“Angry Birds” – A Lesson in Assessment FOR Learning

I’m embarrassed to admit, but two weeks ago I didn’t even know anything about Angry Birds. It looks like this addicting little game has been around for a while. I know … Where have I been? I guess I’ve been spending time with a less angry little bird (Twitter). I’m really not the angry type! I guess I see Twitter as better use of my time and professional collaborative learning than shooting birds out of a slingshot. I also enjoy visiting an online gambling site such as bcfun.com.ar, which has a lot of fun games to play.

A casual conversations with my hairdresser a few weeks ago about the game led to a quick demonstration on her phone. Another reference came last Friday while attending a session on Instructional Coaching for principals. Some areas that Instructional Coaches can assist schools with are referred to as the Big Four: Classroom Management, Content, Instruction, and Formative Assessment. While the presenters facilitated dialogue around the topic of formative assessment the analogy was made to video gaming; and specifically Angry Birds. This piqued my curiosity.

Sunday afternoon I added Angry Birds to my i Pod Touch. Good-bye $0.99. While I doubt I’ll ever be an Angry Bird Pro, but I definitely can see the link to quality formative assessment.

I recently ran across the Assessment for Learning Guidance Booklet Key Stages 1 & 2 developed by Northern Ireland Curriculum. “This booklet aims to help teachers understand the role of Assessment for Learning within the curriculum and recognize its principles and key elements. The booklet also details some practical Assessment for Learning strategies.” The Rationale and Overview (p.2) of the booklet starts out:

“Assessment for Learning is based on extensive research conducted by Paul Black and Dylan William. In their 1998 study Inside the Black Box, they refined the term ‘formative assessment’ by emphasizing that assessment is only formative when:

  • it is an integral part of the learning and teaching process; and
  • assessment evidence is actually used to:
  • modify teaching to meet the needs of pupils; and
  • improve learning.”

The Rationale and Overview goes on to state that “Assessment for Learning involves the following key actions: sharing learning intentions; sharing and negotiating success criteria; giving feedback to pupils; effective questioning; and encouraging pupils to assess and evaluate their own and others’ work.”

So where does Angry Birds fit in? Let’s breakdown the key actions [above] and compare them to Angry Birds. (Disclaimer – I’m only on level 15. My apologies if I misrepresent the game!)

Here’s what I’ve noticed:

Sharing learning intentions – At the beginning of each “launch” the player is shown the formation of the structure and the placement of the little pigs. (I think that’s what they are.) A player can sweep back to this area of the game at any time. This gives the player the clear intentions of what needs to be accomplished in that specific level.

  • Learners need a clear understanding of what they are learning as well as why and what’s expected of them. This can take on many forms in the classroom such as, but not limited to: clear learning targets and shared rubrics and expectations prior to the learning. Including students in the development of the rubric creates even more ownership. Providing students experiences using the rubric with sample materials (exemplars and non-exemplars) to identify key components can lead to a deeper understanding of the learning intentions.

Sharing and negotiating success criteria – Once an Angry Bird is launched from the slingshot, the path of the bird is clearly marked for future reference. These marking stay throughout the level. I’ve found them useful in negotiating my success, even though I have not perfected this!

  • Learners need a way to show their learning throughout the journey. The above mention rubrics can also assist with sharing and negotiating success. One idea is to have peers work together to identify alignment to the success criteria (rubric). The use of small check points (formative assessment) along the way can provide both the student and teacher a shared understanding of progress being made.

Giving feedback to pupils – When playing Angry Birds, I know right away if I did not complete a specific level. (Right now I’m stuck on Level 15.) While the wording “Level Failed” is not exactly appealing to me, it isn’t harmful. Nothing bad happens. I just have the opportunity to try again, and again, and again until the level is complete. I’ve also noticed that the other Angry Birds waiting their turn seem to be cheering on the bird that is being launched. I’ve just noticed another feature – The Mighty Eagle. He is there to help a player get out of a tricky level. But, at this time, I choose not to add the additional $0.99 expense.

  • Feedback for learners can come in many forms. In keeping with the rubric idea mentioned above, the feedback can come from teachers, peers, or even from a larger/global learning community. This feedback needs to be immediate. The feedback should help students see the quality of their work and potential suggestions for further investigation. In my blog post, Opening our Eyes, I described how using electronic responders can be one way to provide immediate feedback and engage students in thought-provoking dialogue to increase the level of understanding.

