Tag Archives: Formative Assessment

Traffic Lights meet Bump It Up Wall


Not only can the TRAFFIC LIGHT system be used for ‘On-The-Fly’ assessment (akin to Thumbs Up / Thumbs Down),  I have found it useful in conjunction with a form of TIERING as well as ASSESSMENT AS LEARNING:

Prior to the unit, I had students fill in a pre-test of concepts and definitions associated with essay-writing (such as thesis, topic sentence, etc.) but also a sheet where I listed those same essay ingredients and concepts and asked students to do a form of self diagnostic using the Traffic Light.

In other words, the student would read the word “thesis” and I would ask them to give themselves a Traffic Light colour about a) whether they knew what the concept was and b) were they able to use that concept right now. A number of students gave themselves, for example, a Green Light about knowing what a thesis was but only gave themselves a Yellow Light for using one.

(SIDE BAR: I found this sheet to be very informative for me and I have come to a place where adding that step of having the students self-diagnose can be very powerful for the students’ learning but also for a level of accountability.

That is to say, I have had students who have been frustrated when I have given feedback that their writing was at a Level 2 as opposed to the Level 4 they thought it was, and it is then that we will access some of this Traffic Light feedback. And the ensuing conversation can be very powerful when I say “The reason you have Level 2 is because, for example, your thesis is a little vague and disorganized. What traffic light colour did you give yourself about making a thesis?” And the student and I can then ‘triangulate‘ where the gap or the disconnect is in what they thought they knew versus what they actually know.

If I decide to make all of the students reflect on whether they made the right choice for themselves, then this becomes a form of ASSESSMENT AS LEARNING, I believe.)

“Assessment as learning…gives particular importance to the role of the student in coming to own his or her success as a learner.” — p. 73,  Differentiation and The Brain, Sousa and Tomlinson

At certain stages of this Bump It Up Wall process, I have told students what my next step was going to be (based on the plan I was following) and have then used the Traffic Light to differentiate how the students have moved forward in the writing process. For example,  after I wrote a Level 1 example of a paragraph for the students, I had the entire class write suggestions for improving ONE thing in the paragraph.  I then said to my students,

“I have read all of your feedback so far (pre-test and Traffic Light self-assessment) and, based on that feedback, I have the following three paths you can take with this stage of learning the writing process:

– if you are feeling RED LIGHT about essay writing today, I recommend that you take Path #1 which means that I will write the body paragraph with the group on the SMARTBoard allowing us to talk it out and to make decisions together, which will allow you to see the process completed in front of your eyes;

traffic signal large yellow– if you are feeling Yellow Light, then you can take this paragraph that we are going to improve and you can take Path #2, which means that you try re-writing this paragraph on your own or with a partner and then you can compare with what we have written;

traffic-light-green– and if you are feeling GREEN LIGHT today and about essay writing in general, you can choose one of these other topics from this list and you can ‘prove’ your writing skills by creating a paragraph on your own about that topic.”

This, in essence, is a form of self-directed TIERING;
by having the students choose their path by using the Traffic Light, I am hoping that this “…increases student ownership of learning and (as well as their) independence.” (Sousa and Tomlinson)

Bump It Up Walls ~ Attempt #2: Part 3

All right… 

I have just been reading more about Bump It Up Walls and reflecting on the post I just wrote detailing the steps from Michelle and Tammy. At the end of the post, I left with the question, “How do I get the arrows up onto the display board so that it is a ‘wall’ of success criteria?

I just stumbled upon a very simplified set of instructions and I think these may have the /an answer that I have been looking for…

  1. Step 1: Make an anchor chart of the essential ingredients of a the writing piece. (Same as Michelle and Tammy…)
  2. Step 2: Create a criteria-based rubric using terminology from the anchor chart. (Same as Michelle and Tammy…)
  3. Step 3: Write a sample piece at a level which you feel can be improved. (Same as Michelle and Tammy…)
  4. Step 4: Label the arrows with Bump It Up Strategies. (I think that this means that the students write their suggestions for bumping up the writing  but instead of leaving them on the chart paper in Tammy’s version the students write them on coloured arrows and post them up. The Arrow Shape Clip Artquestion I know have is: how do the students get a hold of this paragraph so that they can fix it? Would I print it off right there in class then hand it out? Or would they copy it down as we wrote it, which is a strategy I use with Grade 10 students?
  5. Step 5: Bump It Up Writing: Re-write the sample piece using the ‘Bump It Up’ Strategies

So, what is my plan?

