Over September and October I will be publishing articles on effective teaching strategies for trainee teachers and NQTs, offering brief (and, I hope, useful and practical!) examples of lessons, ideas, and resources that saved my bacon on more than one occasion!
Other articles in this series:
- The First Year of Teaching: Five Things I Wish I’d Known…
- Quick and Effective Lesson Ideas #1: Post-it Pass the Parcel
- Quick and Effective Lesson Ideas #2: The Research Review
- Quick and Effective Lesson Ideas #3: The Recall Challenge!
- Quick and Effective Lesson Ideas #4: Take a Student-Focused Approach to Improving your Marking Efficiency
- Quick and Effective Lesson Ideas #5 – “The Big Yellow Box” (Or, How to make your students work harder than you!)
In this final “Quick and Effective” article, I’d like to highlight four useful and practical (and fun!) Assessment for Learning (AFL) strategies that require the bare minimum of preparation and can be implemented straight away. Each of these can be used to supplement an existing lesson or – in the cases of the first three – serve as building blocks for an entire lesson!
The Travelling Post-it Note
If you need a way to garner immediate visual confirmation of your students’ progress, the Travelling Post-it is your best friend. There are a couple of variations, but in its simplest, quickest form, it works as follows:
1. Hand each student a post-it note as they enter the class, and have a topic / question / task already on the whiteboard.
(TIP: This generally results in more honest responses if you don’t ask students to write their names on the note. A smidge of anonymity can make all the difference to some!)
2. Ask your students to write down one problem that they might face / one question or worry that they might have / one area that they would like clarified about the task on the board. Students then stick their post-its on one of the walls in your classroom.
3. Have a quick look at what your students have written. Many will have similar concerns – this will give you a good idea of what to focus on in detail for the rest of the lesson. In the main body of your lesson, guide your students through how to respond to the task in whatever way you see fit!
4. At the end of the lesson, before dismissing your students ask them to consider the notes they wrote at the start. As they leave your class, they should grab their original note and move it: if their query has been answered and their problem addressed, they should stick their note on the classroom door (I used to call it the “doorway to success” and my students groaned) as they leave. If they’re still unsure, they should leave the note where it is. If their query has been partially addressed, but they still need a bit of extra support, they should move their post-it closer to the door to represent their confidence!
5. And there you have it: immediate visual evidence of student progress! It’s not the most accurate or detailed indication, but will give you a good idea of where your class is at. Better yet, any post-its that haven’t reached the doorway of success will guide you on what to focus on in subsequent lessons.
The I-Test might just be the quickest lesson to plan in my entire repertoire – all you need is a subject-related stimulus, a whiteboard, and a giant capital “I”!
I was first shown this strategy by the fabulous Mark Harris (@markharristeach). It’s a particularly effective technique for revision activities and, despite its simplicity, allows the teacher three stages at which to assess students’ learning.
1. Present students with the giant “I” on the board, and ask them to copy it onto a sheet of paper / their exercise books. Note that there’s a larger chunk of space on the right of the “I” than the left, and space above and beneath as well.
2. Tell your class that you will shortly be asking them to summarise one of the topics you have covered recently. This can be anything you deem relevant: a documentary you’ve watched, a step-by-step chemical process, the plot of a novel, the events that led to a historical conflict…
3. Before that, though, inform your class that they need to agree on a couple of key terms that should definitely be included in the summary. This is your first opportunity to gauge the confidence and understanding of the group…! Give them a few minutes’ thinking / discussion time, then as class fill in the left-hand side of the “I” with a list of “must-use” key terms. These should be the kinds of specialist terminology that will demonstrate students’ understanding and allow them to pick up marks in examinations! I always ask for ten key terms (nice round number), and populate the list by asking students via targeted no-hands-up questioning.
(Top Tip: Don’t be afraid to draw out more complex terms if students don’t supply them initially! E.g. “Holly – Charlie just told us that one of our key terms should be ‘evaporation’, but what if it’s a solid transforming into a gas?”)
4. Once the list of key terms is done, tell students that they now need to produce a summary of the topic using ALL of the key terms! To ensure that they all put in a similar level of effort, set clear quantity expectations (e.g. “exactly 12 bullet-points!”) and set an appropriate time-limit. Once they’ve done that, hear a couple of responses out loud and treat this as a second opportunity for formative assessment by encouraging the rest of the class to offer feedback. (I used to split the group down the middle and ask one half to check that the summary was factually accurate, and the other half to “tick off” the key terms as they arose.)
