Formative assessment doesn’t need to be innovative or tech-based, it just needs to work. I think too often we get so caught up in the bright lights of new tools and ideas that we neglect older ones. As we all know, formative assessment is awesome. John Hattie tells us it is, and we all know he knows everything about education (insert sly snicker here). But seriously, he’s actually onto something when it comes to formative assessment (what he calls feedback… same, same). Black and Wiliam – the formative assessment gurus – tell us that it is a ‘self-evident proposition that teaching and learning must be interactive’ since it is our job as teachers to know our students’ progress and needs in order to help them learn. This information is gathered through ‘assessment’ – by teacher and by students – which takes a wide range of forms. This assessment ‘becomes formative when the evidence is actually used to adapt the teaching to meet student need’. Formative assessment, used correctly, improves learning outcomes. However, if we get wrapped up in the WAY students are being assessed (or assessing themselves/each other) then we may forget to use the assessment information for what it was intended – to modify teaching and learning strategies to meet student need. (Quotes from Black and Wiliam, ‘Inside the Black Box: Raising Standards Through Classroom Assessment’ – Google it and have a read, even if you have read it before!)
This week I have rediscovered the beauty of the quiz. Now, we mustn’t call it a test, because that – I have just learned – freaks students out. I’m assuming the word test connotes grades and rankings and thus fear. I used a quiz to assess my students’ understanding of the play Macbeth. We’ve been reading and performing excerpts in class as part of their project that will see them create an advertising campaign for a theatrical production of the play. I’d told them that the quiz was coming, they knew what it was they’d need to know, but it wasn’t something they were required to ‘study’ for – that would defeat the purpose.
It was funny that when I handed out the quiz they started asking me if it was ‘worth’ anything. I replied that it was an assessment of their learning and that it would help me see what we need to refocus on. They seemed to sigh with relief – how odd! Despite it not being ‘worth’ anything in their minds, they still all worked quietly and took the quiz seriously. It only took 15 minutes to complete. After the lesson, I took 30 minutes to ‘mark’ their quizzes, and it was really enlightening for me. Most understood the plot and characters, and many the themes, but a lot of them struggled with questions about Shakespeare’s language and dramatic techniques. This is unsurprising, really, cos they are much higher order content and less engaging. It might even be that they’ve decided that information is less important for their project – after all, they’re not writing an analysis of the play.
What makes this (pretty basic, old skool) assessment formative is that I will be using the information gained to adapt my teaching. There were also some students that have really obvious gaps in their knowledge of the play, and as such I will be working with them to address those. In class on Monday we will be going through the ‘correct’ answers in an attempt to help check if it was simple errors (often made with multiple choice questions) or if it’s something more significant which we can – hopefully – sort out together as a class. I don’t know of going through answers to a quiz as a class runs counter to the purpose of formative assessment – I feel a little like it might since I might inadvertently ‘out’ students as being less knowledgable because they got less questions correct. An alternative might be to ask each student to look at their results individually and to identify three ways they can improve their knowledge of the play in future. Maybe I could also just discuss some of the shared errors made by the class and try to address them through discussion and questioning…
Anyway, this post was written with the hope that some of you might rekindle your love for the humble quiz. It’s quick and easy to implement. Well, not easy if you’re like me and feel it necessary to create a quiz from scratch – it helped ensure I was assessing the knowledge relevant to our project. Obviously make your quiz it non-threatening for your students be discussing the pedagogical reasons for using it as a formative assessment strategy. Do tell me, what’s your secret fav old skool tool?