Effective questioning – I know there are many places I could go to ask effective questions in order to improve my Angry Bird skills. I’ve found online communities of like-minded individuals and groups to be extremely helpful when professional questions arise. This sense of belonging provides me a chance to ask my questions in a non-threatening environment. I’m sure there are groups formed to discuss Angry Bird strategies. Right now I have many of Angry Bird questions. Have I said I’m STUCK on level 15? I’ve played the level unsuccessfully more times that I would like.

  • Creating learning environments where learners feel safe to take risks and ask questions, where they are encouraged to come up with their own ideas and where they are asked to think aloud in order to explore their understanding leads to success. If we carefully listen to their questions and thinking, we can gain a sense of their understanding. The level of their questions is quite revealing. Lower level, literal questions can relate to lower level knowledge. Where as, rich, thought-provoking questions may relate to a higher level of understanding. [Right now my Angry Bird questions are quite low-level. All I want to know is how do I get to Level 16! I know there must be strategies involved.]

Encouraging pupils to assess and evaluate their own and others’ work – Right now, I’m attempting to evaluate my work on Level 15. I’ve been able to successfully get the two pigs on the sides, but the one – in strong middle structure has me stumped. As an adult, I know to assess and evaluate my work on this level. I could also probably find some online tips from other players. I can’t be the only one stuck at this level.

  • Our learners need to be encouraged to take an active role in the learning process. Explicitly teaching them how to take on this ownership is important. They aren’t just going to do this themselves. Modeling is key! Ample opportunities to engage in recognizing success in their own and the work of others will assist in guiding their focus on how they are learning as well as what the are learning.

The above key actions provides some details of Assessment for Learning. “This is a process of seeking and interpreting evidence for use by learners and their teachers to decide where the learners arAngry birds conventione in their learning, where they need to go next, and how best to get them there.” (Assessment for Learning: 10 Principles The Assessment Reform Group, 2002)

Now if I could just get past level 15. Any suggestions?

I think I need to ask these kids for assistance! I have a feeling they are way past Level 15!

This may help as well – but it conjures up a whole new set of questions. Think I will just stick with Twitter!

Note: The above video did help (even though I was unable to get 3 stars). After re-watching it I figured out a few strategies I did not know before. I was able to complete Level 15, 16, 17, and 18! Way to go, huh! Now I’m stuck on Level 19! I can only imagine what much higher levels look like. The scaffolding of my learning is beneficial, but right now I’m thinking I should avoid this game so I don’t get hooked!

Opening Photo: cc licensed flickr photo shared by Jared Cherup
Twitter Bird: cc licensed flickr photo shared by SerGe’s Insanity
Twitter Convention: cc licensed flickr photo shared by ChunLum’


  • David 16 Feb

    I actually love Angry Birds and found out that most of my Advanced Placement Physics class plays it too. We’ve had some fun with it and I’ve incorporated parts of it into my class. The game uses a true physics engine in it so it is accurate in how things behave and react.

    I think games like this are great for learning and education. Here’s an article I wrote about using Angry Birds in education: http://educationaltechnologyguy.blogspot.com/2010/09/video-games-as-learning-tools-angry.html

    • Kathy Perret 21 Feb

      Your students must love Advanced Placement Physics! What a great learning tool to understand the concepts in physics! Thanks for sharing your blog post! Love your connections to the game!

  • Richard DeMerchant 16 Feb

    I enjoyed reading your post as I think the analogies are good ones. For all adults it is likely a good idea to keep in mind those things we like (such as the bird trails) and things we do not like (level failed) when working with students.

    Most of us (dare I say all) like to know when we do well and advance to the next level. Even more importantly, we like to know what we need to do to advance to the next level. I am not sure we all know what the criteria is for the advancement. Good assessment practice would imply knowing the criteria in advance. This is easy in a video game (knock out the pigs) but a little harder on a student project but no less important.

    Thanks for a good read.

    • Kathy Perret 21 Feb

      I loved your analogies as well. You raise a very good point about needing to know the criteria to advance to the next level in the classroom setting! That is a key area we, as educators, must continually focus on.


  • pharesr 19 Feb

    Oh what fun you are! I just can’t wait to share this with my friends! You just make me jump for joy! 🙂

    • Kathy Perret 21 Feb

      Anxious to hear the reaction of your friends. I’m so glad I make you “Jump for Joy!” Thanks for your continued support!


  • Jen (@jenclevette) 20 Feb

    Thanks so much for this post. You have articulated what I think many of us have been thinking about this game. Thanks for sharing!

  • Jen (@jenclevette( 20 Feb

    Thanks for this excellent post. I think you clearly articulated what many of us have been thinking about this game, but so much more eloquently! Thanks for sharing!

    • Kathy Perret 21 Feb

      Thank you for your kind words. I’m glad my words “hit the mark.” I’ve only dabbled with the game and am trying not to become hooked on it. Good to know I was on the right track with my analogy!


