Trying to embed some simple formative assessment into my practice

I have been employing some formative assessment strategies this year after reading Embedding Formative Assessment by Dylan William and watching The School Experiment. More specifically, the no hands-up classroom and individual whiteboards. I chose these because they were simple, practical ideas that I could trial then suggest to the faculty as an introduction to formative assessment.

The no hands-up has been an overwhelming success. I have written names on paddle-pop sticks (I’m Australian, we don’t call them ice lolly or craft sticks) and have a cup for each class. Questions are asked of students as their names are randomly drawn from the cup. If students don’t know the answer they are given thinking time and asked to give their best guess, even if they don’t know the answer. I then circle back to them after we have heard a few answers to check what their answer would be after listening to others.  I am using them with a Year 8, 9, 10 and 11 class and it works equally as well with all of these age ranges.

This has had a moderate impact on the engagement of my students. Most (still working on the 1%) are now actively listening so they can at least give some part of an answer and all are now comfortable with the idea of being not quite correct (there is no wrong answer) and resigned to the fact that they will be called on and may as well stop, pause and think.  This is still accompanied by the occasional mumbled answers and reddened faces but I now do not hear, “I don’t know.” If I forget the sticks, they remind me. Those students who always put their hands up, didn’t like it at first. They like answering questions and being correct.  I now say things like, “I acknowledge you know the answer but its someone else’s turn.”  This has satisfied them somewhat.

I had also bought some small individual whiteboards. I used them early in Term 1 with some success but at the time, they weren’t as useful as the sticks. I don’t have my own classroom and so carrying them from room to room was problematic. My osteopath suggested that unless I wanted to fund her next overseas holiday, I should stop.  So they have not been as extensively used as the sticks.  Until this week. Its reporting time, and time for some summative assessment. The whiteboards came out in an attempt to mix things up and make revision a little bit more interesting.  And it worked like a dream.

The first class I used them with were my Year 10’s, a mixed ability group of students with varying degrees of classroom engagement.  Due to time constraints I was just going to give them a past paper to complete. Boring. But then I remembered the whiteboards. I asked students to write their answer to the exam questions on the whiteboards and then hold up their answer.  This allowed me to give instant feedback and allowed students to adjust their answer immediately.  I then used the sticks to ask students how they derived their answers. To my delight, the whole class engaged in this activity. I think because it was a bit of fun and non-threatening. I corrected some misconceptions, did a little bit of whole class redirection and reminders and saw my students have a few light bulb moments along the way. I had a pre-service teacher observing my lesson and he was so impressed by its success that by the time the lesson had finished, he’d sourced his own set of whiteboards on Ebay and was ready to order a set.

Today, I used the same principle with my Year 8’s with a greater degree of success. While I won’t be using the whiteboards every lesson, I will be using them more.  The opportunity for instant feedback in a non-threatening way over-rides the pain of schlepping them around the school.  I now need to work on being better organised so that my questions allow me to monitor misconceptions and misunderstandings so I can adjust or revisit during my teaching.  Maybe I do need to finish that Assessment for Learning in STEM Teaching online course from Future Learn.

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2 thoughts on “Trying to embed some simple formative assessment into my practice

  1. Kelvin Furze October 7, 2016 at 5:55 pm Reply

    Thank you for such a useful post Jennifer. I’ve also read William’s book and have been trying to embed formative practices into my teaching. Rather than the lolly sticks I use a random name generator which highlights student names on the whiteboard. It has certainly improved engagement. In order to avoid the awkwardness of putting students on the spot I first tell students the questions that they will need to answer and then get them to work in groups to prepare answers. If a student then gets picked, via the random name generator, but then cannot answer the question, the whole group gets the blame. The idea is that the group has responsibility for ensuring that every member is prepared. This has been really useful because brighter students do not enjoy being seen as members of ‘failing’ groups and therefore contribute more to discussion. In the past they would often be confident in their own ability to answer a question, but then be quite prepared to sit back and let the others sink or swim. They are now more active in ensuring everyone in the group can at least float.

    Thank you for sharing your ideas. A great post!

  2. The Randomometron – Furze's Reflection December 20, 2016 at 3:59 am Reply

    […] can sometimes be difficult to implement in the classroom, but Jennifer English’s blog post Trying to embed some simple formative assessment into my practice  highlights how it can be done.  Her comments about the use of the ‘No hands-up […]

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