Earlier today Peter Blenkinsop left a comment on this post by Joe Kirby, making a very good point.
He’s referring to the work that David Didau’s been doing over the past year to try to explain how ‘learning’ isn’t a thing that necessarily happens in one lesson. It might, but it might not, and in that lesson we have no way of knowing.
From this, Didau has been making the point that a lot of the rhetoric around ‘sustained and rapid progress’ in lessons, or around ‘mini-plenaries to show observers what marvellous learning is taking place,’ or even that the entire graded observation machine and the cult-of-outstanding are deeply flawed.
So, if all that’s true, if learning cannot be observed in a lesson, what on Earth is the point of AfL assessment mechanisms such as exit tickets, and for that matter, hinge questions, mini-whiteboards, checking kids’ work as they’re doing it, any kind of marking, and anything else you might dream up!?
Joe made a succinct response here, which would be in line with the entire hinge question / AfL paradigm, that of immediate intervention and information for future planning:
I tried to expand on the points being made by Didau about ‘learning’ being invisible in a comment on the blog post, and then thought I might as well write it up here as well. I don’t know how well I’m explaining this, so feel free to say if it’s not making a lot of sense.
It depends on how you define ‘learning.’ By example, if a person can solve a two-step equation in one lesson, exceptionally well, does it two dozen times with a variety of equations, but then cannot do it a week later, or a year later – did they learn it?
If a person at the end of one period of instruction understands that they have to start each new sentence with a capital letter, but then in the next piece of writing they hand in more than half of the sentences don’t start with capitals, did they learn that lesson?
I would argue that, institutionally, we have a pallid definition of what it is to ‘learn’ something.
What Didau’s doing is ascribing to the idea that ‘learning is a change in the state of long-term memory; if nothing has been changed, nothing has been learnt.’
Now there is obviously a continuum here. The person who could solve two-step equations in one lesson, but not later, clearly has experience that someone else who has never even seen a two-step equation does not have. And from the second example, well perhaps previously they weren’t starting any sentences with a capital letter, so now they’re just in need of practice and feedback to get it up to 100%.
This is well explained by Bjork’s model of each memory having an associated retrieval and storage strength. The storage strength is the thing we are developing over time, whereas it is the retrieval strength only that we can directly measure. It is also for this reason that we have no intuitive sense of storage strength; the only thing we ever observe is a memory being retrieved.
Retrieval strength at the end of a lesson might be very high, since the idea was encountered just moments ago. The person learning is successful in whatever related task they are given (solve an equation, write a paragraph.) But, without storage strength to ‘prop up’ that retrieval strength it quickly falls away:
In this model, ‘learning’ is equated with ‘storage strength.’ Since, according to Bjork, storage strength never diminishes with time (where retrieval strength does), at its apex something is ‘learnt’ if and only if storage strength has become so high that retrieval strength will effectively always be high enough to facilitate immediate recall.
On to your question about exit tickets then. Exit tickets can check, to some extent, whether an idea has been understood in the moment. Can the person solve an equation? Without further prompting, do they get that each of those four sentences needs a capital letter at the start?
What exit tickets cannot check is whether that same person can still recall that next year, or a week later, or tomorrow even.
They do the job of assessing you passed ‘stage 1’ if you will: ‘Form correct memory.’
After that, it is the job of curriculum design to ensure that further ‘learning’ takes place i.e. the development of that memory’s storage strength over time.