Have they got it?

Have they got it?

What it means to be a teacher

Have they got it?

During the remote learning period, I found myself reflecting upon what it really meant to be a teacher. Whilst the dictionary defines teaching as simply “giving information about a particular subject to a class or pupil”, our job is so much more than this. We are employed to facilitate learning in pupils, a task far more complex than simply giving out information. This is one of the first lessons taught during teacher training – just because something has been taught, doesn’t mean that it has been learned.

Teaching is, and should be, an interactive process, with staff using formative assessment data to adapt their lessons to the needs of the class and those of individual pupils. However, with up to 18 pupils, and a myriad of formative assessment methods, what is the best method of collecting this feedback from pupils? In this blog post, I will evaluate a number of formative assessment techniques, drawing on my experiences in the classroom.

  1. Questioning
  2. Self-assessment poll
  3. Short exam-style questions

    Questioning is perhaps the best-known formative assessment technique. However, the teacher faces a choice about which style of questioning to use. For example:

    1. Should an individual be chosen to answer, or should pupils be allowed to volunteer answers by putting their hand up?
    2. Should the pupils be allowed to discuss the question before giving an answer?
    3. Should mini-whiteboards be used to get answers from the whole class?

      Personally, I feel that there is a place for all of these methods of questioning, although I tend to favour ‘cold-calling’ pupils, as this ensures that the whole class are actively engaged and attentive in the lesson. Following this, asking for another pupil to respond to the first answer gives another pupil the opportunity to disagree with, expand upon, or validate the first pupil’s response (the ‘pose, pause, pounce, bounce’ method). Mini-whiteboards are great for getting instant-whole class feedback; however, for explanation-based answers, they don’t quite hit the mark, with verbal explanations allowing more detail to be given. This is where group discussions support the explanations of all pupils, with groups coming up with a collaborative ‘perfect’ answer.

      Self-assessment polls ask the pupils to show the teacher how confident they perceive themselves to be on a particular topic (using thumbs up/down/sideways or a similar method). This provides instant feedback to the member of staff, but requires pupils to be self-reflective and to feel comfortable admitting that they are finding something difficult. I recently observed a colleague using this method highly effectively, having clearly built up excellent relationships with her pupils. She built upon this by asking those who were less confident why this was the case (which aspect of the work were they finding challenging) before reassuring all of the pupils that it was absolutely fine to be finding the work difficult at this stage.

      As pupils progress up the school, short exam-style questions allow pupils to practice their exam technique, whilst providing teachers with feedback on their knowledge of an individual topic. Having the pupils peer-assess these before asking the class as a whole how many marks they achieved and, perhaps more importantly, where they lost marks.

      However, with all of these techniques, it is deciding what to do with the information which is important. Often, they will reveal a misconception, which can be quickly dealt with, but sometimes an area will need to be taught in an alternative way to ensure understanding by the whole class. Regardless of the feedback however, teachers are constantly adapting their lessons to facilitate the best possible learning outcomes for their pupils.

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