AFL - How can we assess learning from our new vantage point?

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AFL - How can we assess learning from our new vantage point?

For decades, trainee teachers have been told to ‘circulate the room’, ‘don’t
sit down’, ‘speak to every pupil, every lesson’ and other such valid and wise
approaches to teaching. These approaches are, of course, designed to
ensure that no pupil’s learning (or behaviour) is forgotten, left behind or

But we live in unusual times.

Many of us find ourselves teaching exclusively from the front of the room
(maybe even from behind some fluorescent yellow tape!) and all of our best
practice and training is suddenly turned upside down. How do you speak to
the pupils at the back of the room? How do you ensure understanding
when during the course of a lesson you are unable to have a quiet
conversation with a struggling pupil? What do you do when they are
working and you are unable to circulate?

Just as the lockdown saw many people returning to their long forgotten
hobbies, so it may be time for teachers to dust off those long-forgotten AFL
strategies of the days of yore.

For example, it may be time to abandon ‘hands up’ altogether. We all know
that really it’s not the best way to ensure progress as the same pupils raise
their hands again and again, but we all use it anyway and have been able
to counteract the effects by reaching those quieter pupils in person. Without
that possibility, now is a good time to consider a blanket ban on ‘hands up’
and return to the trainee teacher’s favourite ‘lolly sticks’ and other such
random name generators. Of course, the best kept AFL secret is that we all
skew lolly sticks anyway so that we speak to whomever we wish to hear
from! The pupils will adjust remarkably quickly to a blanket rule and you
can ensure that you hear from any pupils you feel necessary.

But where does this leave pupils for whom verbal responses in lessons
create anxiety and worry, or who find themselves embarrassed if they are
not able to produce the expected answer? One element of current school
guidelines which could be advantageous is the requirement for pupils to
face the front. This front-facing learning throws wide the possibilities for the
faithful old whiteboards and traffic light cards for AFL, as in theory most
pupils cannot see what their peers are showing.

Of course, none of these systems replace the individual and group
conversations we have been able to have previously, which do so much to
build pupil confidence and move learning forward. This does leave us with
an uncomfortable reality - now, more than ever, progress tracking through
produced work becomes even more significant. Notice the omission of the
word ‘marking’ from the previous statement. Not all work needs a written
comment, mark or acknowledgement. But when we cannot physically get to
them, our pupils’ work becomes one of the clearest indicators of their
learning and understanding. Figuring out how to manage this reality without
creating an unmanageable workload becomes, in turn, one of the many
professional challenges we face in the coming months.

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