I have a sense that I will try the following:

The students will be allowed to, at this point, choose their own path but they will have to be like Fed-Ex = deliver the goods in order to stay on that path.

Here is my idea:

  1. Create a list of all of the essential ingredients of an essay = anchor chart.
  2. Create a list of all the essential ingredients of a paragraph.
  3. Create a list of transition words.
  4. Give students the COMMON ASSESSMENT RUBRIC that was generated by the English Department for Grade 12 College English.
  5. Brainstorm a list of experiences that are common to all students in a high school, such as using a locker, walking down the halls, using the cafeteria, joining a team, being a high school student, etc.
  6. As a class, we will choose one topic.
  7. We will then brainstorm as many ideas as we can about this topic.
  8. Once we have brainstormed, we will whittle this list down to the three best or strongest ideas.
  9. The class will then generate ideas using a Fishbone graphic organizer to capture ideas for later use.
  10. For the sake of expediency, I will show them a very simple ‘formula’ to create a thesis = S (Subject) + L ( Linking Word) + R1 (Reason 1) + R2  (Reason 2) + R3 (Reason 3) = 1. (1 sentence therefore only 1 period).  ** I will get them to this point because a) Tammy and Michelle suggested I choose a focus so I have chosen to focus on the body paragraph structure and b) some diagnostic feedback from the students indicated that most of the are comfortable making a thesis.
  11. I will then ‘take over’ and have a student type a paragraph that I will dictate. This paragraph will include deliberate mistakes in structure, language and depth of research. (Question: should I have the students write the paragraph down as we go? Or should I print it out for them quickly so  that they have a copy? If I print it out, then I can place a copy on the Bump It Up Wall right away with their arrows.) ***This first version will be the Level 1.
  12. I will then take Tammy’s suggestion and focus in on one sentence or one area or detail and have the students suggest ways to ‘bump it up’ as a class. (Foci: Depth of answer + transitions / coherence and logical progression.) These suggestions should be written on arrows —  but with the teacher’s guidance.
  13. The typer then re-writes the paragraph with that section ‘bumped up’. *** This second version is then printed out and placed on the wall as a Level 2.
  14. The students then work with a partner to come up with more suggestions for ‘bumping up’ the paragraph, which they write on arrows, and place next to the Level 2 exemplar.
  15. Re-write this paragraph a 3rd time with the suggestions and this is now the Level 3 exemplar.
  16. Have a discussion about how to get the writing to Level 4.

Getting closer, I hope…

Bump It Up Walls ~ Attempt #2: Part 2

So… I had a great conversation with my wife, the brilliant grade 1 / 2 teacher, as well as another great fellow teacher, Tammy C., both of whom have done Bump It Up Walls numerous times.

Here are their steps for a B.I.U.W. in their elementary classes:

  1. Write a piece of writing together on the SMARTBoard or on the overhead, etc. The teacher deliberately includes flaws in the written piece. (TIP: Tammy suggests turning spellcheck and grammar check off so the computer doesn’t highlight the flaws so that the students have to find them.) *** I believe this would count as the Level 1 exemplar.
  2. Then go over the definition of the piece of writing you are learning. (elements of a paragraph, descriptive writing, etc.)
  3. Develop a rubric for this piece of writing and show exemplars.
  4. Create a chart or poster with writing prompts, tips, perhaps a checklist of the ‘necessary ingredients’ for the particular writing piece.
  5. Focus on one sentence: pick a sentence (Question: does the teacher pick or do the students pick?) and say: “Pick a sentence that needs ‘bumping up’. How can we take this sentence and bump it up?”
    [** It was at this point that both Michelle and Tammy said that the students will need the teacher to provide a very narrow focus. So if the writing piece is on descriptive writing, then Tammy suggested just focusing on one of the senses, such as sight, sound, smell, etc. ]
  6. Rewrite that sentence (Question: as a class?). As the paragraph is being re-written, remind students of the basics / required ingredients in a sentence.
  7. Put that sentence back into the paragraph. Invariably, the students will see that the rest of the paragraph also needs ‘bumping up’ now that the polished sentence has been re-inserted. *** I believe that Tammy suggests that the paragraph with one ‘bumped up sentence would now count as a Level 2 exemplar.
  8. Break the students into groups with 1 sentence per group. (TIP: I believe Tammy has the sentences already printed out and put onto chart paper or printed on 11 x 17 paper.) Each group is given one colour of marker, crayon, pencil crayon, etc. Each colour group then has 3 minutes to think of some way to ‘bump up’ that sentence. The students use that coloured writing implement to write their suggestions right on the page.
  9. Staying in the colour groups, the sentences are then traded with another group. This time, the groups only have 1 minute to see if they can add any other suggestions to the original groups ideas. (TIP: Tammy suggests that one trade is sufficient. Too many trades and the students quickly run out of ideas and then get disengaged.)
  10. Put up the sentences on the board and re-assemble the paragraph. *** Tammy suggests that this re-assembled paragraph would probably work as a Level 3 exemplar.
  11. For the next day, the teacher then types out / prints out this new ‘bumped’ up paragraph. The discussion now is ‘How do we get this paragraph to a Level 4?
  12. (QUESTION: How does this work then go up on the wall for it to be a visual?)

