Recently I attended a training on Formative Assessment with Dylan Wiliam. He is well-known in educational circles as THE guru of Formative Assessment. So I was pretty excited to spend a weekend learning from him.
What he said was nothing new. What he said was no educational rocket science. Yet he had some great, easy to implement, suggestions on how to give formative feedback to students.
Beyond the idea of feedback, many of his suggestions are essentially about classroom management. When students aren’t engaged in your classroom, they are going to make their presence known in ways you won’t really enjoy.
One way of gauging who in the room is on track and who needs help is by using the traffic light technique. Each student uses a set of colored cups to indicate the level of help they need.
Red: I’m stuck! I can’t continue without your help.
Yellow: I have a question but I can keep working until you can get to me.
Green: I’m super! No need for help.
In the past, writing days are always the most tiring with my students. They all have questions, they all need help. But they can’t keep writing if one of their hands is in the air. And by the time I get to a student, their hand no longer has any feeling left.
Using the traffic light method is an excellent way to keep students writing and on task, without the need for raised hands. Students who have questions about formatting can keep working. They would show Yellow. A student who is struggling to understand how to use textual support in their paragraph would go Red.
This technique also leads to great discussion with students. Did you really need to go Red just to ask the spelling of a word? And for that matter, is spelling a Yellow? Couldn’t you have looked it up in a dictionary, online, or in spell check? Having to decide how much help they really need, actually allows students to realize they can solve a lot of problems for themselves.
Students also love that they have a way to seek help without drawing attention to themselves. If everyone is focused on writing their essays, no one notices when someone turns their cup to Yellow or Red.
When using this technique, I feel much less harried at the end of the period. I feel good that I spent quality time with those students who really needed it. And I feel that I am able to encourage the more needy students to take some risks to solve some problems on their own.
Now that I have my traffic lights, I am never going back to hands up.
Want more information on Dylan Wiliam? Here is the first episode of a BBC program he did showing a school’s attempts to increase engagement in their students.