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Assessments test short-term memory only and not learning!

Discussion in 'Secondary' started by matt135, Jan 4, 2019.

  1. matt135

    matt135 New commenter

    Hi all,

    During the summer holidays I decided to rethink (it was needed) assessment and marking methods in my subject. After talking to a teacher form another school, I decided to 'borrow' her idea and now at the end of each lesson students answer four questions (linked to bloom's taxonomy) in their books which, after every 3rd lesson, are marked (thus 12 questions in total). I look at their other work, but unless their is a glowing error somewhere, the only work that is marked are these 12 questions. I also record a mark in my mark book which helps me when it comes to termly data input.

    To start with all was going well, as you would expect higher ability students were completing all four questions in depth and my lower ability just the first few questions or all four but in less depth. I was providing EBI's to students - mostly to revisit one question and either have a go at it or develop the answer further. But then...

    A member of SLT commented that by asking these four questions at the end of each lesson all I was doing was testing their short term memory, in fact, about 30 minutes of it. If I gave the same four questions to the students six weeks later would I get the same results? I agreed that I probably wouldn't. This has now confused me. I thought I had a system that 1) enabled me to identify understanding from that lesson 2) enable me to asses my students learning 3) reduced my marking - which it did! But now I am unsure if it is the most effective method. Am I just testing their very short team memory without really testing what they have 'learnt'?

    Am I over thinking this or should I review it? (I did think about testing them every 3rd lesson with a set of 12 questions, trouble is we don't have any lesson time to revise the things we learnt over those lessons and I think it is unfair to students to have to remember something I said in 30 seconds 3 weeks before - or more if a half term. Homework as revision is out of the window as we can only set homework 3 times a year).

    I really hope this does not sound like a 'New-Year' moan. Anyone able to lift the mist from my brain and offer some advice? Please!
    needabreak likes this.
  2. needabreak

    needabreak Star commenter

    This is an interesting one and not just a new year moan at all. It's something we should all consider on a regular basis.

    I'd go with yes your colleague is right in one way, although depending on the subject and level it might be necessary for students to move on using what they have learned thus they will need to review what you've just taught anyway.

    It would apoeaa we all do this anyway don't we? Then we check knowledge retained in tests followed by review, revision reteach if necessary and test again either formatively or sumnatively. We are likely all doing it wrong or doing the best we can given the demands made of us, what alternative is there (in exam based secondary subjects anyway)?
  3. Flanks

    Flanks Senior commenter

    We do something called Super8s which is a starter of 8 sorts questions each lesson. Some of them are on with they have done before, some relate to current topic, and some will be future work (so that it looks familiar when it comes). It is part of a focus on spaced learning (returning to learning at intervals to refresh and link with current learning).

    Could be a little adaptation to what you do already?
    needabreak likes this.
  4. matt135

    matt135 New commenter

    Do you mark these questions/answers every so often or do you go through them in class?
  5. frustum

    frustum Star commenter

    I'm not sure those questions at the end of the lesson are about memory at all; surely they are mainly about checking their understanding. At the lowest level, yes, that might just be "did you understand what I said well enough to remember the answer to this question", of course. So the SLT's comment should perhaps have been "what do you do to assess recall?"

    Incorporating questions on earlier topics, as assessment, runs the risk of just assessing who happens to retain things well; there will be those who usually remember everything and those who rarely remember anything. It is, however, useful in terms of spaced learning and repeated revision. Back in the day, we used to do a twenty question test once a week (in the days of shorter lessons, it would be the day you had them last thing), which would be a mix of stuff across the whole subject - if they were all getting one thing right, you'd drop that for a bit or make it slightly harder the next week; something several got wrong would make an appearance again the very next week, so they soon learnt to listen when we went through because it would help them do better the next time.

    A topic test every so often with a chance to prepare gives them a chance to practise methods for improving their recall, ready for GCSE. If you really can't set a homework*, that will have to happen in school, so regular revisiting or a revision lesson would have to be the way.