  • Tom Welch 21 Feb

    Have been hearing about Angry Birds for some time now, but after reading your post, I downloaded it and have played it a bit.
    Let me take a slightly different tact on using the game as a metaphor on assessment for learning. My problem is that I have seen almost no examples of assessment for learning. Instead I see example after example of assessment for grading, and I see that as totally different.
    If a system uses letter or number grades, that becomes, by definition, assessment for grading. Most items that I see labeled as “formative assessments” are no more than mini summative assessments. In my mind assessment for learning could never have grades involved, only records of achievement. In Angry Birds, you don’t carry all those less-than-successful learning attempts into your score at the next level. You are not denied the opportunity to progress to the next level because it took you many attempts at previous levels. No, once you have demonstrated what it takes to be successful at a level, you are ready to go on, and you start with a fresh slate at that level.
    I’m very surprised any time I see something even remotely like that occurring in a traditional school environment. (Actually, though I work with schools and teachers around the country, I can’t think of any that do this, but I figure there are probably a few out there). Instead, the system demands that teachers put increasing numbers of grades in the grade books for parents to be able to access and monitor progress. Those “assessments” then get averaged at the end of the term and voila, out comes a grade. Let’s not kid ourselves, you can NOT average formative assessments and come out with a grade. It just doesn’t work like that, and it doesn’t matter if you let a kid “redo” an assignment or an assessment a hundred times until they are successful, if it finally gets worked in as part of some formula for a grade it is NOT a formative assessment.
    OK, I’ll take a deep breath. I just turn into an angry bird myself when I think of what we do to kids in the name of learning.

    • Kathy Perret 21 Feb

      Point well taken. I do have to agree – not all of “Angry Birds” can be tied directly to Assessment FOR Learning.

      I have also seen more mini summative assessments than formative assessments and agree that the mini summative are NOT examples of formative assessments. Formative assessments should, in fact, form or drive the next layer of instruction.

      Thanks for bringing up an excellent point in this dialogue!


    • MJ 30 Jun

      A math teacher in our school has shared across the department his policy of letting kids take a summative test over a unit over and over if necessary until they get at least a B. My daughter happily finished algebra and geometry with him, despite many issues with math. Then she went to another teacher, who would let her retake tests, but would then average the grades. I kept asking the second teacher why my daughter should get a C or a D, when she had clearly demonstrated that she had learned the information by passing with an A or B. The teacher said it wasn’t fair to the other kids who had earned their A’s or B’s the first time around. (The tests were not the same each round.) I am still mad at that teacher! I can’t understand why it matters when the kid gets the information down, as long as it is within the grading period–though that’s another problem with our American system. The first math teacher was the one who influenced my change in assessment and grading policies. I think that now most of my students understand when an assessment is for me, rather than for them.

      Back to your stated “problem,” I can give an example of “assessment for learning.” My students do quick writes in which they must use particular grammar or vocabulary structures. If they don’t use them correctly, it means they haven’t had enough clear experience and I need to keep presenting the information in new ways until kids have it down.

      Thanks for this blog! Great posts!

  • Rachael Noir 21 Jun

    Wow! What a great concept. I recently completed a practicum as a student teacher and this would have tied in. The students were working on fractured fairy-tales, learning about the elements of a story and eventually writing their own stories. One boy who struggled in class and generally showed little motivation got very excited about his story when he realized he could write about the Angry Birds in his story. He wrote a great story based roughly on the 3 Little Pigs but instead with Angry Birds. He put a lot of time into the illustrations and we printed pictures of the Angry Birds from the internet so he could pay attention to detail. He was SO proud of his published story and gave himself a glowing self assessment. If I had more time in that class, or had realized the science implications in the game Angry Birds, I could certainly have funneled his interest in the game into a science project of some sort and again encourage ownership and motivation in this student. Lessons for the future!

  • Russ Sauntry 22 Jan

    I want to use this in our, in school only, teaching and learning publication. I will, of course, reference you. Is that ok?

  • Dennis Alonzo 16 Apr

    I ace all levels of angry birds and I thought the link you established between angry birds and AfL is commendable. I am doing my PhD now at University of New South Wales and working on Teachers AfL competencies. What really came into my mind upon reading your post is that, if learning format will be like those games in the computer, where students begin with understanding the aim, then start trying and persisting, get help from their peers and other resources, work for the highest aim, working on with their failures (which is interesting because they don’t get frustrated but keep pushing at a higher level), and even transfer the abilities they have from one game into another (transferability of knowledge and skills), then we would have self-regulated learners.

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