5. Once you’re satisfied that everyone is on the same page, set your class one final challenge: underneath the “I” they need to write a mini-essay exactly “X” words in length to respond to an exam-style question on the topic they just summarised. Make sure that the question is analytical or evaluative in nature (and perhaps offer a choice of two for some differentiation!), then give them an appropriate length of time to complete the task.
(Top tip: I have a box full of numbered post-its ranging from 50-100 on my desk for occasions like this… It lets me turn the process into a game by asking a student to reach in and pick a post-it that will determine the length of their essay! If I’m feeling particularly cruel, I’ll pass the box to another student and add their post-its together…!)
6. Assess however you see fit! The narrow focus and brevity of the mini-essay challenge makes it ideal for peer assessment. If, on the other hand, you choose to mark these yourself, the nature of the task eliminates the need for extended feedback: instead, limit your assessment to a single, specific aspect of the work and a brief comment / question. Not only does this limit your workload, but it makes your feedback much more effective! For additional speed, you could offer feedback via a numerical code…!
Like the I-Test, this strategy also comes courtesy of Mark Harris, and it’s exactly what the name suggests: students create their own assessment question or questions using a handy grid based on Bloom’s Taxonomy. It’s ideally-suited to revision of brief text extracts, or analysis of images and equations, and it looks a bit like this:
While not AFL in the most rigorous sense, the task nevertheless offers the teacher an insight into the levels of understanding among your students, and creates opportunities for academic creativity – as well as allowing the teacher to clear up any nagging misconceptions.
On a purely pragmatic level, the “Build-a-Question” strategy is a useful way to check that your class is aware of the differences between, for example, a 4-mark question and a 12-marker. While that may sound a touch simplistic, if I had a highlighter pen for every time a student lost marks in an exam by applying the correct methodology to the wrong question I’d be able to make it until the Christmas holidays before they had all been pinched!
In a more immediate sense, encouraging students to piece together the most challenging questions they can think of opens up a whole range of learning and assessment opportunities. Students can collaborate and fine-tune the “perfect question” through group discussion, or work in pairs to produce questions of varying challenge – and then create a mark scheme for those questions. Sometimes it’s just a nice opportunity for the teacher to offer praise by focusing on one or two particularly strong student examples and then leading a class discussion about what precisely makes those questions so good! You may wish to choose one really good example and then work collaboratively with your class to produce a model answer on the whiteboard.
Wherever the task leads, the simple process of constructing questions is a fantastic starting-point to review student understanding and demonstrate progress!
The Conga Recap!
The Conga Recap a particularly fun way to finish a lesson by gauging student understanding through competition (and to have a good old dance while you’re at it). Whatever the topic, all you need are:
- some board markers
- a space for students to write on the walls (I always blu-tacked up large pieces of sugar paper / flip-chart paper / A1)
- a way to play some music (I tend to let a student pick the song, although there are some timeless classics that work quite well…)
- a prize or two…!
Divide your class into groups (5-6 works best), get them to form a “conga line” with the person at the front facing the team’s designated writing space, and hand the leading person on each team a board marker. Then explain the task as follows:
The aim of the game is for each team to recall as much information about the lesson content as they can. They can’t repeat one another, and must be as specific as possible. The catch? Each team only has as long as it takes for the music to stop.
As the activity gets underway, all the teacher needs to do is circulate and offer the odd prompt or two. “The other team have already made three good points! You need to catch up”; “Michelle’s quotation there is a bit brief… Andy, when you’re at the front of the line can you expand it?”
When the time is up, all students return to their seats. Those in possession of the board marker must look at the work of one of the other teams and tot up their final score. If there’s any doubt, the judge’s (i.e. the teacher’s) decision is final!
It’s excellent fun and encourages active recall – especially if you announce at the start of your lesson that students will eventually be challenged to remember as much as possible en route to fabulous prizes. Better yet, a quick scan of each team’s work will allow you to identify any areas that still require extra revision, and feed into the next lesson. Enjoy!
Let me know in the comments below your your thoughts on any of these strategy, and how they work for you! I’d also really love to hear if you have any favourite AFL techniques – leave a comment and share your expertise!