The word "gap" is likely to be one of the most used this year in education.
Identifying gaps is understandably high on the agenda after a year of disruption. But the last thing we want is for our students to feel under too much pressure. And we don't want teachers disappearing under piles of marking.
So how can we identify gaps without impacting on everyone’s wellbeing?
This is where low-stakes quizzes come in, allowing us to see exactly what has, and hasn’t, been retained and respond immediately.
Covid catch-up: Using low-stakes quizzes to identify learning gaps
Getting the most from low-stakes quizzes when time is of the essence can be tricky. Here are four tips for getting it right:
1. Keep the stakes low
If we want to avoid students feeling like they are being bombarded with assessments, these types of quizzes should be delivered in the spirit of their name.
This means that, although they are important and we want students to give their best when answering them, we don’t want to create a situation where they feel like they are on a testing conveyor belt, bending under the pressure to do well or giving up before they have even started.
This means explaining the quizzes' purpose, keeping them short and making them regular. A quick five-minute quiz at the start of a lesson can help us to identify what has been retained and guide the direction of travel. Embedding them in homework can also be effective.
2. Question design
Not all questions are equal but well-designed questions, linked closely to the granular detail of your curriculum, can yield a wealth of information. Multiple-choice quizzes are effective, but they take careful planning.
Open answers are quicker to produce but can be harder to quickly check and identify exactly where the gaps are. Taking time to reflect on the content of the questions, as well as the mode, ensures that you are getting as much information as possible, and that students are benefiting from the process.
3. Be strategic
As with question design, we also need to be certain that our low-stakes quizzing is allowing students to recap and retrieve the most important information.
Random quizzing gives some benefits, but if we want it to have the greatest impact, selecting questions as a primer for new learning and focusing on the most important information across topics will have greater gains.
We know every moment counts, so zooming in on key concepts will enable us to identify and fill those gaps swiftly.
4. Think about the end point
What is this type of quiz for? What you are you going to do with that data? What are the students going to be doing with it?
Having a page in their books, and/or a Google form, where progress over time can be viewed at a glance, will allow you to identify what students are retaining and where they have struggled over time.
In addition, if students are given the opportunity to reflect on this – for example, by noting their incorrect responses – it both provides a way to celebrate progress and a clarity on understanding their own learning gaps. A ready-made revision programme for them.
Low-stakes quizzing is a great way to gather immediate feedback about learning, activate prior knowledge and ensure that new information will adhere to what has already been learned.
These quizzes also ensure that we are not overwhelming students who are already only too aware of what others say they have missed, regardless of how hard they have worked remotely.
If you can get these right, you will be in a strong position to move your students on, and talk of gaps will hopefully become a thing on the past.
Zoe Enser is lead English adviser for Kent. She tweets @greeborunner