Many confuse Inclusive Practices and Differentiation and believe that, even with the best intentions it will be complicated and time-consuming for a teacher to provide a different scheme of work for each student according to their learning profile.
Also, when it comes to assessment teachers wonder if differentiating would mean giving different tests or expecting different standards, and would that be fair? Or would it be the equivalent of measuring with an elastic ruler?
So let’s just make it clear, by “Inclusion” we mean adapting lesson content and assessment so that everyone in the class has the best possible chance of success, tweaking certain things or offering a choice in production to everyone in the class, not just those with different learning profiles.
Attitude to Assessment
The first thing we need to do is address everyone’s attitude, not just the students’ but often the teacher’s too! – I don’t know about you but I used to really resent assessment, a waste of learning time in class, a waste of marking time at home, then all those lessons spent correcting tests together in class where students just copied their neighbours and learnt nothing…
Until I injured my leg.
After being diagnosed with shin splints (very painful, believe me) I was sent to a physiotherapist. The first thing she did was poke me all over, does this hurt? and this? Drawing biro crosses at various points. Can you do this? or this? Before working out a set of stretches for me to do at home.
In other words a complete assessment of my level. Then every week I go back, she asks again where I’m at, and we move on. She never asks whether I did all my stretches or nags me for not making enough progress, we just assess the situation today and then move on from there.
I feel it’s so important to share this view of assessment with learners :
“Learning is a messy business, everyone comes from different places and is in different places in their learning journey, you’ve probably all got different goals as well. So as a teacher I need to know where you are, and whether my teaching is working, so we can move you forward, and the way to do that is to assess your level and learning”.
It’s also important to remember that assessment doesn’t always mean grades, it can be a simple appreciation of a situation or picking up a few errors in an oral activity.
When to assess?
When I suggest assessing during several points many teachers flinch, as if we haven’t got enough to do already! However, it doesn’t have to take long, no longer than the time you already spend thinking about what the class needs to learn next anyway.
Or Assessment for Learning to give it a trendy title. This can take the form of a quick quiz or simply noting errors during an activity. A great way to evaluate this can be with a start of year letter, where students tell you how they feel about learning English, what they see as their strengths and weaknesses. it’s also a great way to get an idea of their motivation and while you’re at it you can ask them to talk a bit about their interest so you can incorporate these themes into future lessons.
This can take the form of exit cards, I also like to ask students to write questions or worries on a post-it and stick them on my table during class.
It can be useful to do a practice test a week or so before the big event. Take the time to correct it together.
Usually, or at least in my case, this is the assessment of learning that is graded. Make sure you have clearly stated the learning objectives beforehand. I good way of presenting these is through KUDs:
Knowledge – basic facts
Understanding – how these facts work
Do – show how you can use this knowledge
While I’m not organised enough to have the test prepared before we start a particular learning unit ( my excuse is that it avoids backwash – or teaching to the test) at least I can make sure that students know exactly what I expect them to learn or know.
Another form of assessment of learning is for students to assess how they learn. It’s very important that students are involved in their learning.
Another way of increasing student self-confidence is to consciously teach them strategies to help them succeed in tests, go through test with them – asking what they are thinking at particular points and model strategies – “so before reading the text I read the questions and underline keywords” etc.
Giving students a choice in the production you expect is a great way of enabling everyone to draw on their strengths, which again raises self-confidence.
A great way of shaking up productions to use RAFTs:
What role with the student take on? writer? artist? enraged local inhabitant? journalist? teacher?…
Suggested by the role but who exactly is the student addressing? themselves? peters? government? parents? a fictional character?…
How can they best address this person? With a journal? brochure? video? letter? poster?…
Often (in my case) the text/course book “dictates” this, which is a great help if it’s a topic that interests your students. If not ask them when they would use the language points presented. Allow students to present the same language items in a different context, or a different time zone, or a BIG question that involves critical thinking skills.
Some Ways of providing more Inclusive Assessment
- Layout – make sure it’s large and clear, use a simple font (comic sans, ariel) and if possible cream or recycled paper to avoid glare.
- Cut up reading texts and insert questions at the end of paragraphs, rather than a long list at the end of a long text.
- Pay attention to Instructions – give in L1 if necessary, or read them out.
- Give extra time if needed.
- Allow a wordlist to help with spelling.
- Give a choice of subjects where possible
…. you gave a writing topic a few days before the test to allow students time to collect ideas?
…you allowed students to choose between oral or written production on the same subject?
… you asked students to suggest the best ways to assess a particular topic?
Assessment is an enormous subject, and we’ve only scratched the surface here, I’d love to hear your ideas too!