    *Is the embargo on all homework or just written homework? My daughter's school say that if their set homework doesn't take the allotted time, they should spend some time going over what they've done in their books. Surely subjects like languages have to set some regular learning?
    needabreak likes this.
  6. matt135

    matt135 New commenter

    Checking understandings is what I created the questions for. I simply wanted to see what the students had understood from the lesson, which is why some question were about applying knowledge to a different scenario.

    Homework is timetabled so we are only allowed to give out homework in our 'time slot'. Many subjects complain about this as we would love to use the time for students to revise for tests (annoying Maths and English are allowed to set homework weekly). I have considered planning the last 10 minutes of every lesson to be revision and then only testing students every so often, but then I have the problem of marking - I will need to mark their books and their tests to adhere to the school marking policy (once every 3 lessons - or fortnight).

    It is easier with GCSE as we can set home weekly with them, so they just get tests every so often with homework as revision - makes life so much easier!!!
  7. frustum

    frustum Star commenter

    I'm guessing that maths and English made the case for weekly homework strongly enough that they were listened to! I was in a school that had a system of fewer (larger) homeworks, with just a couple of subjects each fortnight. Languages managed to duck out from the outset; maths gave it a try but then asked to go back to weekly homework. A one-size-fits-all homework system is rarely going to be the best thing for every subject. (On the other hand, my daughter's school has a policy of each subject doing completely what they like, which is unfortunate when they all set major tasks simultaneously - it happened across a half-term, but for anyone who was going away it was very awkward.)

    Perhaps what you need to do is to carry on with your current strategy, but go to management and say "You made a good point about the need to test longer-term retention of what is taught. Really, we could do with some end of topic tests, but without a chance for individual revision, these will be far less useful. Can we adjust the homework timetable to allow for occasional revision slots?" If other departments are in the same boat, maybe there might be a case for the odd week being labelled "revision" on the homework timetable (if there are termly reporting points, then probably everyone wants to do a summary test/task at around the same time). Alternatively, perhaps one "revision" homework could be added to the timetable each week - departments would then need to bid for when they want to do a test.
  8. matt135

    matt135 New commenter

    Changes to the homework timetable is a complete non-starter. SLT love the new idea. Another department asked to come out of it and they were informed - "no".

    I would love to introduce more of a spiral learning curriculum but we just do not have the time. We struggle to fit everything in at the moment and often we only cover something once at KS3 and then revisit at KS4. I have just looked through some books, I have here at home, and from these books one girl has got a set of fantastic notes on costal erosion and provided some excellent answers to her four assessment questions. Yet, we did this back at the beginning of year 8. I know we do not cover costal erosion again until GCSE. Although her book makes it look like 'learning' has happened, I know if I asked her in 6 months time, 12 months time about costal erosion she would probably find it difficult to answer the questions.

    As a department we have looked at introducing 'refresh' lessons each term to go back over content. It sounded good on paper but when we tried to slot it into the SoW something else had to go.

    At my previous school we tested students three times each term using a set of exam-style questions, even from year 7 (The test itself was made to look like an exam paper with about 10-20 questions, all using the command words from AQA). I never liked that concept as I felt we were spending too long on teaching students how to write exam style questions and pass exams then focusing on content. The only plus side was it gave very accurate assessment data (...and I have no idea why).

    Wouldn't it be nice to be able to teach students without the pressure of having to do assessments / exams..... I will continue dreaming ;-)
  9. minnie me

    minnie me Star commenter

    Aren’t exams designed to test memory ? So if you have good recall and retain ‘ knowledge ‘ then you are likely to succeed. It helps also if you can manage your time appropriately and write legibly at speed. We test ‘things’ because it is easy and call it ‘learning’ and doing so exclude many students who do not fit into this model.
  10. ScienceGuy

    ScienceGuy Established commenter

    You need to mix it up a bit - do 3 questions on the current topic and three on previous work. That way you can identify any misconceptions with the current topic whilst checking to see if learning had taken place

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