competition could encourage some pupils to raise a green card whether or not there is a clear understanding so as not to seem incapable. The ongoing practice of such activities could eradicate this for pupils who may feel as though it is a competition of intelligence.
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Black et al. (2003) address peer-assessment activities as ones that involve pupils and place responsibility, allowing pupils to assist their peers with improvements. Taking the role of teacher or examiner and using the appropriate language whilst assessing (Black et al., 2002, p. 10). It is a chance for group misconceptions to rise to the surface, this can then be a focus for the teachers’ preparation for future lessons. It takes practice to build the skills to work collaboratively with others in a group, a skill that needs practice and familiarisation.
With relation to questioning, it was found that the ‘wait time’ was an issue most teachers found uncomfortable to endure (Black et al., 2003), often leading pupils to become disengaged or misbehaving. Involving the majority of a class can be the key to success with effective questioning where the pupils are engaged and eager to contribute, in a devil’s advocate style discussion, for example. In a noted example of effective questioning (Black et al., 2003, p.37), the teacher ‘scaffolded’ an accessible questioning process by providing them with background information. Pupils were able to demonstrate their understanding and the teacher was not engaging them in a key term closed question guessing game. This kind of questioning needs careful consideration whilst planning.
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The key to success with all lies within the teacher’s efforts to encourage a positive mind-set to ‘involve pupils actively and give them responsibility for how they learn…and by opportunities to experiment and try ideas out’ (Ofsted, 2003, p. 9). This builds confidence whilst overcoming the fear of failure as they are essentially the ‘ultimate user of assessment information’ (Black and Wiliam, 1998, p. 8). Together with bringing Assessment for Learning into classrooms, it is rightly stated by Blanchard (2003) that it is a whole-school effort.
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Where subject leaders, key stage coordinators, and heads of houses must take responsibility to promote learning to make it a theme across all subjects. Ofsted (2003, p. 34-35) raise this as an issue for attention within schools, pupils should be involved in the assessment process to broaden knowledge, as this makes ‘good use of the teachers’ time’. Sampling is an example of this, where the teacher can gain a balanced insight into the class’s understanding (Clarke, 2005, p. 81)
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