What happens if you stop marking


To answer the question in the headline – apparently, nothing! Stuart Kime from Evidence-based education did small-scale research with 30 teachers for about 3 months, and the students who received no written feedback had roughly the same exam results as the control group. It’s interesting that some teachers felt guilty, and some students felt shortchanged nevertheless. I wonder if the experiment could be replicated in a private language school: sometimes too much attention is given to verbal feedback and student satisfaction surveys, whereas wouldn’t it be more productive to have more concrete evidence of the learning progress?

P.S. If you’re not ready to go to such an extreme, perhaps just getting rid of the red pen could work (replacing written feedback with recorded video comments).

When the test is over


Another practical post from my Twitter stash of ideas: two quick and easy activities to ensure that students take away knowledge, not just their grades. If you’re a fan of graphic organisers and printouts, the chart of strengths and weaknesses by Corinne could be the thing for you. (And the students can use a purple pen for this!)

If you need to sweeten the pill and there’s time for a game, you can follow Corinne’s recommendation to play Tornado (and check out the collection of interactive whiteboard games she links to – great stuff, I’ve played one already and it works for me).

Can learning by teaching be the answer?


How often do you have students come out to the board and teach their peers? For me, this has always been a favourite activity, provided the group is friendly and supportive enough. I mostly like it because of the effects of having to explain something to others, which helps their own understanding – and of course it gives a nice change of pace. Now, this research aricle connects the benefits of learning by teaching to retrieval practice, when the students have to remember the material and engage with it in order to teach. (There is a digested version which is an easier read here). So, in other words, in order to benefit from teaching their peers, the students need to engage with the material, not just parrot away something you gave them to read at the board. I think it’s important to know – isn’t it?

And now I have a chillling thought: if testing is about retrieval practice and learning by teaching is about retrieval practice, can learning by teaching replace testing altogether?

P.S. By the way, this post about ‘active learning’  links to an article  where the author is very critical of evaluation in education and finds learning by teaching a much easier way to grade students.

Exit tickets: show what you’ve learned


Todd Finley is one of my favourite writers at Edutopia (you may have seen these posts: Ride the recency effect or Group reading galore), so it was even more exciting to stumble upon this cool infographic by him:

I can easily see it on a poster in the teachers’ room or above a desk, to use as a lesson planning aid. Bloom’s taxonomy? Check. Assessment for learning? You got it. Sense of progress? Very much so!

Who’d like to be a rock star?


I’ve already shared reading about teachers being like cats, or pirates, or many other things. Now, this post by Jimmy Casas is interesting not just for a new analogy, but the whole discussion around it. What negative effects can the ‘rock-star’ status have for the ‘rock-star’ teacher and his or her colleagues? If you are a manager, how do you recognise your teachers’ achievements? Do you give them a public award, compliment them in the teachers’ room, send a quiet email or talk to them privately?   This really made me think.

And how do you like to be recognised for your work?

Pre- and post-assessment for visible learning


Here is an example of a pre- and post-assessment task in a history class that could be easily transferred to a teen or adult ELT classroom. A great way to highlight the students’ achievement (yes, sense of progress). What makes this post special? Well, first of all, you can copy a nifty Google Docs template for the task. Secondly, you get a full description of how and why the activity works. And last but not least, I just love the enthusiasm and warmth that comes through every line 🙂


Can we measure what we value?


What do teachers value? Good relationships with colleagues, a positive atmosphere in the classroom, learning success for the learners? And how do we know if we have achieved this? Which metrics can we influence by our actions, and which are beyond our control? All good questions, and some answers in this post at TeacherToolkit. Could be useful for those development plans!



Taking sides re retrieval practice


Here is a thought-provoking article from The Learning Scientists about different approaches to revision. Some teachers think that tests are boring, and try to hid retrieval practice behind other activities; others do not mind doing a lot of low-stakes non-threatening tests (these unassuming little checks reduce text and exam anxiety, provide regular revision and, of course, increase the sense of progress).

And which side are you on?

Sense of progress 8 of 10: classic texts

ancient book

It wouldn’t be me if I hadn’t spent half the weekend scouring through methodology books. There is a lot to share.

For example, Tricia Hedge in Teaching and Learning recommends self-assessment activities like a ‘How much have you learned?’ questionnaire, and suggests that a task like this can be done in pairs and then complemented by the teacher’s assessment.


Jeremy Harmer in The Practice of English language teaching mentions learner journals – an excellent way to build more reflection into lessons and give a sense of progress and belonging to the students. And even though Scott Thornbury warns against the evil of testing, Jon Taylor (perhaps not the biggest luminary, but the author of one of my favourite books – The Minimax Teacher) suggests that students should test each other: “Frequent testing is useful, challenging and fun”.

And here’s one more important thought from Jon Taylor: “When we talk about whether or not a class is learning, we really need to examine the progress of each individual. A class of 30 students is a group of 30 individuals, not a 30-fold learning army.”

P.S. Thanks for your support on FB and Twitter, guys! It seems that the topic is close to our collective ELT heart.

Sense of progress 2 of 10: another taxonomy


In my search for ways to focus on students’ progress, I have stumbled upon this post about SOLO taxonomy. The model is similar to Bloom’s in that it describes several levels of understanding, from pre-structural (when the student knows only some disjointed information, e.g. words that he or she cannot put in a sentence) to uni-structural (just one scripted answer – survival level) to multi-structural (the student knows about several concepts but uses them additively), relational (a more coherent understanding) and extended abstract (seeing connections between different areas and subjects). How can it be used to give students a better sense of progress? The proponents of the taxonomy suggest teaching them to self-assess their progress using SOLO descriptors. It has worked for some, but it does sound like a lot of extra time spent in the classroom, doesn’t it? Some teachers got quite disillusioned because they saw that the model detracts from building a solid knowledge foundation.

So, perhaps SOLO is too complex to use with most learners. Still, I find myself mentally applying it to teacher training and development: how we move from the level of ‘what on earth can I do to teach the Past Simple???’ to ‘what activity shall I choose to teach the Past Simple?’ to ‘how and why is this activity going to help my learners reach their goals?’.

What are your thoughts, would you use a model like this in your classroom? Language or teacher training?