One of my favourite education-focused essays is, in fact, an old Charlie Brown ‘Peanuts’ cartoon strip.
It features Lucy arguing with her teacher about the grade she’s just received for her coat-hanger sculpture. I love Lucy’s arguments, especially the comment “Was I judged on what I had learned about this project? If so, then were not you, my teacher, also being judged on your ability to transmit your knowledge to me? Are you willing to share my ‘C’?”
In later years I came to learn more about teacher assessment following principles such as validity, reliability, usefulness (to the student) and fairness. Not always easy to understand, remember or apply. But in those days, I simply pinned the cartoon to the wall beside my classroom desk as a useful reminder of things to think about when assessing students’ work. Lucy’s arguments are still a good reference tool.
But the phrase that really struck me, it was the first time that I’d come across it, is Lucy’s final remark as she turns to face the reader, “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.”
How right she is.
In many classrooms I’ve observed and worked in, it’s often the ‘squeaky’ students that demand more time and attention. This ‘squeakiness’ may come from behaviours, learning difficulties, extrovert personalities, an identification of need, etc. This attention imbalance hardly seems fair. And, if it’s not fair, then is it possible to enable those ‘unsqueaky’ students to get the same degree of consideration?
Technologies have the potential to help to make things a bit more equable, in particular the way they can make the experience of learning more individual and less generic. One way in which that can be achieved is through the use of tools that support formative assessment – that enable every learner to come to the forefront of attention.
There’s now a rich range of free online assessment tools that make it possible for teachers to understand more fully where each and every learner is in their learning. From this array of tools, the ones I have in mind include Formative, Kahoot, Quizizz, Plickers and Socrative. Each has its own specific merit. Plickers, for example doesn’t rely on student response via a device. Instead, students hold up cards oriented to the answer they wish to give. It’s simple and effective. Tools such as EdPuzzle even allow the teacher to support students as they watch video, providing feedback on their attention and understanding.
These tools enable responses to be judged in terms of percentages (how many of the class have ‘got it’) and/or individually (which students need more support/challenge/time). They help to increase the ‘squeakiness’ level of the classroom.
That ‘squeakiness’ can even be increased by encouraging ‘back channel’ responses. Answer Garden couldn’t be simpler to use for real time anonymous feedback, while Google Forms provides one of the richest sets of back channel, survey and formative assessment tools. There’s a useful introduction to Google Forms here.
The great thing about these services is that they make formative assessment more insightful, achievable and real-time. Instead of trying to read body language, ask for a show of hands, ask meaningless questions (“Has everyone got that?”) or wait for students’ written work, that insight can take place instantly and, as a result, teaching can be adapted while the topic is hot.
Creating a ‘squeaky’ classroom has never been easier.
Image Credit: My copy of the Peanuts cartoon is old and tatty. The image on this page is sourced here.