Using Active Learning techniques benefit students greatly as discussed in the introduction to this chapter, and creating opportunities for using this method with assessment really does produce excellent results. Students who work with assessments on this level eventually gain a concrete understanding about:
• the various components of an answer;
• how to build an ideal solution to a problem/question;
• how/where they ‘hit’ each Level;
• different versions of an answer to the same question;
• exploring links/categorisations, themes and trends.
Build the Answer
Type up an answer in your favourite word processor and place each paragraph on a separate page with the size big enough to be able to read from a few meters away. You could also use sentences in the same way of course. You could use an ideal answer but another way of getting them to really see how they could improve we use a ‘C’ or ‘D’ grade. Discuss the question with the class and what they think they ought to include in an ideal answer; note ideas down on the board.
Split the class into groups of three and give them the (laminated) jumbled answer. Now inform them that they are to construct or piece together an answer using the available material. Students place the answer on the floor and move the various components around until they have reached a possible answer. Discuss students’ ideas and, this is crucial, ask them what they could do to improve it. Allow them a few minutes to return to their answer and give them a few sheets of paper to add details to. Finally get one group to show the rest of the class their example. Discuss.
An alternative to the example above is to involve the whole class (depending on size – max 20 works well). ‘Extras’ can play ‘examiners’. Give each student a piece of the answer (about 12-15 students need to be involved here), give others possible headings or factor/theme cards (4-5 students) and another bunch ‘GCSE Level’ or A-Level criteria cards. Get them to construct the answer together as a group. This generally creates a lot of discussion and it might be easier if the teacher leads this together with the students. When the answer has been laid down on the floor, or students are holding them up, ask the ‘factors/heading’ students to decide which factor is discussed in which paragraph. The final step is for the last group to level the piece.
It is important at this stage to ensure that the class is familiar with peer-marking and comfortable with GCSE Levels or A-Level criteria. Get them to decide as a group where each Level ought to be placed. When they have completed their marking ask them to justify their decisions and then get feedback from the rest of the class. Some students may disagree with the judgments of the marking group so allow the changes to be made if necessary.
Assessment for Learning made Easy
Students become very nervous and frightened by the mere term ‘assessment’. Although some students will rise to the pressure, a large number may actually under perform because it is deemed an assessment.
– Tom, NQT
This example shows how simple Assessment for Learning (AFL) techniques can make students more focused and confident about how to improve. This approach will enable the class to see concrete progress within the lesson as well as across lessons. This is a History example but can easily be modified for any subject.
I taught a mixed-ability year 10 class about protest through history and this particular lesson investigated the key question: What impact did [different protests]…have on law-making and law enforcement in England?1 Some of these protests included Poll tax riots and Conscientious Objecting during WWII.
The starter got students on their feet and students assessed the severity of some protests using an Active Protest continuum2. After discussing the outcome of the task we moved straight to the assessment task which involved analyzing a range of historical sources. We discussed the source material together as a class first, and then the class explored what they needed to do to answer the question successfully. Students annotate the sources in pairs after which an exemplar answer was given to them.
Task 1: Speed AFL!
In pairs, students faced each other and were informed to mark the exemplar answer using the criteria/mark scheme. The first one to find one of the top levels would win. We then discussed students’ responses and they highlighted where the ‘exemplar student’ had achieved a certain Level on the Interactive Whiteboard. There were some disagreements about how the answer moved up the levels.
Task 2: Towards progress!
The class now moved to a more challenging question and the skill had also changed. We treated this question in the same manner as the previous one and then compared the differences between the two questions. As a class we then analysed the mark scheme for Q4 and what they would need to do in order to reach high levels.
Students then answered question four on their own and a time limit was set. In pairs, students marked the other person’s answer using the criteria/mark scheme. Students discussed how their partner’s had reached a certain level and what they thought was particularly good about their answer as well as setting them a target for improvement. We then examined an answer, which was quickly scanned for students to see, and comments were made about the strengths and weaknesses of this particular response. Questions were taken in to mark for the next lesson.
At the start of the following lesson the class peer-assessed, using mark schemes, three responses from grades A-C, starting with grade C. After discussing the answers, assessments were handed back and students were asked to read teacher’s comments and try to meet their targets – examples of meeting the target were either given by the teacher or the student’s answer showed evidence so this area was highlighted.
This way of using assessments is simple, structured and engaging as students feel they can move forward in that lesson and beyond. When a class has experienced this process they enjoy taking assessments because they know that improvement will be concrete and real.