Still to be continued…

Bump It Up Walls ~ Attempt #2: Part 1

I took a stab at Bump It Up Walls a while back but have wanted to try doing one again…

So, I attended a short ‘break-out’ professional development session recently that was a part of a Learning Classroom Follow-Up Meeting. The meeting, led by my good friend and brilliant teacher colleague Heather J., was about her experiences using Bump It Up Walls.  I have decided to try Bump It Up Walls for the second time because I have a feeling that, if nothing else comes of it (such as deep assessment as learning), at least the Wall and the steps to building it will act as visual reminder and goal for my grade 12 students.

Here are what I hope are the steps Heather suggested during her short 25-minute session (I’m hoping I didn’t miss any):

  1. Get a sample of their writing beforehand as a diagnostic.
  2. Build a rubric together.  ** The teacher then types it up.
  3. Heather chose to, I believe,  handwrite a sample of the writing assignment (essay or paragraph), live, in front of the students using either the SMARTBoard or a document camera. ** This teacher sample should have essential parts of the essay / paragraph deliberately missing.
  4. Heather then had the students dissect this this deliberately flawed teacher-written essay / paragraph using the class-made (co-constructed) rubric.
  5. The next step then returned the students’ diagnostic writing sample to students for them to ‘dissect’, in pairs, using the co-constructed rubric. **The teacher had typed up all of the writing samples but had removed any names to make it anonymous.
  6. The students were to find, I believe, 2 things the writer did well as well as 1 thing the writer could change in addition to giving a level for each of the four KTCA categories.
  7. I believe the anonymous writing samples are placed up on a wall and the improvement suggestions are then handwritten on arrows, which are then placed on the wall next to the writing sample.
  8. Once the Bump It Up Wall is assembled, students are then to go up with a red post-it note and, after reading all of the suggestions, each student is to put their initials on their red post-it as well as choosing one suggestion from the whole wall that applies to their own writing. That is to say, each student might say, “That suggestion about using more transitions applies to me. That’s something I have to remember.” Then when it comes time to actually write their assignment, each student goes and retrieves that red post-it to re-activate that self-suggestion.

I have some questions, I think:

I remember Anne Davies, an assessment guru, talking about the power of having a visual rubric up on the wall for students to use to gauge their answers against. (She talks about visual rubrics here at her website.) Here is my question: how are Bump It Up Walls, however, similar or different to visual rubrics or exemplar walls?

I suppose, to answer my own question, Bump It Up Walls are, perhaps, more ‘living’ documents than a visual rubric. That is to say, with the visual rubric / exemplar wall either the teacher has gathered some exemplars from previous years or has generated the exemplars, but am I correct in thinking that these are more ‘passive’? That is to say, the students are to simply look at the exemplars, against which they are to compare their own work?

Bump It Up Walls, however, appear to ask the students to be more involved as they have to actively judge work and this work belongs to a fellow student. So, in terms of student ownership, it appears that a B.I.U.W. comprised of student work with suggestions has the potential to be far more powerful simply because it is the students involved actively and not passively.

I have to pause to watch a video on Bump It Up Walls again (There’s one below) and to talk to colleagues as well as my brilliant wife who teaches Grade 1 /2…

To be continued…

Teacher Video: Bump It Up Walls

From  on youtube.com

Focus On: Bump It Up #1

Regarding my first attempt…

Class: Grade 12 College English
September 27, 2011

What happened:
As we neared the end of our first unit, I asked the students to submit a short sample of their writing and from that I wanted to gauge the depth of their answers and their writing style.

