POSTED ORIGINALLY IN OCTOBER 2019
The fourth area the curriculum framework asks us to consider is that of assessment and how we assess our pupils in order to ascertain whether they have learnt what we want them to.
How will we assess our pupils in order to ascertain whether they have learnt what we want them to?
The framework is clear in that it wishes teachers to use assessment to ‘check pupils’ understanding in order to inform teaching, and to help pupils embed and use knowledge more fluently.’ It stresses the importance of ‘identifying misconceptions and providing clear, direct feedback’ and finally, and most importantly, it stresses that ‘assessment should not be cumbersome and significantly add to a teacher’s workload.’
For me, we need to be cleverer about how we assess. There is no doubt formative assessment is the most powerful of the two – the idea that we are continually assessing our pupils as go through a unit rather than waiting to see what they have mastered by the end. If we use formative assessment effectively, Williams argues that we can speed the rate of learning up by 70-80 per cent. However, assessment, as Ofsted states doesn’t have to be cumbersome and I want to share some of the strategies I have employed over the years to assess pupils’ knowledge and understanding.
- Identify the core knowledge and quiz it.
Joe Kirby blogged about the use of knowledge organisers back in 2015 (https://pragmaticreform.wordpress.com/2015/03/28/knowledge-organisers) . A knowledge organizer is an A4 sheet which contains all the core / foundational knowledge for a unit. For example, the knowledge organizer below contains all the core / foundational knowledge to support my teaching of Of Mice and Men – chapter summaries, character descriptions, key themes and contextual information. Knowledge organisers are really useful in clarifying the foundational knowledge and ensuring a consistent level of teaching across a department. But they have to be used actively. So, for example, I would set my pupils a section to learn across a week – for example, the section on John Steinbeck. The following week I would quiz pupils on that particular section. And I would repeat this process until I was satisfied I had 80% mastery before adding in a second section. Knowledge from the KO that I felt was secure would be dropped in the weekly quiz and replaced with new sections where the knowledge was not new or less secure.
- Regular retrieval practice
Every lesson of mine begins with approximately 5 questions of recap. This is to support pupils’ retention of knowledge previously learnt. The questions are simply re-framed and focus on the skill of recall alone.
However, Andrew Tharby blogged back in 2014 (https://reflectingenglish.wordpress.com/2014/06/12/memory-platforms) about adapting the questions so that 6 questions would test pupils’ retention over a longer period of time with 2 questions testing what had been learnt in a previous lesson, 2 questions testing what had been learnt the previous week and 2 questions testing what had been learnt the previous term. Embedding retrieval practice in this way helped pupils to retain information in the long term as it took into account the ‘forgetting curve’. The idea being that pupils will forget quite quickly what has been taught in a lesson unless we attend to it. Spacing out the retrieval practice allows and supports longer term retention.
To prepare for this spaced practice, Adam Boxer created ‘Retrieval Roulette’ https://achemicalorthodoxy.wordpress.com/2018/08/18/retrieval-roulettes/ – questions to support all his topics, inputting them onto an excel document which was then, by magic, able to randomly select questions to use to quiz pupils.
- Green penning and response to feedback
A strategy shared by Michaela and one that has been transformative in reducing my marking load. Quite simply, pupils complete a task and then you come to the feedback section of the lesson where you discuss their responses. Whilst the feedback is taking place, pupils arm themselves with a green pen and they use the green pen to do one of four things: tick their work to show they have got an answer write, correct any errors they have made as a result of feedback, complete any incomplete answers and add to any answers as a result of any ensuing discussions. In using the green pen, pupils are responding to feedback and their booklets are already marked. When I look at their booklets, I look to check the accuracy of their green penning and mark for core literacy only. In also telling my pupils that their class effort grade is based upon the quality of their green penning, it is something they take incredibly seriously.
- Whole class feedback
Although I no longer adopt this at my current school, one way of reducing marking is to use the whole class feedback sheet. Again, an idea from Michaela, instead of marking every single exercise book and finding that you are writing out the same comment 20 times, a whole class feedback sheet can be used. Whilst reading through your exercise book pile, you use the sheet to jot down areas of success, misconceptions and areas of improvement and SPAG concerns. From this, you are able to create a DIRT lesson (Directed Improvement and Reflection Time) in which you begin by sharing the exemplary work and celebrating particular students and then re-teach areas where understanding isn’t fully shaped with more practice built in. Alternatively, you can pre-populate with targets to address the areas of misconception so that pupils can work more independently in the lesson.
- Online platforms
The use of online platforms is also incredibly helpful in assessing pupils.
Quizlet – I use quizlet for quotation retention at KS4/KS5. Quizlet uses flashcards and I populate these with the first half of the quotation on one side and the second half of the quotation on another. Pupils complete a range of exercises which support them to learn these quotations before taking a test. If I purchase the teacher membership (which I would recommend at a bargain price of £35) then I can see how well they have done at the test without having to mark this myself. The flashcards on Quizlet could also be used to quiz knowledge or vocabulary in the same way.
Readtheory – I use readtheory with year 7 and year 8. Readtheory is an American system but it is free and a great alternative to AR. It will ask your pupils to complete a pre-test which will assess their reading age – again American but easily converted. Then readtheory supplies pupils with a range of short extracts to read and quizzes them on these. It adjusts the complexity of the text based upon how well they do in their pre-test and how well they do across the quizzes. As a teacher, it gives you information about who has quizzed and whether the quizzes they have taken are below, at or above pre-test level so you can see what progress pupils are making. I set my year 7 class three quizzes a week and reward the pupils who successfully take the most quizzes at or above pretest level.
(Pre-test identifying pupils grade level versus where they should be)
(Quizzes taken below, at or above pre-test level)
CommonLit – I use commonlit with pupils in year 9 and above. Similar to readtheory, it is an American system but completely free of charge. Pupils can complete an online reading assessment which then provides with information about their reading capability. CommonLit has a library of texts to support a range of literary texts and a range of themes (which isn’t limited to the topic of English). As a teacher, you assign pupils a text. Pupils read the text online, completing guiding questions to check their understanding of the text and assessment questions to assess them. Again, all of this data is provided to you and the data is incredibly thorough. Additional benefits of this system is that you can have the text read to you, you can increase the size of the text, you can translate the text and pupils can annotate it if they wish. I assign my year 9 pupils one text a week that is linked to our topic of study.
(The wealth of data CommonLit provides you with – without you having to do any marking)
- Finally, the importance of summative assessment
In my previous school, we made sure our summative assessments followed a three part structure. Section A would always test knowledge through the use of multiple choice questions whilst Section B would assess reading and Section C would assess writing. Making knowledge an integral part of summative assessment was a really important process to go through to support our pupils in becoming more knowledge and to check their retention of core, foundational knowledge.
If we can consider how we nest knowledge skills and concepts (https://teachreal.wordpress.com/2019/02/02/building-schema-to-make-it-stick/ Zoe Enser), build schemas and interweave what we do (https://teachreal.wordpress.com/2019/09/12/interweaving-the-curriculum/ Mark Enser) and build a strong programme of formative assessment whilst taking care of our workload, then our curriculum offering can only strengthen.
Part 3 to follow on whether the framework from Ofsted (a UK regulatory body) holds any relevance to our work in the international sector.