In this guest post Kirsten Anne shares some great advice on encouraging self-assessment in the primary classroom.
I am a primary school teacher and currently work in a year 3 classroom. My students are between 7 and 8 years of age and attend an international school in Bangkok, Thailand.
I’ve been hearing the term ‘assessment capable learners’ used more and more frequently over recent years. As teachers, we strive for ways in which we can assist students to have a sense of where they are now and where they are going. Giving students the empowerment to do this and self-assess is an extremely effective teaching tool. In our recent conversations between parents, teacher and learner, we asked students the question “why do you like reflecting on your learning?” Unprompted, and about 85% of the time came the reply “because then I know what my next step is and how I can get better.” Powerful stuff!
So, how do you go about helping your learners become assessment capable?
Primarily, they need to know what you are looking for in order for them to be successful. There should be no second-guessing about this – learners need to know WHAT they are aiming to achieve, and HOW to achieve it. This takes on different forms depending on the subject. However, I’ll focus on Literacy here.
The ingredients learners need to include in their writing in order to be successful (the WHAT) depends on the writing focus, and will be defined by the teacher. Guiding the learners to include these ingredients – helping them realise how they can meet our ‘success criteria’, is something we’ve been working on at our school.
Colleagues of mine have discussed moving away from lengthy comments in books. Who is it for? Does it really have an impact on improving the learning experience for the student? Not if the learner can’t read the comment—obviously not good for young learners or learners with only a basic command of English. It’s also no use if the learner doesn’t bother to read the comments because they’ve switched off by the second line of the teacher’s feedback.
We find visual marking codes are great. We wanted to create a marking code that was accessible not only for students to be able to understand, but also for them to use themselves. Using symbols is a great way to do this and allows learners to communicate without words. This technique is used with learners as young as 5 years of age, they just need training to do it.
Examples of the code
Here’s an example of the visual code in the context of writing narrative. In a successful story, we would expect to see basic sentences, punctuated with full stops and capital letter. The visual code for this is:
Even very young learners are capable of recreating these symbols. We might also expect to see a range of sentence types, including simple, compound (e.g. connectives including because, or, yet and so) and complex with dependent and independent clauses. The code for this is:
C + claw = independent and main clauses (complex sentences)
S = simple sentence
C(BOYS) = compound sentences using connectives such as because, or, yet, so)
We might also choose a vocabulary focus and want students to focus on including a range of adverbs and verbs for example. In which case, our success criteria would include the marking symbol:
Av = adverbsV = verbsN = nounsA = adjectives
Creating a success criteria
There are a variety of ways in which a ‘success ladder’ can be created. For example:
- Ask students to co-create it with you in the lesson. This could be done by showing the students a good example of the task and asking them what makes it successful. Adding these to the ladder as you go gives the learners a sense of ownership.
- Prepare a success ladder before the lesson to give to the learners.
- Give the learners a blank ladder and ask them to fill it in with ingredients that they believe to be good elements of a particular writing genre. This shouldn’t be guess work and will only be effective if your learners genuinely have an awareness of what they need to include. This may take some training in the initial stages but will come in time.
After some careful consideration about the ingredients that must be included to ensure success, the ladder can be built. You will end up with something similar to this:
Note: the 2A criteria is a reference to our assessment rubric – learners are required at this level to produce an ‘adjective, adjective, noun’ phrase.
It is important to note here that even though a success ladder is used, we do not use the ingredients with any form of hierarchy. For example, your writing is not better if you include adjectives (bottom of ladder) with no full stops and capital letters (top of ladder). Learners need to be taught this but I haven’t encountered any difficulty with them grasping this idea.
Learners are then able to write with a good understanding of how to be successful and which ingredients they need to use. It’s vital that this success ladder is displayed somewhere in the classroom that is visible to all learners. This may be an individual ladder printed in books, it may be a class version that is on the whiteboard or it may be one that has been created with the class and jotted down by the teacher on the spot. Whatever the method, it must be visible to every learner in that lesson.
Following the build up of skills and the chance for learners to produce their own piece of writing, it’s then time to give learners chance to reflect on whether they have been successful. This may take place within the same lesson, perhaps as a plenary or teachers may choose to let the piece ‘go cold’ and ask learners to return to their writing the following day as a lesson starter.
This is an example of a good story introduction that I may use at the beginning of a unit of narrative writing. In our school, we use pink to show areas that the children have done well and have engaged with the success criteria. This satisfies the “Where am I now?” question. You can see from the example below that the success criteria has been used to show how and also where the learner has been successful. Time must be factored into lesson planning to allow this powerful process to take place.
But what if learners haven’t included the ingredients? Well, we use green highlighters to assist learners answer the “Where do I need to go?” question where learners can go back, reflect on their writing and show where they could include the ingredient to ensure their success.
An example of this self-reflection might look like this:
The learner has identified that they have used capital letters and full stops. They have also shown where they have used adjectives to describe the noun. However, they noticed that they haven’t included a 2A sentence and in order to improve their writing, the feel that they need to add some further adjectives, which they do in green highlighter.
Why are these codes so useful?
This process serves two functions.
Firstly, teachers are given a very clear visual resource in which to see how a learner has engaged in their learning. If a learner, for example, has shown that they have identified lots of fantastic adjectives in their writing but have in fact underlined all of the verbs, then a misconception has been identified. A teaching point has been found.
Secondly, it allows learners to have a great autonomy over their own learning. We need to empower students to take an interest in their learning journey and this is a great place to start. After all, we know that students learn the most from what they do, so let’s make the most of that in class.
See another post from Kirsten Anne here
Feature image: mummywurk.com
In the first ever guest post on ELT Planning, Kirsten Anne shares her teaching experiences and offers two great ideas for formative assessment.