Using these answers as a sort of inspiration, I wrote what I thought would be a Level 1 answer and I then wrote a Level 4 answer. I put both of these answers on a handout along with some guiding questions, such as “What did you notice about how the author used examples in this answer?”

I then had each of the students cut out a large arrow and on that arrow, I asked them to write one thing they noticed about the difference between the Level 1 answer and the Level 4 answer.

We then taped all of these arrows on the wall.



After having attempted Bump It Up walls, I feel good that I have broken the seal, but now have tons of questions about what to do next and whether I did this attempt anywhere near correctly.

For example:

  1. I showed my grade 12’s a Level 1 and then a Level 4. Should I have shown them a Level 2 and Level 3?
  2. Is this, on some level, engaging in the mindset or philosophy behind Problem-based Learning?
  3. My old school teacher brain wonders “What if they don’t see the things I know they need to see?” I suppose it is letting go of the ‘right answer’, but being the professional teacher, I know that there are certain concepts they need to get / are required to get.
  4. One teacher I know modelled writing the Level 3 or 4 in front of the students. Is this more powerful?
  5. Once the students wrote on their arrows, should I have had them read them outloud for all to hear?
  6. Should I gather and type up those suggestions to hand out to the students?
  7. I watched one video where the teacher, once the arrows were on the board, had the students place initialled post-it’s on the arrow(s) that applied to them = steps or concepts that they needed to remember. How powerful is this step?
  8. How often would a teacher use this? The voice inside my brain is saying ‘As often as the teacher decides it is needed’ but what have other teachers discovered? Have they used it only once a semester? Or might it be powerful enough to use for all assignments? And what happens to the material from the board?


Traffic Lights for the Zone

“If a teacher attempts to teach knowledge, understanding, and skills as though everyone in the class were at the same point of readiness — that is, in the same zone of proximal development — it is likely that some students will be in the “learning zone” while others are coasting and still others are confused and frustrated.”

— from Differentiation and The Brain by David A. Sousa and Carol Ann Tomlinson

I just read this in Sousa and Tomlinson’s book this evening and, for me, it reinforced why I use the Learning Skills Tracking Sheet (“Green Sheets“) in conjunction with the Traffic Light system.

Just to summarize, Dr. Jamie Pyper took the idea of the Exit Card and essentially formalized it so that it is a part of everyday classroom practice. That is to say, the teacher and students interact with the Green Sheets on a daily basis but the job or function of the Tracking Sheets changes depending on the day, the teacher’s goal that day, or how the student wants to use the sheet. For example, a teacher may want to focus on one particular Learning Skill one day, but may not see fit to focus on that Learning Skill the next day.

For me, no matter whether I focus on a Learning Skill on a given day, I invite students to communicate with me at anytime on any subject matter through their personal Green Sheet, and I use the Green Sheet as an Exit Card and even an ‘Entry Card’ almost every day.

But the Green Sheet can also be used to address what Sousa and Tomlinson mention in the quotation above, that a teacher cannot hope to reach most or all of the students at any given time without checking their understanding from time to time. Because the students write on their Green Sheets everyday throughout each day’s class and I then read them everyday, there now exists a ideal mode of communication for students to indicate what their level of readiness is, again, at any given moment. And this is where the Traffic Light system comes into play: for example, once I have taught a concept I know to be complicated, I can ask students to pause to write on their Green Sheet what Traffic Light they are feeling at that moment. If students feel confident about

their learning, then they write the word “Green” on the sheet; if they have some understanding but also need some clarification, then the student is invited to write “Yellow”; and if a student is lost, confused, frustrated, etc. they can write “Red”. I can either then choose to read the feedback after class, or I have taken a minute or two (and that is all it takes in reality) to walk around the room and to read what they have indicated while keeping score of the yellows and reds on my fingers.

This feedback then gives me an instant and clear indication of what I need to do next: if there are enough yellows and reds, then I need to repeat, re-teach, re-present, the material. If there are only a few yellows and reds, then I can address those students individually.

I like Traffic Light because it is easy for the students to understand, it is simple and quick, and the Green Sheets provide a perfect way for students to communicate with me that is direct yet discrete while being ongoing and therefore ‘trackable’.