11 March 2013

AfL: Golden Rules

Assessment for Learning: My Golden Rules

Evaluation and assessment are not the same. My husband worked with a colleague who 'assessed' final exam art-work based on the standard of the class. He was gobsmacked when, during his first 'standardisation' meeting for IGCSE art, she laid out all the pieces across the room. She had decided, subjectively and without consultation of the criteria, that 'Sue' had produced the 'best' work, therefore she got an 'A', whilst 'Peter' was the 'worst', so he got the 'U' grade. She then divided up the grades equally among the remaining learners ranged between 'Sue' and 'Peter'. She seemed horrified when my husband challenged her evaluation and argued against her normative approach. She seemed mystified when he suggested that they should be doing criterion-based grading based on - wait for it - the IGCSE assessment criteria... This was only 3 years ago and even then, I was stunned that anyone actually did this. But this is a true story.
Poster Campaign,
The Octopus's Garden Project

Since then, I have continued to think carefully about the purpose of assessment and how we assess with particular focus on Assessment for Learning (AfL). I recently led a few little workshops on using Google Forms for AfL to share with educators in my school, showing how technology can enhance our AfL practice. Wary that some think I am all about the technology, when in fact I am all about the learning, I have reflected on this and this term's work, most notable, on The Octopus's Garden Project, and have tried to distill my thinking about AfL into a few Golden Rules.

Comment OR grade. NOT both.

The advice of my Principal is to choose one or the other - feedback or grade - but not both. Giving both is counter-intuitive. I try to stick to this - not only because it saves my precious time, but because I do believe that if we give a grade, learners don't read comments, and if we do give comments, there is no need for a grade, because the comments are there to help work towards a formative piece.  

The feedback is part of the journey, the grade is the destination.

Summative before formative.

I believe we should, as Dylan Wiliam asserts, embed formative assessment into our everyday practice. Each conversation or comment, either verbal or written, should be used to allow learners - and teachers - to reflect on the learning going on and plan where to go next. Relying on one single summative assessment at the end of a unit does not allow opportunity for rethinking and revision; it does not allow us to adjust our learning - and teaching - based on the needs arising and issues being identified as the unit progresses.

Learning Conversations
I try carefully to distinguish between the two; formative assessments, with detailed feedback; summative assessments with a mark/grade based on specific criteria, with no feedback. I also try to adhere to having at least two formative assessments for each summative assessment to allow for that reflection, review and revision.

Criteria should be transparent.

All formative and summative assessments should be based on appropriate and specific criteria or rubrics. When a task is set, the criteria or rubric must be available from the start.  In exam-based classes, theses are defined for us. In non-exam classes, we should make the criteria or rubric co-constructed, learner-friendly and appropriate to relevant standards. Formative feedback should be based on this criteria/rubric so learners can identify where there are and where their next steps are.

The Octopus's Garden Project Team
Assessment is a dialogue.

The most productive assessment is dialogue. These learning conversations can be between teacher and learner or learner and learner; they can be verbal, written or virtual. Technology makes this easier than ever - Google Forms, for example allows instant feedback; Edmodo ensures constant dialogue and sharing using appropriate language, and builds a culture of collaboration and support. I have spent a lot of time this year working on developing 'critical friends' in the classroom. Through blogs and commenting, this learning dialogue has become easier and far more ubiquitous; we have focused on how to provide positive feedback that gives helpful advice rather than criticism or negative remarks, so learners are in a position to be able to help each other move forward. Use of the rubrics or criteria to provide this feedback means also that learners are more aware of the requirements of a particular task, allowing them to be more successful in turn. 

Collaboration
When we build learning-focused relationships, learners engage with the task, with us and with each other. Being able to communicate constantly, openly and honestly means we all gain more. Technology just helps this process.

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Here are the links to the outlines for my Google Forms for AfL Workshops 

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With reference to:

"6 Common Misunderstandings About Assessment Of Learning." TeachThought. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Mar. 2013.

"Welcome to Dylan Wiliam's Website." Welcome to Dylan Wiliam's Website. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Mar. 2013.