Seven practices for effective learning

While reading papers for my previous blog I came across a paper that was rather interesting and deserved a blog to itself.  This paper was McTighe & O’Connor (2005)’s Seven practices for effective learning.

Within the paper they propose seven practices (involving assessment) to influence students’ motivation to learn.  The seven practices have been created because they believe that classroom assessments and grading can not only measure and report learning, but promote it too.  It is also suggested that assessments can be used as feedback for learning and also causing continual adjustments to achieve maximum performance by creating specific, personalised information to guide future learning and teaching.

To start they explained the three categories of assessment.  These are summative, diagnostic and formative.  Summative assessments summarise what has been learnt at the end of an instructional segment.  Using only this form of assessment is insufficient to maximise learning as it is too late in the instructional programme to rectify any mistakes or enhance learning.  Diagnostic assessments are usually done prior to instruction as a way to determine how much prior knowledge is held.  This type of assessment is used to assist the teacher’s planning.  Finally there is formative assessment which takes place along side of instruction.  The feedback from this ongoing type of assessment is used to guide teaching to improve learning.

The first practice they suggest is to use summative assessments to frame meaningful performance goals.  So basically this means use summative assessments to define the target standards required to teachers and students.  This is good as knowing what the testing will be on helps to focus on what needs to be learned and what is expected to be done with that knowledge.  By presenting this knowledge at the start of a course provides meaningful learning goals and helps learners see a reason for their learning.

Personally, I think this links in with the idea of exam expectation from the 25 learning principles, as it suggests that the expectation of a final exam will aid learners in keeping material more accessible if they expect to need it at a later date.

The second practice was to show criteria and models in advance.  This means presenting the evaluative criteria and models of work showing different levels of quality to create clear goals for students for their work.  A rubric is a widely used evaluation tool that has criteria, a measurement scale and a description of characteristics required for each score point.  Rubrics are beneficial as they keep evaluation results consistent as the criteria don’t vary, which means the student and teacher both have the same view of what a “high quality” piece of work is.  Using the rubrics and models of work enable students to self-assess their work and make improvements before submitting it to the teacher.

Practice three was assess before teaching.  The use of diagnostic assessments identify what prior knowledge is held and if a student has already mastered a topic, and also if a student has had any misconceptions about the topic.  This aids the teacher in the planning of what to teach, because if a class has previously mastered a certain topic then it would be pointless spending hours going over it again, whereas if many students have misconceptions about other areas these can be studied in more depth to eliminate the misconceptions.

This could be linked to the goldilocks principle from the 25 learning principles because it is the discovery of what is too hard and what is too easy for a student based on what prior knowledge is held.  If a diagnostic assessment was not carried out then all areas of a topic would be taught at the same level, meaning some would be too hard, some too easy and some just right for the students.  Learning in this way wouldn’t be beneficial to students, so finding out what prior knowledge is held is very advantageous.

The fourth practice was offer appropriate choices.  Not only do students differ in how they take in and process information but also in how they demonstrate their learning.  Using a standardized approach may be efficient but using a single format will favour some and penalise others, so by allowing choices it allows students to work to their strengths.  It has been found that students input more effort and produce higher quality work when offered a variety of choices.  Therefore as long as the choices offered gain the required knowledge or skill then it is beneficial to students’ learning.  There would be no point in offering “cool” choices if they didn’t reach the required target of learning, also the options must be worth the time and effort because why spend ten hours making a model if a twenty minute MCQ would get the same results?

This could relate to the organisation effects from the 25 learning principles as it suggests that if a learner is more engaged with the material, so learning to their strengths, then the information will be more readily learned and remembered.

Practice five was provide feedback early and often.  Feedback is usually given of formative assessments but the feedback required to enhance learning is missing from many classrooms.  It is suggested that feedback must meet four criteria; it must be timely, specific, understandable and must allow self-adjustment.  Feedback needs to be prompt; three weeks later is not much use.  Good grades and positive remarks are nice to hear but don’t advance learning, an explanation of exactly what is right and what is wrong is needed.  Opportunities to act upon feedback is also required; refine, revise, practice and retry.  Ongoing assessments and feedback are required to be successful.

This could be linked to the negative suggestion effect because the regular testing and regular feedback will correct any misconceptions before they are deeply encoded and also provide lots of practice to reinforce the correct answers (like is suggested in the testing effect of the 25 learning principles).

Practice six was encourage self-assessment and goal setting.  It has been found that the most effective learners set personal goals and self-assess their work.  Rubrics can help students become more effective at honest self-appraisal and productive self-improvement.  Students and teachers should evaluate work, the two judgements should match but if not then the discrepancies should be discussed.  This enables the student to self-assess more accurately in the future.  The rubrics contain areas for goals and action steps to be completed by the student, this is guided by questions from the teacher such as “what would you do differently next time?”.  But over time the guidance would stop to allow the student to carry out the process independently.

Finally, practice seven was allow new evidence of achievement to replace old evidence.  Classroom assessments should focus on “how well” a student masters the required knowledge or skill rather than “when” they do.  If early results are factored into final grades then students with little or no prior knowledge will be penalised and their grades would misrepresent their actual success at learning and their true achievement.  There are two concerns about creating multiple opportunities to demonstrate improvement in learning.  One is that the first attempt will not be taken seriously and the second is that teachers may become overwhelmed by the challenge of providing multiple opportunities.  Therefore students must be aware from the beginning that they will not be penalised for earlier attempts.  This will show the students that the teacher cares about their learning, not just their grades.

What do you think?

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One Response to Seven practices for effective learning

  1. Sam Headland says:

    I found the McTighe & O’Connor (2005) paper really interesting, but what caught my eye the most was the 7th practice of letting new evidence replace old evidence. This seems very similar to the way Universities work in the sense that the work you do nearer the end of your degree is more valuable (grades wise) than what you do near the start. Howver, it is interesting to note that the idea of providing multiple opportunities for students is in opposition to the White Paper for Schools which actually wants to remove the re-take option.
    If we want to try and reshape education in to focussing on learning and knowledge-building rather than grades and performance, surely making use of the testing effect and provding opportunities to learn is what we want to be doing, rather than taking these opportunities away in favour of reducing exams?

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