On the surface this procedure appears simple, but it is designed to allow the teacher to see the current understanding and vocabulary of the student. i.e. the activity is an assessment for learning activity and not a “busy” or processing one. Since it has this pedagogical purpose it is best to share this with our students. This will change the quality of what your students are aware that they are being assessed. Students are fascinated and motivated to be involved in "secret teacher business".
The alphabet analyser activity at the start of the lesson will instantly show two interesting facets of student learning
1. what language do the students already have, an indicator of prior knowledge
2. what links are they making- an indicator of understanding
A teacher can record this information so that they can make some of the following decisions.a) Do all the students need to follow the lesson plan? ( I have highlighted "all" because a teacher can assess the whole class in a matter of minutes.
Teachers may even use a sampling strategy before they make a decision that would affect the whole class (this has to be better than using solely a gut feeling). Teachers can then catch up with all as the lesson progresses, or maybe using this as a start point to discuss individual learning. You could ask a student to add a few extra ones in front of you to check the validity of their entries.b) Are there parts of the content you would expect the students to know and they don't? So, do you need to recap?c) What parts of the content needs to be expanded upon?d) Are your students working towards targeted levels? Do you need to emphasise some of the thinking required ( as opposed to content knowledge) to move them forward?
I think this is really rather useful "stuff", what Assessment for Learning should look like, not hours of marking for little impact and influence on the next teaching step. Its quick, obvious, can be acted upon and if the purpose of the procedure is shared is empowering to the student.For each analyser a simple assessment hierarchy can be constructed with examples of the kind of terminology and thinking a teacher wants and expects their students to learn. it proves very useful in helping make these decisions. EVEN something as arbitrary as the national curriculum could be helpful in the development of student thinking in this context. Another way could be the linking of the repsonses to Anderson revised taxonomy.
Obviously by repeating the process at the end of the lesson the student and teacher can see progress. I always emphasise this as an opportunity to be proud of the progress they will make and I request that they use a different coloured pen, thereby making the new learning clearly visible to all. This is a major motivating tool.
This student from their first attempt would be operating around about a level 5, heading towards 6. The number of relevant words being the limiting factor. At the end of the task, she is clearly level 6 with the possibility of a level 7. It is very interesting to note that this matches her exact summative assessments this year! How long have i spent marking exams and coursework to get the same number from a single 10 minute activity. I have also checked a few others and it does seem to be consistent across all abilities. I will crunch some numbers to verify this.
As an assessment tool or as I would prefer an assessment procedure it becomes more powerful if the students begin to use this themselves the table above providing guidance so students can assess their own level. Words that do not appear in the table can be assigned through discussion.I also mentioned PEEL as an influence in my thinking behind this. Anyone interested The is http://www.peelweb.org/ a gold mine of similar procedures. Each one explained and linked to classroom examples. It really does it well and takes class room activities and turns them into learning processes, so teachers are not just entertaining young people for the duration of a lesson but helping them learn and become better learners.
My interest in the idea of sharing pedagogical purposes comes directly with the contact I have had with the Project for Enhancing Effective Learning at Monash University in Australia. Now each of these teachers were very active in establishing learning agendas with their classes. The impact they were having was inspiring. Each classroom tool can have a purpose beyond delivering content, and this needs to be shared.
I suppose the purpose of this website is collate, crystalise and open dialogues about how to increase this within classrooms. As the quote from Carl Bereiter illustrates this classroom methodology can empower our students.