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alan cooper
ormative assessments are only good if
they are used to alter ways we teach or
for studen...
alan cooper
Alan Cooper is an educational
consultant based in New Zealnd. As
a principal, he was known for his
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28 Formative assessment peer teaching and differentiation


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28 Formative assessment peer teaching and differentiation

  1. 1. 2828 TeachersMatter alan cooper F ormative assessments are only good if they are used to alter ways we teach or for students to adjust their learning. In regards to student learning, unless there is an in the moment response, learning may well be compromised as where students are at in their learning and understanding during a lesson is completely unknown to teachers (Graham Nuthall). Assessments can be either teacher centred or learner centred. Traffic Lights is an example of being learner centred and thus gives teachers first-hand, in the moment, knowledge of where the learner is at. Charting is a blunter teacher centred tool given after the activity to gain an outsider’s view of what the student is thinking. Both have their place - especially if used in unison – and are described below. Traffic Lights “What a blast,” is the comment of an experienced teacher after using the Traffic Light technique for the first time. This tool, as the name suggests, uses colour coding to signify where each student is at throughout the lesson. There are many ways to provide the tools to accomplish this but plastic or paper cups are the most suitable. Each student is issued with a set of three of these cups – green, yellow and red - hence Traffic Lights. Initially at the beginning of the lesson green is the top cup, with the others stacked in traffic light order. As the lesson progresses, the students display for the teacher their level of understanding. Green indicates complete understanding including a belief that they can teach the lesson to someone else. Yellow indicates that they are not sure so extra explanation may be needed BUT watch if the signal changes back to green or into red before jumping in. Red signals danger: stop the lesson and provide first aid! The crucial aspect of this method is that as the lesson progresses, students have personal control over the cups. So the formative feedback is not only in the moment, but also includes self-learning skills such as self- assessment. As students may take several days or even longer to adjust to using Traffic Lights, they need to be used with every lesson so that they become an integral part of the classroom rituals – part of the classroom culture. Quality control is needed. Those who mostly have green cups showing can be asked from time to time to explain a concept or lesson segment to the class. Otherwise, especially if they are a fixed mindset student, they may Formative assessment, peer teaching and differentiation Living in the moment be using the green cup in order hide their confusion and appear smart. As can be seen from the quotation above, the teacher was satisfied but what about the students? As also reported by the teacher, “I have asked students what they think about using Traffic Lights for teaching and they are all in favour as it means I spot misunderstandings and confusion early on.” Action when the green light changes Data on its own is absolutely useless. It’s what is done with it that matters; the action the teacher and the students take. One practical action to take is peer tutoring. Peer tutoring is strongly supported by research and as Hattie describes, “peer tutoring has many academic and social benefits for both those tutoring and those doing the is most effective when used as a supplement to, rather than a substitute for, teacher role...Thus, when students become teachers of others, they learn as much as those they are teaching.” The assumption is often made that peer tutoring needs to be done on a one on one basis. Small group teaching is a better option. Not only does this bring all the green light students into taking an active part, and therefore gaining those self-managing attributes that peer teaching requires, but it also means that the class organisation is straight forward, not requiring the teacher to plan and organise alternative activities for the green lighters. In contrast, if the grouping is random the tutoring may be compromised by personalities. If the class teacher has constructed a sociogram (see my article in Teachers Matter issue 13) and makes it available to other teachers taking the class, the social relationships within the class are clearly shown to guide the composition of compatible groups.
  2. 2. 2929 alan cooper Alan Cooper is an educational consultant based in New Zealnd. As a principal, he was known for his leadership role in thinking skills, including Habits of Mind,learning styles and multiple intelligences, information technology, and the development of the school as a learning community. There also needs to be a clear understanding of group members roles (see my article on this in Teachers Matter issue 22). The progression from the teacher control of process and procedure at the novice stage through to the absence of teacher direction at the expert stage will need mindful coaching and mentoring. It won’t just happen. Taking time to pause and allow for peer re-teaching and consolidation provides the quality learning that leads to full class mastery. In the coverage of the curriculum it is not the quantity that matters but the quality of the coverage. Get the quality right and the quantity will look after itself. Charting Charting provides simple, easily collected data for teachers to provide themselves with personal formative feedback which provides data for them to continuously learn about their own strengths and weaknesses. The best of this potential data will come from the simple day to day observations of an ordinary classroom day. There are many things that can be observed, but initially select one or two. Once having decided on what to observe, design a simple chart that is not time consuming to record on and interpret. An example, associated with the Traffic Light system would be to keep an observation of when it is that the green cups start to change to orange or red. Student names Monday Other days First part of lesson Second Part of lesson Third part of lesson Chinese teachers are taught at their Colleges of Education to identify at every stage of their lesson plan areas of difficulty or areas where misconceptions may occur and to plan accordingly. Teacher analysis of the above chart would follow this and would highlight where the breakdowns occur. This then allows for future planning to avoid these pitfalls. For example, if there is a cluster of students shifting from green to yellow or red in the first part of the lesson the data perhaps points to future lesson planning reviewing prior knowledge as an introductory whole class discussion. Then those who know can spread their knowledge to those who do not. Likewise, if there are a number turning yellow or red in the last segment, consider if the lesson plan requires a break here to allow for some gentle anaerobic exercise in order to induce an increased blood flow to re-charge the working parts of the brain. Many other simple observational charts can be devised and developed. One could be a simple tick the box indicating who is asking the questions. Another could be who is answering the questions. Still another could be to put a tick beside each student spoken to each day. Areas for action from these charts could include a careful look to see if some students are being left out? Is the teaching to only part of the class? This can be quite salutary! As personal practical knowledge of this charting is developed, much more sophisticated data can be gathered, but even then the simple, as detailed here, is still important. Differentiation S t a r t i n g w i t h t h e Tr a f f i c L i g h t s , differentiation is an important ingredient all through this article. The first step is taken when the Traffic Lights differentiate individual class members is built up, it may well become obvious that some green lighters seem to get a better response than others to red lighters who have particular characteristics, so they can be matched accordingly. T h e C h a r t s a l s o p r o v i d e d a t a f o r differentiation, where teachers can use higher level thinking to analyse, evaluate and then create a solution in their future planning. An example would be to scrutinise the mindset of red lighters who signal early in the lesson, checking to see if the vocabulary they use shows a fixed mindset. If so they may expect to fail and at the first hint of difficulty give up. If this is so, to remedy it the teacher will need to craft a careful use of vocabulary to change to a growth mindset, perhaps starting with yet. “I see you haven’t got it yet,” thus implying that they will get it in the future. The teacher vocabulary, as always, is most important. Paramount in every school, in every classroom, is the quality of the teaching. By implementing any or all of what has been discussed above the quality of teaching will grow and student success will grow with it. Quality drives quantity. between who understands the lesson and who does not. A further step then occurs when the peer tutoring provides individual instruction for the red light students. By using tools such as sociograms to promote compatible groups, more differentiation is added. As the teacher’s practical knowledge of formative assessment grows, and the overall knowledge of the