Formative assessment: A great if unusual example

In a previous post I wrote about the value of formative assessment. In this I discussed the value of measuring learning during delivery, not just at the end.

I also gave a practical example of of how I applied this in practice, getting great results, on a financial management course.

On a later course, this time on managing sewerage networks, I required each student to produce a summary of Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems and their use.

I needed to be sure that they understood what a SCADA system was, how it could be used and how the data needed to be protected.

Most students produced tidy, conventional one-pager but one apprentice technician, Josh Quin, decided to do his as a poem.

I was initially taken aback, thinking it somewhat frivolous. I could not have been more wrong.

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Formative Assessment: Stopping the fires breaking out

Here’s the question: How do you know that student or trainee is taking in what they are being taught?

Notice the phrasing: “are taking in” not “have taken in”.

The difference was made clear to me when marking a batch of assignments a while back. Most of the class did fine but one student was struggling with basic concepts.

I was mortified. As their tutor I prided myself in carefully checking for understanding during and after each topic, yet I had clearly failed this individual.

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Teaching in Finland – Part 5: Where next?

Background

In my first post on this topic I wrote about how a chance conversation with the host of a study visit led to a really nice teaching project with Kainuu Vocational College (KAO) in Finland.

The main topic of that post was the way that the project moved from idea to something more concrete.

This was followed by an overview of the more technical considerations like lining up the course structure with the requirements of a range of curricula.

Necessary? yes. Fun? no. Such is life.

By way of an antidote the third  post had was a not entirely serious day-by-day look at the ups and downs of the course and the final student presentations.

In general the ups far outweighed the downs, which was great, but at least one of the downs made me wonder if I’d made a big mistake taking on this project.

The fourth post was the stage that most projects leave out: the post project review.

happy-face-2

Let us remember that this applies as much to successful projects, where there are nice lessons to be learned, as well as less successful projects which we can learn the not so nice but oh-so important lessons about what didn’t work and why.

Fortunately in this case the post project review was a happy one.

The positives heavily outweighed the few negatives and there was an unexpected bonus: the Finnish National Board of Education were so impressed with the project that they have asked me to present the project at their Internationalisation Event of Finnish Vocational Education in Tallinn in November.

I think we call safely call that “a result”

So, can what we learned be applied in other situations?

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Teaching In Finland – Part 4: How I should have done it

Background

In my first post on this topic I wrote about how a chance conversation with the host of a study visit led to a really nice teaching project with Kainuu Vocational College (KAO) in Finland.

The main topic of that post was the way that the project moved from idea to something more concrete.

This was followed by a post on the more technical considerations like lining up the course structure with the requirements of a range of curricula. Necessary? yes. Fun? no. Such is life.

By way of an antidote the third  post had was a not entirely serious day-by-day look at the ups and downs of the course and the final student presentations.

In general the ups far outweighed the downs, which was great, but at least one of the downs made me wonder if I’d made a big mistake taking on this project……..

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Teaching in Finland – Part 3: How it went, Day-by-day

Background

In my first post on this topic I wrote about how a chance conversation with the host of a study visit led to a really nice teaching project with Kainuu Vocational College (KAO) in Finland. The main topic of that post was the way that the project moved from idea to something more concrete. This was followed by an overview of the more technical considerations like lining up the course structure with the requirements of a range of curricula.

This post gives a day-by-day account of how all the preparation and planning worked out in practice, warts and all.

I plan one more post, one on the Lessons Learned. In it I will try and answer the question “with what I now know having run this course, how would I run it now“.

Monday: Put up or shut up time

This was it. All the planning and preparation had come town to me and 12 students in the same room, them waiting for something to happen, me desperately trying to remember my opening lines.

Nervous Speaker
Nervous? Who, me?

After what seemed like an age, but was probably only a few seconds, we were away. My opening gambit of confessing my own nervousness seemed to go down well.

Happily it lead quite naturally to a chat about the mini CVs that they had sent me ahead of the course and what they hoped to get from the course.

This was followed up by a discussion of my own career – 11 jobs in 33 years – and why it developed that way.

Within a few minutes my first concerns were addressed – the students’ English was more than good enough and they were all volunteers and so were interested in the subject.

One huge sigh of relief later we launched into the meat of the morning, a couple of nice icebreaker exercises.

Moving on

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Teaching in Finland – Part 2: How we went about it

Background

In my first post on this topic I wrote about how a chance conversation with the host of a study visit led to a really nice teaching project with Kainuu Vocational College (KAO) in Finland.

The main topic of this post is the way that the project moved from idea to something more concrete.

This is post is an overview of the more technical considerations like lining up the course structure with the requirements of a range of curricula. Yes, it’s at least as much fun as it sounds……..

At the time of writing I plan two more posts: One looking at how the course went day by day and another on “Lessons Learned”.

The latter will try and answer the question “with what I now know having run this course, how should I have run it“.

Keeping it simple 

As is often the way with development work many hours and days of work eventually boiled down to nice simple course specification document.

This set out all the traditional stuff like aims & objectives, risks and issues, and learning outcomes.

However it also gave guidance on the approach that I thought would be required to keep a class of 16-18 year old vocational students interested and engaged over a a five day course.

In this case the whole course specification took just 10 pages.

The “mother” test

I was pleased with the clarity and simplicity of the course specification. My rule of thumb is that if such a document is complex and hard to follow it probably hasn’t been thought through as well a it could have been.

Mum swimming with dolphins in America
Mum swimming with dolphins in America

The test I like to apply is “could my mother have understood this”.

This might seem like a bit of a strange idea. After all, what could a lady well into her 80s possibly know about what I am doing?

This is the point. Often such documents are read by busy people who may not have a detailed understanding of the topic.

The job of the writer is to make it as easy a possible for the reader to find and make sense of the information they need to make a decision.

The way I look at it is this: if my late mum (Hi Mum – I’m still thinking of you) could understand what I wrote then so could a busy Chief Exec.

Payment by the page?

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Teaching in Finland – Part 1: How it started

Background

This is the story of one of those wonderful projects, the sort that come about by chance but turn out out to really useful and great fun.

It’s the sort of project that shows that no matter how much you plan there is still a lot to be said for keeping your eyes open and making your own luck.

As I note on my home page I started my first business, Sapience Consulting, about 18 months ago as a straightforward labour market research and business consultancy.

windmill-simple-10

My old company website gives a flavour of what it was set up to do.
It has a lot about tools and techniques but with hindsight it seems rather short of hard detail about what benefits a potential customer can expect from using them.

That recent realisation led me to set up Windmill Insight Solutions ltd which is is very much aimed at helping people and organisations achieve good things.

If you has asked me at the time I was setting up sapience Consulting whether I would now expect to be packing to go off to Finland for a week to teach entrepreneurship to a group of young Finns on vocational tourism course, I would probably have suggested that you had been out in the sun for too long.

However, it happened and this blog is a way of sharing with you the events that lead up to it and how it all unfolded.

March 2011: The beginnings

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