This post has been a long time coming. I’ve been promising to write something for ELT Planning for a while but anyone who is in the teaching profession in some guise will understand that I had to prioritise my to-do list. There were the parents to schedule meetings with, praise postcards to write and lessons to plan.
me as a teacher
Who am I?
Here’s a potted history of my career so far. I first entered English Language teaching after completing my CertTESOL back in 2010. From there, I taught EFL in Edinburgh, Sussex and South Korea before returning to the UK to embark on my PGCE (Post Graduate Certificate in Education). The last 5 years have been somewhat of a whirlwind and at times I have felt like all I do is work. My partner will vouch for me when I say I work hard – the life of a primary school teacher is not glamorous. I only spent 1 year in the UK post-PGCE and whilst I loved the school where I completed my NQT (Newly Qualified Teacher) year, the demands from the government back home were just ridiculous. My search for a teaching job that allowed me to have more of a work/life balance began. So far, that search has taken me to Bangkok where I’m fortunate to be part of a prestigious international school with a forward thinking team. I don’t want this to sound misleading — the job is still VERY demanding, but being part of such a supportive team helps, as does not having quite so many bits of paperwork…
The chances for professional development here are vast and colleagues are always bouncing new and exciting ideas around in the staffroom. I keep my ear close to the ground and ‘magpie’ a lot of them, occasionally to find that they weren’t so good in practice as they were in theory!
After my NQT year I found myself with a strong teacher toolkit in many areas. However, I felt I needed a more time efficient way of assessing a student’s learning journey that didn’t involve hours of looking through APP (Assessing Pupil Progress) records. My first year of teaching in a UK primary school was immediately after the government did away with levels. Schools were left to fend for themselves as to how they assessed student’s progress and understandably felt a bit anxious. My anxiety was partly due to inexperience and partly down to realising how long ongoing assessment took me each fortnight.
Dylan Wiliam, formative assessment guru!
My top tips for formative assessment
Formative assessment (including diagnostic testing) is a range of formal and informal assessment procedures conducted by teachers during the learning process, in order to modify teaching and learning activities to improve student attainment.
There are a wealth of ways in which to assess a student’s learning. Below I’ve chosen the two that I’ve found to be the most effective in terms of time-efficiency for the teacher, and that have a real impact on a student’s learning journey.
I have found these to be really useful. Entrance tickets, as the name suggests are used at the start of a lesson. An entrance ticket ensures there is a focus for the learner as soon as they arrive and settles them into the classroom. A question is posed and the student responds on an entrance ticket (a slip of paper, a post-it note, etc). If used effectively, the teacher can then react to the needs of the students in the lesson depending on how they are intended to be used.
This technique can:
- introduce a new topic and find out what the learners already know (sometimes known as a ‘knowledge harvest’ in primary teaching). This acts as a powerful way for a teacher to plan any subsequent lessons and helps avoid repeating prior learning.
- group students immediately in the lesson according to their response. The teacher constantly monitors how a student has responded to the question and uses this to put the learners into informed mixed or similar ability groups.
- be a useful tool in bridging gap between the previous lesson and quickly assessing how much the learner’s have retained before moving on.
- be used as evidence to show where a student was at when they began the lesson/unit of work and help show progression.
Learner’s seem to enjoy proving what they have learned in the lesson by completing an exit ticket. We have a post box in my classroom where they will deliver their ticket before transitioning to the next class. I usually set a 3 minute timer when posing an exit question. I use the data collected as a way to pro-actively plan what will come next. They are a great tool in allowing a teacher to assess where to pitch any future lessons and decide on the direction the learning may go in. Added to this, is the luxury of having a record of a student’s understanding. Have the learners met the learning objective? Are there students who have an obvious mastery of the topic who need extending next time? I often put my exit ticket responses into piles so that I know how to effectively differentiate any future learning opportunities.
Perhaps one of the coolest ways (for teachers and students) of collecting formative assessment data out there at the moment!
Plickers requires an internet connection, (which may be a problem in some classrooms) and a smartphone. It takes a little while to set up —the teacher has to download the app, register, set up their class and print out the picker cards. However, the rewards over time make it worthwhile. When I began using this, I did a few practice runs with my class as I knew that the initial excitement and time taken for introducing this tool could detract from its main purpose. My class are used to it now and my assessments are done in just 5 minutes, leaving me with a clear idea of how to proceed with the learning.
The plicker card is a unique card that is assigned to a student. Each side is labelled A,B,C and D. The learner uses this to respond to a question that is revealed on the interactive screen. They turn the plicker card until it matches their desired answer. For example, in the picture above, the learner would turn the card clockwise 90 degrees to give an answer of C.
They then hold up their plicker card and the teacher scans the classroom with their phone. This is the magic bit — the software then picks up the answers given and displays them on the board in real time.
image from plickers.com
This is the exciting part for students as they get immediate feedback (this feature can be hidden to teacher only view) on their answers and can see the results displayed as a bar graph.
example of data created
This information can be saved and used in a similar way to entrance and exit tickets without the fiddly bits of paper. Student response has also been more positive to Plickers than other techniques given the fast-paced digital age that we find ourselves in.
Classes can be set up in a way that allows the teacher to keep online records of student responses which, as a formative assessment tool, is a very convenient feature!
Another luxury of this app is that it can be used at any point in a lesson. For example, a mini plenary after 10 minutes of learning asks students to give an answer using their Plicker card.
The teacher has pre-empted a number of answers and planned accordingly. If students answer A they will do activity 1, answer B, activity 2 and so on. 50% of students answer incorrectly so this could immediately create a focus group for the teacher—these students need some further practise or clarification. This is a powerful way of driving learning forward in a purposeful way for the students in our classroom.
I hope you find these two formative assessment tools useful. If you have any further ideas then please share! I’m always keen to try out new things in class.