In the first ever guest post on ELT Planning, Kirsten Anne shares her teaching experiences and offers two great ideas for formative assessment.
This post has been a long time coming. I’ve been promising to write something for ELT Planning for a while but anyone who is in the teaching profession in some guise will understand that I had to prioritise my to-do list. There were the parents to schedule meetings with, praise postcards to write and lessons to plan.
Who am I?
Here’s a potted history of my career so far. I first entered English Language teaching after completing my CertTESOL back in 2010. From there, I taught EFL in Edinburgh, Sussex and South Korea before returning to the UK to embark on my PGCE (Post Graduate Certificate in Education). The last 5 years have been somewhat of a whirlwind and at times I have felt like all I do is work. My partner will vouch for me when I say I work hard – the life of a primary school teacher is not glamorous. I only spent 1 year in the UK post-PGCE and whilst I loved the school where I completed my NQT (Newly Qualified Teacher) year, the demands from the government back home were just ridiculous. My search for a teaching job that allowed me to have more of a work/life balance began. So far, that search has taken me to Bangkok where I’m fortunate to be part of a prestigious international school with a forward thinking team. I don’t want this to sound misleading — the job is still VERY demanding, but being part of such a supportive team helps, as does not having quite so many bits of paperwork…
The chances for professional development here are vast and colleagues are always bouncing new and exciting ideas around in the staffroom. I keep my ear close to the ground and ‘magpie’ a lot of them, occasionally to find that they weren’t so good in practice as they were in theory!
After my NQT year I found myself with a strong teacher toolkit in many areas. However, I felt I needed a more time efficient way of assessing a student’s learning journey that didn’t involve hours of looking through APP (Assessing Pupil Progress) records. My first year of teaching in a UK primary school was immediately after the government did away with levels. Schools were left to fend for themselves as to how they assessed student’s progress and understandably felt a bit anxious. My anxiety was partly due to inexperience and partly down to realising how long ongoing assessment took me each fortnight.
My top tips for formative assessment
Formative assessment (including diagnostic testing) is a range of formal and informal assessment procedures conducted by teachers during the learning process, in order to modify teaching and learning activities to improve student attainment.
There are a wealth of ways in which to assess a student’s learning. Below I’ve chosen the two that I’ve found to be the most effective in terms of time-efficiency for the teacher, and that have a real impact on a student’s learning journey.
I have found these to be really useful. Entrance tickets, as the name suggests are used at the start of a lesson. An entrance ticket ensures there is a focus for the learner as soon as they arrive and settles them into the classroom. A question is posed and the student responds on an entrance ticket (a slip of paper, a post-it note, etc). If used effectively, the teacher can then react to the needs of the students in the lesson depending on how they are intended to be used.
This technique can:
- introduce a new topic and find out what the learners already know (sometimes known as a ‘knowledge harvest’ in primary teaching). This acts as a powerful way for a teacher to plan any subsequent lessons and helps avoid repeating prior learning.
- group students immediately in the lesson according to their response. The teacher constantly monitors how a student has responded to the question and uses this to put the learners into informed mixed or similar ability groups.
- be a useful tool in bridging gap between the previous lesson and quickly assessing how much the learner’s have retained before moving on.
- be used as evidence to show where a student was at when they began the lesson/unit of work and help show progression.
Learner’s seem to enjoy proving what they have learned in the lesson by completing an exit ticket. We have a post box in my classroom where they will deliver their ticket before transitioning to the next class. I usually set a 3 minute timer when posing an exit question. I use the data collected as a way to pro-actively plan what will come next. They are a great tool in allowing a teacher to assess where to pitch any future lessons and decide on the direction the learning may go in. Added to this, is the luxury of having a record of a student’s understanding. Have the learners met the learning objective? Are there students who have an obvious mastery of the topic who need extending next time? I often put my exit ticket responses into piles so that I know how to effectively differentiate any future learning opportunities.
Plickers requires an internet connection, (which may be a problem in some classrooms) and a smartphone. It takes a little while to set up —the teacher has to download the app, register, set up their class and print out the picker cards. However, the rewards over time make it worthwhile. When I began using this, I did a few practice runs with my class as I knew that the initial excitement and time taken for introducing this tool could detract from its main purpose. My class are used to it now and my assessments are done in just 5 minutes, leaving me with a clear idea of how to proceed with the learning.
The plicker card is a unique card that is assigned to a student. Each side is labelled A,B,C and D. The learner uses this to respond to a question that is revealed on the interactive screen. They turn the plicker card until it matches their desired answer. For example, in the picture above, the learner would turn the card clockwise 90 degrees to give an answer of C.
They then hold up their plicker card and the teacher scans the classroom with their phone. This is the magic bit — the software then picks up the answers given and displays them on the board in real time.
This is the exciting part for students as they get immediate feedback (this feature can be hidden to teacher only view) on their answers and can see the results displayed as a bar graph.
This information can be saved and used in a similar way to entrance and exit tickets without the fiddly bits of paper. Student response has also been more positive to Plickers than other techniques given the fast-paced digital age that we find ourselves in.
Classes can be set up in a way that allows the teacher to keep online records of student responses which, as a formative assessment tool, is a very convenient feature!
Another luxury of this app is that it can be used at any point in a lesson. For example, a mini plenary after 10 minutes of learning asks students to give an answer using their Plicker card.
The teacher has pre-empted a number of answers and planned accordingly. If students answer A they will do activity 1, answer B, activity 2 and so on. 50% of students answer incorrectly so this could immediately create a focus group for the teacher—these students need some further practise or clarification. This is a powerful way of driving learning forward in a purposeful way for the students in our classroom.
I hope you find these two formative assessment tools useful. If you have any further ideas then please share! I’m always keen to try out new things in class.