This is a follow up to my recent post on formative assessment. The second pillar of formative assessment focuses on eliciting evidence of learner knowledge and understanding. Here I talk about how you might effectively do this via my ‘catchphrase’ analogy.


I’ve been in the fortunate position where I have been able to observe a lot of lessons over the last few years (around 200). It has been a real privilege and I have witnessed some great practice. There’s one thing however which seems to be the weapon of choice for teachers in their use of formative assessment to elicit evidence of learner understanding. In my opinion, this weapon is ineffective, but teachers draw comfort in using it. What is this weapon I speak of?


It’s the open, ‘anyone can answer, someone please answer, lot’s of people try to answer’ question.


This is the question that is thrown out to the group with little thought from the teacher and for the learner, it is survival of the fittest – only the quickest and most confident get to answer. It is here we have a problem.


I’d like to digress for one moment. Remember the 90’s version of catchphrase hosted by the beloved Roy Walker? “It’s good, but it’s not the one!”. There was a final catchphrase to each round, where the contestants would select a square to remove to reveal a small part of a catchphrase. Unless extremely lucky, it would take the removal of the majority of the squares in order for contestants to get enough information to answer correctly. This reminds me of questioning.


Ask an open question, you will check the understanding of one, maybe two individuals in the class. That’s like revealing one square from the catchphrase board. If you move on at this point, you’ll probably have many misconceptions that haven’t been addressed.


So what can we do to create a bigger picture?

There are an array of methods that one could use to try and build a bigger picture. These include:

  • Pose, Pause, Pounce, Pass
  • Think, pair, share
  • Buzz group questions

All of the above have their strengths and limitations, but a method that I see most value in is Dylan Wiliam’s MCQ with statement approach. This involves asking the group a multiple choice question from which they answer using either their fingers or a mini whiteboard. Following this, the teacher then makes statements about the responses in order to elicit evidence of their understanding. For example: “Dan, you said B”… then pause for a response. Following this, another statement is made; “Pria, you said D”. Another pause is made to allow the learner to answer as they wish. No approach is going to create a full picture of what the group understands, but sometimes investing a bit of time in finding out will allow you to close the gap between those that do and those that don’t understand. Slide2Let’s hope this doesn’t fall on deaf ears.



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