Arnie Skelton, Managing Director, Effective Training & Development Ltd

ASSESSMENT: FAST OR DROOP?

In this article I’d like to review the way we conduct formative or summative assessment in the classroom through two contrasting approaches: FAST vs DROOP.

I’m going to suggest that, all too often, our approach to assessment is DROOP-y, and would be better for both teacher and learner if it were FAST-er.

So, to look at the dark side – DROOP which stands for:

  • Disengaged
  • Rushed
  • Once
  • One-way, and
  • Past it

Too often classroom-based assessment is:

Disengaged

The learner has little or no interest in it – or even the reverse: is fearful of or anxious about it.

This can be for any number of reasons, some of which are of course beyond the teacher’s control – such as domestic circumstances, travel arrangements, or laziness.

But many aren’t, and include:

  • fear of failure
  • boring assessment activity
  • lack of adequate teaching of that which is being assessed
  • lack of adequate preparation, including rehearsal/practice
  • lack of ‘assessment technique’
  • unhelpful assessment environment
  • teacher’s attitude and behaviour
  • clarity of purpose
  • helpfulness of (previous) feedback
  • lack of prompt feedback

All of which will lead to learners who are disengaged at best, and fearful and anxious – or even absent - at worst: all of which will of course have an adverse impact on their performance and results. And of course, the word itself – assessment – can create terror in the heart and head: how about using less emotive terms, like game, or quiz, or challenge?

Rushed

All too often classroom-based assessment is rushed; sometimes it is left until the end of any session or lesson.

Whilst this seems initially obvious – you can only assess something once it’s been taught and learned – this doesn’t automatically mean it should be done only at the end; maybe it can be done in a chunked way, in smaller pieces, throughout a lesson; or even at the beginning of the next one?

Once

Teachers are under immense time pressure to complete the syllabus; as a result, some learning is assessed only once. But how relevant or realistic is this?  In ‘real life’ do we get more than one opportunity to put learning into practice before it is signed off?

 Driving springs to mind; as does playing any musical instrument. How much time do we give to practicing both the learning being assessed, AND the process of assessment?

One-way

I’d like to use the term ‘one-way’ to have two different meanings: one to do with feedback, and one to do with variety.

  1. Firstly, in terms of feedback, how much time do teachers give to what I call ‘closing the loop’, and providing effective and prompt feedback following the assessment? How often in effect might it seem ‘one-way’ to the learner: they’ve been assessed…then what? It might seem (and be) ages before they get a response, and then…how helpful is that response?
  2. Secondly, do teachers vary the assessment, to take account of different learning and application preferences. Differentiation not only covers teaching: it should cover assessment, too.

Past it

This is another point about timing. If assessment is done at the end of a session, then often the learners are ‘past it’ by then: they are tired – especially if they have been sitting, concentrating; they are physically, emotionally and intellectually tired – so it is not a good time to be testing them.

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They want to go, and have been psychologically changing state for a while – from attending to leaving. So, they are likely to pay less attention, be less switched on, less caring and less focused. They are past it.

So, what’s the alternative?

How about a FAST approach?

FAST stands for:

  • Fun
  • Active
  • Short and
  • Timely

Fun

Fun is a great way of engaging anyone, and that includes learners.  Can you make your assessment into a form of a game?

(I have written a manual of 88 ‘games’ which have an educational purpose. Email me if you would like a copy). Learners tend to hate assessment, but enjoy games, quizzes, and competition.

Active

Most people – of any age – like to be active: that means they typically enjoy movement, so long as it is purposive and not threatening.  So, any assessment activity that involves some form of movement might help: it could involve moving around the room, but could also include moving arms (drawing), or turning round in a chair…

Short

Attention spans are limited for most people, and often particularly for learners, and especially towards the end of a static, talk dominated session!  Instead of (say) one 20-minute assessment, how about 4 5-minute assessments?

Timely

Rather than one lengthy and tedious assessment at the end of a session, why not try more frequent but much shorter assessments throughout the session, or even at the beginning?

I’d be happy to offer ideas on how good teachers – and teaching – can address any or all of the above, so please contact me if that would help, but in this short article, all I can do is outline the differences between DROOP and FAST approaches and hope you can do the rest…!

Arnie Skelton, Managing Director, Effective Training & Development Ltd

To hear more from Arnie subscribe to his podcast series "Top Ten Tips for Teachers and #FE Managers the Podcast Series" or visit his Newsroom on FE News.

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