This academic year, my school has been running an AfL (Assessment for Learning) working group, based on the work of Dylan Wiliam. The main focus of the group is for us all to experiment with some of Dylan’s techniques (or anything else we come up with, AfL or otherwise), and then share our experiences and thoughts with each other. In this blog post I am going to share some of the things I have tried so far, and their varying degrees of success. Please note that some of the following are not really AfL strategies, but are ideas I thought of whilst a part of the working group, and wanted to try out. Members of staff are paired up and do brief ‘drop ins’ to each other’s lessons on request, and give feedback on how well the technique seems to be working. It has been really enjoyable being a part of this working group, as we all feel confident to try things without being judged, and have the opportunity to make mistakes and learn from them (growth mindset!)

The webcam

The idea: Use a webcam to project a student’s work on the board, and have the class discuss it and offer advice. The students could be randomly chosen or deliberately, and could be used to show model examples to the class. The student who did the work gets constructive feedback from their peers, who can also apply the same feedback to their own work as appropriate.

The reality: This initially seemed like a good idea, but in practice there ended up being two problems. The first is that almost all the feedback given ended up being along the lines of, ‘it is very neat’ or ‘it is messy and hard to understand’. There was very little actual constructive feedback from the students. Possibly I might need to include some kind of ‘guide to giving feedback’ so they know what things to look for, but I feel this is better left as a part of our project/investigational work (when projects are completed they are peer marked and constructive feedback given). The second problem came after trying this for around a week. A student asked me at the start of a lesson, ‘Sir, are we going to do the ‘name and shame’ thing again today?’ As the students’ perception of this activity was that the purpose was to embarrass them, I decided to discontinue the process. If I tried it again I might look to use the ‘airplay’ feature on apple devices, and focus only on displaying examples of excellent work for others to follow.

The egg-timer

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The idea: I find that sometimes I give students a specific length of time on a task, but often give them too little or too much (my mental timekeeping is not great!) I have tried using online timers but I would like something that is a bit faster to use.

The reality: I have found this to be really useful and am still doing it. The students tend to snap into action more quickly when they know the clock is ticking, and the fact that they cannot easily see the time on it means that it doesn’t distract them. The only slight negative is that the sound can be heard in the adjacent classroom, prompting cries of ‘ah the cake is ready!’ from my unfortunate colleague! I would also say that I try to be flexible with it. If students are in the middle of a good discussion then I tend to pause the timer so they can continue, rather than being interrupted. Overall I would say that this is more useful for me than the students, it keeps me to time and the lesson moves at a better pace than before.

Numbered desks

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The idea: In discussions, some students tend to dominate and others are passive. My desks are grouped in 4s and each desk has a number from 1-4 on it. I might put a prompt on the board, and say that the ‘1’s have 30 seconds to say what they think. No other students can speak at that time. I then go through and allow the other numbers to speak in the same way, or put a follow up question where the ‘2’ can build on what the ‘1’ said. This means all students have the same amount of time to share their thoughts.

The reality: This has worked really well. Students who normally did not speak during discussions have started getting involved more as they know they are going to have their say. I believe it has also helped some of the louder ones consider the opinions of others more willingly as they have heard alternative thoughts and been ‘surprised’. Of course there are some who still shy away from speaking, but it is a good start for them. It has also been useful for randomly choosing class members, or putting students into groups. As the seating plan changes each term, this adds some more variability. I can see myself using this for the foreseeable future.

Marking by Request

The idea: There seems to be an issue with Year 12 students and a dip in performance from GCSE, and I believe this is strongly linked to the fact that a lot of independence is suddenly expected of them. Yes, the work is harder, but too many just do the homeworks (if that), and do not do anything beyond. As we know, at A-level Maths, this means they are most likely getting too little practice in. With my Year 10 class I have said that I will not be taking in their books as a group anymore. However, if a student asks me to, I will take their book, mark it and provide feedback. Homework is set via Craig Barton’s Diagnostic Questions website so this is already ‘marked’. The aim is to get students to want feedback and be seeking it, rather than just handing in their books passively.

The reality: I have only started this recently, so cannot provide a full evaluation yet. However, I feel it has been good for both myself and the students. A few handed their books in for the first time this way last week, and I felt that my marking was actually much better. I analysed their work more thoroughly since there wasn’t such a huge pile to wade through, and as a result each book got more of my time. I was able to tailor my comments specifically to them, and even write some ideas for them to investigate, without the whole process being too onerous. It will be interesting to see whether they have done anything relating to those extensions when I next take their books in. I have decided that I will give the class gentle reminders about handing books in, but insist that it has to be their choice. We have a test coming up at the start of March, and it will be interesting to see how the students perform. Especially those who are not handing their books in at all – will it make a difference?

I will update this in my next post…