FORMATIVE Assessment – always!

The only assessment that should be accepted as summative is an obituary. And if it’s not about you there’s still scope for learning.

So how have I tried to help students put this philosophy into practice, when it comes to class tests and school exams? Probably I should give some examples (on the ‘show don’t tell’ principle).

GCSE class: In the middle of a topic (say electromagnetism) students expect that 15 minutes of the Friday afternoon class will be a test on what they’ve been doing. I choose (scan and save by topic, so I have a bank) past paper questions that they can answer from what we’ve done already. I mark them using the exam board mark scheme (but with ½ marks for nearly there). I do not correct them. Next lesson I give students coloured pens to write in corrections – and tell them to consult their neighbour to correct what they can. Then they move to a different neighbour and repeat. After about 3 moves, most have nearly all the corrections they need, and some are demanding I tell them how to get full marks on a question that has confused all the people they’ve talked to. At which point I’ll model ‘perfect’ answers for the questions they request. Back in their seats I ask students to record on the paper in the coloured pen 3 (more or less) things they’ve learned from going through the exercise. (‘Revise more’, ‘read the question’ are not permitted as responses, students must add a specific action, like underlining key terms, making/using Flash cards. I’m happy with specific subject content points). I often collect the papers back and skim the comments. I try (and too often forget) to remind students of the exam technique points they’ve recorded before they prepare and attempt the next test. If necessary some students are required to repeat the same test in an afterschool session a few days after the correction lesson.

A’level class: Again students expect that some of one lesson every week will be a test/review class. And again I try to use past paper questions (I have decades worth!) to make language and structure of the questions familiar. Test conditions, then I collect in work, students sit in pairs, I redistribute papers. No-one marks their own or their neighbour’s work. Nor does anyone mark the work of the person who is correcting their paper. I display the mark scheme bit by bit – lots of discussion between neighbours and in whole class as to interpretation. After grading completed and marks collected, students often want part of mark scheme re-displayed so they can correct their own work.

School exams: Feedback as the GCSE class above – as a teacher you need to do it as quickly as possible, because students will find places where they could have another mark, and it’s really nice if you can correct your records before they’ve passed right up the system and you have to confess your error to too many people. (But maybe that’s just me?) I have the rule that I shan’t discuss individual marks until the correction process is finished, so that momentum through the lesson is maintained. And I have a ‘what I’ve learned’ sheet for students to fill in; about exam and revision techniques, which can be referred to in the future. It’s a useful source for comments for report writing too.

I appreciate that these are subject specific examples, and that it is easier for students to see why a science or maths answer given by a fellow student is better than their attempt. But I do believe that students will remember/learn better when they really want to know. And although I do not go as far as to endorse Gardner’s extended list of multiple intelligences, I do know that most students have a burning need to correct injustice when they believe they have been defrauded. So this is a time when they may appreciate the need for key vocabulary, quoted evidence or correct sentence/paragraph/essay structure. And thus correcting an exam paper can be a real learning experience that engages students.

One last point – I have, in the last decade, rethought how I give explanations and corrections. I used to spend some time making animated powerpoints to explain key points in both interpreting the question and formulating answers. But I realised that using these slides did not engage the whole class. The most able did not need them, and I was losing their attention. And every student had to see everything, which nobody needed. When students explain to each other, those who understand clarify their understanding and rehearse their explanations, in the face of questions that I may not have anticipated, that arise from other students’ misunderstanding. I give the powerpoints to students to use in their own time, especially when they want to revise a topic.

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About lifelonglearner

Teacher in Southern England enthusiastic about exploring ways to learn and teach, and evangelistic about sharing them. Specialism is Physics, but that's just a useful starting point.
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